Photo by Stephen Brashear/Invision for XBOX/AP Images
Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal this morning didn’t present any immediate or obvious implications for Our Dear Hobby. Conspicuously few games were shown during the debut of a new video game console, and no games were demonstrated live. Microsoft mostly spoke about the new utilities (Skype!), partnerships (NFL!), and living room takeover (Kinect!) we’ll expect from the Xbox One when it releases this year. From a technical perspective, 8 GB of RAM is the only concrete hardware spec Microsoft dropped.
Our response around the office to the presentation was an uncynical but collective shrug. The modest amount of information Microsoft let out gives us little to react to as PC gamers, as Microsoft spent so little of the precious hour that it held the attention of the internet showing us what kinds of gaming experiences we could expect to have on its new system. Those will be revealed next month at what should be a memorable E3.
Still, we’re interested in thinking about how Microsoft’s decisions could have a direct or indirect impact on PC gaming, something that has happened before. Microsoft used the talents of Age of Empires creator Ensemble Studios to produce a console-exclusive RTS (Halo Wars) and a cancelled Halo MMO. The MechWarrior license lingered in limbo until recently, in our opinion, because Microsoft wasn't sure if it could make a profitable mech game on Xbox. Microsoft’s attempt at extending Xbox to the Windows platform birthed the disastrous Games For Windows LIVE, a service so frustrating that it was newsworthy when developers told us they weren't using it.
Based on what we know and a little bit of crystal ball-gazing, here’s three possible ways PC gaming could be affected by the release of the Xbox One.
Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will get 15 exclusive games in its first year, including eight new franchises. One of those exclusives may be a new Remedy game, Quantum Break, which appears to cross-over with a live-action show.
There’s hope, however, that some of these exclusives will sneak onto PC. Over the past console generation, marketers have made the term “exclusive” synonymous with “timed exclusive,” acknowledging the distinction only at the last possible moment. Remedy's Alan Wake, for instance, was eventually ported to PC.
A majority of Xbox 360 games announced as exclusives, however, remain firmly stuck on the platform. We’ve never seen a Forza game or a Gears of War after the first, and Microsoft Game Studios seems to have given up entirely on Halo ports.
The good news is that many of the Xbox 360 exclusives were Kinect titles best suited for the living room anyway, and others, such as Rare’s Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, weren’t games we ever expected to be developed for PC in the first place. Let’s hope it stays that way.
The best-known developers owned by Microsoft are 343 Industries (Halo), Turn 10 (Forza), Lionhead (Fable), and Rare (Banjo-Kazooie). Expect exclusives from them—we already know a new Forza is coming—and a few from its third-party developers, such as Crackdown creators Ruffian Games. Ideally, the games we expect to be multiplatform, such as the first game from Respawn, will stay that way. We'll have a much better picture come E3 next month.
Growth of streaming, new Steam features
A casual survey of the web pretty clearly pegs PC gamers as the leading producers of gameplay videos and livestreams, but console gamers may soon catch up. Both Sony and Microsoft now promise that their new consoles will make it easy to capture and share gameplay video, a task which formerly required capture hardware. If streaming is a part of that plan, it could be good news for services like Twitch.tv, which we'd expect to be flooded with new members as the console crowd joins the show.
If that happens, we can also assume that more players will start watching streams, possibly growing eSports awareness and viewership and acting as a catalyst for overall improvements to streaming. That's our loose, foggy prediction, but we do expect some concrete effects—Steam will likely start responding to the features of the Xbox One and PS4, especially with Steam box on its way to directly compete for living rooms. At the very least, integrated video capture and sharing seem very likely. At the most, Steam becomes the same kind of media center Microsoft showed off today, offering much more than games.
Valve has already dabbled in film by offering Indie Game: The Movie for sale on Steam, and recently added non-game software to its catalog. Its most recent major updates have been about expanding community features and giving us more to do in Steam, both in and out of our games. What's next? Our gut feeling is that it'll be significant.
More free-to-play PC games, and they won’t be MOBAs
Microsoft didn’t drop the phrase “free-to-play” once during its reveal of Xbox One, but we’d be baffled if free-to-play games don't become a prominent new category on the system. And we’d be more surprised if some of those hypothetical, F2P Xbox One games didn't make their way to PC.
We expect the success of free-to-play as a business model on PC and mobile (in 2011, free-to-play earned more revenue than paid games in the App Store) to create a gold rush within the industry. Plenty of developers have to be eager to become the Riot Games of the console world, to gain a foothold through early adoption rather than reacting to the potential success of the business model on Xbox One.
On the safe assumption that mouse and keyboard won’t be native to the Xbox One, the free-to-play games that propagate on Microsoft’s system will probably be multiplayer action games and low-budget, indie experiments that can be played with a controller: shooters, platformers, puzzle games, action-RPGs, and MMOs. Most of those are portable to PC. Microsoft has already dabbled with F2P a bit with Ascend: New Gods, an unreleased action-RPG, as well as with advertising-supported free games. Our pals at OXM speculated that a free-to-play Fable MMO could be in the works.
This feels like an incredibly safe prediction to us. One or more free-to-play games being part of the Xbox One launch lineup would be a feather in Microsoft’s cap—it’d be a way for early adopters to justify their (probably fairly) expensive purchase, and a novelty to console owners who’ve never played something like League of Legends or PlanetSide 2.