On Wednesday, Microsoft hosted a Windows 10 event at its Redmond, Wash. campus, revealing to the public much more about what the operating system will look like and what the company's plans are for the nascent OS.
Slated for release later this year, Windows 10 will bring a whole host of changes, including an attempt to integrate the Windows 10 experience into the tech lives of its users across platforms. Naturally, this includes the Xbox One, which seemed be of particular focus.
If you have an Xbox One, here's what you can expect come launch.
Xbox DNA in Windows 10
Microsoft has tried to work the Xbox into its Windows experience before. Games for Windows Live was an (failed) attempt to Xbox-ify its PC gaming output, and the Smartglass app has long allowed for gamers to use their Windows devices as second screens for Xbox games, displaying maps and the like. Now, though, Xbox One seems to be built into the design of Windows 10 from the ground up.
Central to this, every Windows 10 copy will come with an Xbox app, which connects players to their consoles and brings an Xbox-style dashboard experience to PC gaming. The app will allow users to access their friends list, their messages, and information about their Xbox games from the desktop.
And, unlike the aforementioned Games for Windows Live, the Xbox app looks like it's going to be a fairly open service, allowing you to access games you purchase on platforms like Steam as well as games bought from Microsoft itself. It remains to be seen precisely how games will implement this service, or whether developers have to opt into it or if it will incorporate older games, but the blueprint shows promise.
In addition, the "Game DVR" software that Xbox One offers for recording, editing, and sharing game footage will be packaged in as well, available for every Windows 10 device save for smart phones (sorry, folks).
On top of that ground-level service, Microsoft is offering a couple of other big features that more tightly integrate Xbox and Windows. The most important of these is the potential for cross-play across both platforms, meaning you can play an Xbox One game online with people playing the PC version. This isn't a common feature in the current gaming landscape, as it's fairly technically demanding and could require new approaches to issues like server lag and competitive balance on the part of developers.
Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division (and owner of at least one snazzy Battletoads shirt), demonstrated the feature by playing the upcoming Fables Legends with one of its developers, Spencer on Windows and the dev on console. It seemed to work well, though obviously that's with a Microsoft internet connection. If functional and widely integrated, this is an option that could greatly increase the richness of the multiplayer environment on both console and PC, and it'll be exciting to see how it shapes up.
Secondly, Microsoft announced they're going to support game streaming across platforms. Microsoft promised that, with service beginning later this year, players will be able to stream games from Xbox One to their Windows 10 PCs and tablets. This would use the Xbox as a local server, essentially, allowing players to get visuals and deliver inputs using a home Wi-Fi connection.
Sony already has some streaming services, allowing its customers to stream games to the PS Vita and PlayStation TV, so Microsoft's entry into this venue isn't surprising. The main hurdle to implementing this feature successfully is the demands it places on a user's Internet connection, and Microsoft didn't release details on how fast your network will have to be to take advantage of these features.
There's also an intriguing potential here for Microsoft to implement streaming from PC to Xbox One, which would be an unprecedented console feature and could do a big hit to Valve's Steam Box initiative.
Promises and holograms
As with a lot of the things revealed Wednesday, these Xbox One integration features probably haven't been fully implemented yet, and so the more concrete details aren't yet available. It's likely that we'll get a steady trickle of details from now until Windows 10 launches later this year, with March's Game Developers Conference and June's Electronic Entertainment Expo both likely showcases for Microsoft's new integrative focus.
It's also probable that Microsoft has a couple more surprises up its sleeve for the coming months. The company announced a push into augmented reality tech, and this has obvious gaming potential.
In the meantime, you can sign up for the Windows Insider Program for a chance to try out early builds of the software. And as for what we do know, this week's announcements seem auspicious. There's always been a substantial gap between the PC gaming market and the console scene, and attempts to bridge the two by console manufacturers over the years have been half hearted and ineffective. With a hand in both worlds, Microsoft is uniquely suited to bridge the gap, and it'll be an exciting time if they can succeed.