Microsoft is Mashing Windows And The Xbox Together To Win Over Its Most Critical Market

Phil spencer microsoft xbox

When Microsoft launched Windows 10 in the summer of 2015, it came alongside a brand-spanking-new app strategy for the company. Microsoft promised that with its new Windows Universal Platform (UWP), developers could write their apps once and they would run on any device running Windows 10 — including PCs, tablets, smartphones, and, eventually, the Xbox One and HoloLens holographic goggles.

Image: Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian - Microsoft Xbox head Phil Spencer

From Microsoft's perspective, it's a grand idea for getting developers to take their Windows software and make it available everywhere, including the severely lacking Windows phone platform. With competition from Apple and Google only intensifying, it's critical to attract as many apps as possible.

Apart from a few big names like Uber, Hulu, Twitter, and Facebook, however, developers across all industries have been slow to sign on with UWP. Meanwhile, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says it won't work, and one of the biggest names in gaming slammed it as "the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made."

Overall, developers are concerned that rebuilding their existing apps for UWP is too much work, while simultaneously giving Microsoft too much control over the PC software market.

But at a session at the Game Developers Conference, Microsoft Xbox Advanced Technology Group boss Jason Ronald explains why Microsoft's "journey to one platform" is good for game developers — and thus for all developers everywhere.

The ultimate answer: By smashing together platforms like the Xbox One and Windows phone together with Windows 10, Microsoft says that it's opening up all kinds of doors to help developers make a lot more cash and win more fans.

Smashing the Xbox

It's not news that Microsoft is bringing Windows 10 and the Xbox One video game console closer, including the fact that many former Xbox-exclusive titles will debut on Windows 10 with a cross-saving feature, and the extension of the Xbox Live network to Windows 10.

At his session, Ronald provided some more details on the future of that trend.

First off, the Xbox One is going to get the ability to run those Windows 10 UWP apps later this summer, with the Xbox Store and the Windows Store getting merged into one. Furthermore, UWP apps are gradually going to open up over the course of this year to run the more advanced graphics settings that PC gamers demand.

Plus, Microsoft also announced the "Xbox Live Tournaments Platform," a tool to let developers making Windows 10 and the Xbox One games organise their own competitive eSports leagues.

Earlier this week, too, Microsoft dropped the huge bomb that it's opening the door for cross-platform play between Windows 10, Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4.

Microsoft universal windows platformA slide from Microsoft's GDC 2016 talk.

All of those things have a common thread: They encourage players to play more games for longer, across all of their Windows 10 devices, Ronald says. On phones, tablets, or the living room, Microsoft wants customers to never have to leave their games behind.

"We want all your players to stay in your game," Ronald says. "With Xbox Live, we want people to play games longer."

It's an important concept in modern gaming. In the early days, developers would release their game and leave it at that; modern gaming involves supporting a game for months or years after launch with additional paid content or subscriptions.

All of which means that if a developer can keep players playing, they can make a lot of money without having to reinvest resources in creating a new title. Indeed, Ronald boasts that Microsoft made 4.5 times the amount of revenue per Xbox Live-connected device in 2015 than 2014, with twice the number of paid transactions.

All about choice

In a broader context, Ronald says that the whole push towards UWP is about letting developers choose where they sell their app, and to whom.

"It shouldn't be easier to hit one platform versus another," Ronald says.

With regards to gaming specifically, Ronald says that there's no reason a developer can't use Universal Windows Platform to make a game that's just for the Xbox One.

Microsoft is working hard to make a range of tools and features available to make building games on Windows attractive, regardless of whether or not you're actually investing in the PC market, he says, with the goal of simply making UWP the best place to build games.

And with the merger of the Windows and Xbox stores, it makes it easy to start selling your UWP to the 200 million-plus Windows 10 devices and 18 million-ish Xbox One consoles out there, too. Better, it makes it easier to move your apps to new Windows 10 devices like the HoloLens, even as they're released.

"There's stuff we haven't invented yet," Ronald says.

HoloLensMicrosoft HoloLens.

And with Xbox Live as "the connective tissue between devices in our ecosystem," Ronald says, it's going to be easier to keep stuff like saved games and purchased goods consistent between platforms.

It's absolutely worth noting that all of this is just the gaming-centric version of Microsoft's strategy with its Office 365 suite — keep things consistent across devices, everywhere, with services on the backend.

And while Microsoft is going after game developers hard, it's only because gamers have proven themselves time and again to be the earliest, most bleeding-edge of adopters.

If Microsoft can get game developers on board, it's going to pave a nice path to future success. And that means unifying the platform to make life as easy for developers as it possibly can.

Originally published on Business Insider


Comments

    While it is copping a bit of backlash I think this has great potential. It will bee interesting to see how it comes along. What I would do for a Xbox dash preview invite to see this happen when it starts being implemented. I could see how this could help with cross platform mods and such as well.

      Except you can't mod games with the UWP API unless the developer has specifically created mod tools. The thing is locked down too tight (And seems to be aimed at destroying) conventional mods. No fan patches for broken Xbox One games either (Master Chief Collection, cough cough hack), so that silver lining is gone too.

      There's more problems too... Depending on how hardcore and techy you are. UWPs are abysmally backwards and almost insidious in design.

        "Except you can't mod games with the UWP API unless the developer has specifically created mod tools. The thing is locked down too tight (And seems to be aimed at destroying) conventional mods."

