Microsoft's press conference today hasn't just blurred the lines between consoles and PCs, it's fundamentally changing what it means to be a "platform." Some of it sounds great, some of it...well, we'll have to see.
A key undercurrent of today's event was the company's new Play Anywhere initiative. If you buy Gear of War 4 on Xbox One, you can also play it on Windows 10. If you buy Dead Rising 4 on Windows 10, you can also play it on Xbox One.
Barring a huge shakeup, it seems the Xbox One will continue to lag beyond the PlayStation 4 in sales. Though Xbox One has hardly been a flop — that's the Wii U — it's a vastly different landscape than last round, where Microsoft was leading the charge. (Yes, Sony caught up in sales as the years went along, but Xbox defined the generation.) In reaction, Microsoft seems to be admitting it no longer cares where you play your games, so long as you're within Microsoft's ecosystem. With Xbox lagging, Microsoft's been forced to do something players have wanted for years: give a shit about the PC. This is Microsoft giving a shit.
There's a key caveat, however: Windows 10 is not Steam. So far, Windows 10 exclusives have not showed up on Valve's popular storefront. We've asked Microsoft if it's possible for that to change, but we haven't heard back yet.
Project Scorpio is a huge extension of this idea. Microsoft said games will run on all four platforms: Xbox One, Xbox One S, Project Scorpio, and Windows 10. They showed Minecraft players joining in on iPads, PCs, and VR at the same time. Linking games, at least ones published by Microsoft, is their view of the future. It's why they opened up Xbox Live and want to connect it with PSN, too.
On Geoff Keighley's YouTube show, Bethesda Game Studios executive producer Todd Howard said he'd actively encouraged both Microsoft and Sony to produce new hardware more regularly. That's how PCs work — they're rolling upgrades. We're moving towards a universe where consoles are merely tightly packaged PCs, a shift that comes with ups and downs. When do you upgrade? Do you buy the best upgrade? Should you wait another year? These questions haven't been part of buying a console before, but it's clear we're moving toward that future.
The relationship between consoles and PCs has always been a weird one; it's why the term "console exclusive" always induced a round of eye-rolls. It's an exclusive, yes, but that exclusivity is only between PlayStation and Xbox? In years past, PC versions would come out months (or years) later, and it was rare for the ports to truly take advantage of the PC. They were usually garbage.
That's changed dramatically. Now, even Japanese companies like Square Enix, who routinely ignored the PC, are making the platform a priority. Games like Dark Souls 3 launched simultaneously on console at PC. It's not just Microsoft realising it makes more sense to embrace everyone. The industry is shifting.
Gaming is about to become more complicated. I think it will bring a lot of benefits that will seem scary at first. But for better or worse, change is coming.