Remember when PC gamers would sneer at a console? Remember how they would watch E3 each year and laugh, then slap each other on the back and say something like ‘Oh, we’ve had graphics better than that for years!’
At least, in my head that’s what they were like, and the whole "PC Master Race" jokes don't help matters All of that could change with the release of Project Scorpio, also known as the Xbox Two!.
Microsoft is Already Unifying PC and Console
E3 2016 was a massive press conference for Microsoft. With announcements that covered numerous games, and the reveal of the high anticipated Xbox Two, currently code-named Project Scorpio, there's a lot to discuss. Specifically, there were claims made that Project Scorpio will be the most powerful console ever built.
On top of that, Microsoft introduced their new "Play Anywhere" program. This program works for all first party Xbox titles. When you purchase it on the console, you also own it on your Windows 10 PC. You can transfer your saved data and achievements between the two versions and play across both platforms with ease.
That's a big step towards what Phil Spencer has been talking about at recent events. Let's see what lead up to this decision, shall we?
In March of 2016, Phil Spencer, President of Xbox, took the stage at the Xbox Spring Showcase and made some bold statements about the future of PC and consoles. I've made multiple conjectures on the site here about Xbox and PC coming together with Windows 10 as the glue, but this is the first hard evidence we've seen that even Microsoft thinks the two should just stop beating around the bush and join forces.
During his speech, Phil made some pretty bold comments about the future of Xbox. He suggested that Microsoft wants to make the system's hardware is enhanced as opposed to just releasing a brand new console. He wants everything Microsoft does to be unified under the "Universal Windows Platform."
Phil made these comments because of recent backlash when he announced on Twitter that Xbox One exclusive "Quantum Break" would be release on PC as well. People felt that announcements like this degraded the value of owning the console. His words: "You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation."
Phil made comparisons between consoles, mobile devices, and PC. He made a good point when he said quote: "Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, strong. And then you wait for the next big step function."
He's absolutely right, and it's this crutch that has led to plenty of criticism and debate over whether consoles are still valid in the face of constantly upgraded platforms like PC and mobile devices. All hope is not lost, though.
Phil went on to say that he's predicting a bright future for consoles. As part of the aforementioned "Universal Windows Platform," Phil is expecting games to be backwards and forwards compatible regardless of the hardware changes. He wants Xbox One owners to have the option for hardware upgrades in the future that keeps the Xbox relevant. Of course, this would signal the end of the console cycles we've come to know.
When speaking with Polygon, Phil Spencer reiterated these thoughts while mentioning Sony and their choice to add VR to the PS4 in the middle of the cycle. He criticized this approach by saying "it's not changing what the core console is about."
Phil Spencer supports unification, but will we see something this drastic before the release of the Xbox 2? It's hard to say, but such a concept could easily be put together when the Xbox 2 releases, making it the last console Microsoft would ever effectively make.
The Great Divide
The gap between consoles and PC has been closing in recent years, and devout PC gamers are no longer married to their desktops like they once were. Yes, at one stage it was clear that PC’s were better graphically and memoryily (a new word I’ve just invented), but console gamers always had gameplay on their side. Whereas new consoles are rare, up to 8 years between generations, PC’s are being updated constantly, so it is only natural for PC’s to lead their TV-based cousins.
However, EA are on record as saying that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of PC. Specifically, EA’s executive vice president and chief technology officer Rajat Teneja was quoted on Linkedin as saying the PS4 and Xbox One are “a generation ahead of the highest end PC on the market. The compute capabilities of these platforms and the data transfer speeds we can now bank on, essentially removes any notion of rationing of systems resources for our game engines”.
Teneja also stated that Xbox One was 8-10 times more powerful than the Xbox 360. If you consider what was capable at the end of the 360’s life in a game such as GTA V, it makes you wonder what the Xbox One is truly capable of, being up to 10 times more powerful than its predecessor. With technology moving at such an alarming rate, it’s inevitable that bigger leaps will be made with each new generation.
So what does this mean for Xbox Two? If developers are stating that the current gen is more powerful than a PC, where does this leave Xbox Two? The prospects of where the console may go are mind boggling, and it is easy to conclude that it will surpass the power held by the PC’s at the time.
Take a multiplatform game such as Minecraft. It has slowly evolved on consoles from being a fairly restricted game, to a larger game mimicking that of the PC version. The only thing stopping Minecraft on Xbox from equaling the PC version is Microsoft charging developers for each update. Doing this is naturally going to put off a studio from updating their game. Now that Microsoft are more embracing of indie games, this gap is likely to close, so we’re more likely to have identical versions of a game across all platforms.
Speaking of games, because consoles are so widely used as the number one gaming system in a home, the Xbox Two will no doubt continue to be home to the biggest games and best exclusives. Simply put, games make more money on consoles than they do on PC, so if gamers want the best games then they will have to shut down their desktops and turn to the dark side of the game: Project Scorpio.
Or, Xbox Two as we like to call it.
What PC does better than Xbox One is downloadable games. The option is of course available for those who want to download their content on Xbox One, however if Microsoft want their consoles to continue to evolve then they will have to push for a steam-esque system to be fully working, promoted and in place for the launch of Xbox Two. Console gamers will have to bite the bullet and embrace it as the future, because PC gamers have already been doing it for years. If a PC game isn’t released as a downloadable option today, then it simply won’t sell enough copies to feed the developers.
This needs to be the norm for console game ownership. Microsoft had it right first time around with Xbox One until the backlash forced them to change it. Xbox Two gives them another shot, and hopefully this time gamers are far more embracing.
The Blurring Lines
At the 2015 Game Developer Conference, Microsoft unveiled DirectX 12. This is a proprietary application program interface or API that is releasing on Windows 10 for PCs, and Xbox One.The biggest change that this will bring is a performance improvement on both the consoles and the PC. It also offers more control for the developers to take better advantage of the system's hardware.
Of course, that alone isn't enough to say that Xbox and PC are merging, I get that. Let's examine another piece of evidence, shall we? How's this for a doozie: Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 10 will be the last major operating system from Microsoft. Yep, from here on out it's just updates and tweaks. Interesting, but we're not done yet.
Here's the final nail in the coffin of this PC/console debate: Windows 10 is coming to Xbox One in 2015 through an update. I'm no shark, but even I can smell that blood in the water. Microsoft is clearly setting up Xbox to become the new standard. With more and more PC features and staples making their way to the console, the two worlds are becoming one.
Phil Spencer, head of Xbox Gaming at Microsoft commented on the operating system making a console debut: "We won't see people using Excel on the Xbox, but Microsoft is making it easier to port experiences from PC over to Xbox where they make sense."
The update will also include the ability to stream games to Windows 10 PCs and for upcoming games like Fable Legends to feature cross-platform play. These don't sound like the war cries of battling platforms, but more like the synthesis of a new breed of gaming.
Of course the Xbox Two (Project Scorpio) will be a market leader upon its release and will no doubt make PC gamers foam at the mouth with jealous rage. The question is, how long will it stay like that? Will it close the gap between platforms so much that they become more than just cousins?
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, let's hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!