        We don't know where Microsoft is going to go with this at the moment, since they have yet to announce details in full and have stated an intent to address concerns; and short of (currently grossly unfeasible) friggen homomorphic encryption, there's basically no way Microsoft can prevent you from modding your games.

        "Depending on how hardcore and techy you are."

        As a developer, it's hard to read this and not cringe.

        "Win32 is abysmally backwards"

        Fixed.

          "and short of (currently grossly unfeasible) friggen homomorphic encryption"
          Unless they decide to only run signed code in UWP...
          That's not "friggen homomorphic".

            They can't control what you run on your machine with some digital signature scheme. Currently it's not feasible for a distributor to dictate terms to an untrusted client machine if the computation is happening on the client side, without the user being able to look at the code and make adjustments to bypass the scheme used to enforce terms. They can make it messier, sure, but people at Microsoft expect modders to be able to bypass anything they put in place.

    It's a great idea but sadly great ideas don't always catch on with the majority.

    I don't play PC games and prefer ps4 because I can get japanese titles which aren't on xbox. Xbox is very western centric and it's limiting.

    "It's all about choice"... No, it's about shoving Windows 10 down everyone's throat

    Consoles are going to die out within a generation of two I'd guess.
    MS are just diversifying so they can be more flexible in the future.

    All good, I'm not going to lose any sleep over their plans. Good games coming up and all that.

      which games are those, the 5 or so they're bringing to windows? every other platform (ubisoft, EA and steam, even GOG) on windows has 10 times as many AAA titles, this is another half arsed attempt at buying back market share that i hope the publishers don't fall for (again)

    After the absolute mess that the UWP program made of Rise of the Tomb Raider, I remain to be convinced that this is anything other than a worry for PC gamers. While yes, more console games coming to PC is great news, if they have as many missing features and problems as Rise of the Tomb Raider has, it's hardly a cause for celebration.

    For example, the following features are in the Steam version of RotTR, but not the Windows store version:
    - Adjustable Vsync (It's always on. No ifs or buts)
    - Exclusive fullscreen (Windowed or borderless only)
    - Overlay support such as FRAPS
    - Mods
    - SLI (it can be forced in the UWP version, but this breaks the hair physics)

    In addition, fixes made to the Steam copy either come to the Windows Store much later, or not at all. In short, the UWP program has a long way to go yet.

      "I remain to be convinced"

      I think we all do to some degree or other, because we've yet to see a developer fully figure out UWP as it is, and Microsoft have changes to roll out and details to announce -- apparently at //build/, and almost certainly at E3. There are definitely really cool directions UWP could take, but it's obviously not there yet.

      But we're seeing a lot of riots and doomsaying in these early days, which I think is getting a little out-of-hand. It's not like MS can take Win32 away from you, after all.

    So........ how long til they want us to pay an Xbox Live subscription to play games on a PC running Windows?

      about 10 seconds after they have more market share than steam

    just give us more backwards compatible titles ffs

    An interesting idea but I don't think this will work as aswell as people think it will.
    I think it will be great for the xbox crowd as it will let them play more pc game. Though my guess is there will still be quite a few restrictions still on what game you can play for what platform (rts games for instance simply because of control issues)
    ... but I'm not so sure it will be so good for the PC crowd. To be honest the exclusive game lineup for xbox doesn't really interest me at all. I think at the moment on xbox one there are only about 30-40 exclusive titles anyway (which makes me think think this move is more for the interests of the xbox then anything else). As some have pointed out there seems to be less feature for games using the UWP as opposed to steam (rise of the tomb raider getting less patches less often and has less features.)

    Sadly it seems that consoles in general are trying their best to become PC lite with subscriptions, rather then focusing on what gives them strength (what I think anyway).

    Couch co-op games...like halo used to be, when it was defining shooters of the generation...unlike it trying to be cod (kinda mirrors how I see xbox history really)

    God people have such short memories. Steam was a disaster and hated ... HATED at launch (and continues to be hated by some of us). GOG, Origin and UPlay are the same, but just slightly further along.

    Microsoft are just riding that early part of the product life-cycle. I'm absolutely going to make the Win 10/Xbox hybrid my PC gaming platform of choice. They have shown time-and-time again that they are more responsive to consumer feedback then any other platform.

    I'll be entirely honest though, if Steve Ballmer was still in charge, then I would drop Xbox and PC like a sack of sh#t. In Phil We Trust.

    Its the future kids, whether you like it or not. With any luck however, standardised API set's should result in better code across all platforms anyway.

    The bigger problem however is, and I say this as a Microsoft evangelist, is that if Microsoft's strategy pays off (and its vision is freaking amazing), it will own compute like it did in the 90s-early 00's. Thats scary.

    Am I the only one noticing the "18 million consoles" part here? I know it's not the point of the article, but I would love to know if that's a number Jason said or if that's the authors speculation.

    "In a broader context, Ronald says that the whole push towards UWP is about letting developers choose where they sell their app, and to whom."

    Except in order to make a UWP game on PC, you are locked to the Windows Store, missing out on the majority of the market which is on Steam, GOG, Origin and other digital stores.

    But hey you can easily publish it to Xbone and Windows Phone... yay I guess?

      Sideloading is rather easy to accomplish, which means theres no real reason why Steam, origin, et al can't sell UWP apps.

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