Microsoft is making a bold move to unify the PC and Xbox platforms with Universal Windows Applications. If they succeed, the Xbox One will become an even more universal machine, with modular hardware upgrades to extend its life. If they fail, it’s Games for Windows all over again.
Xbox division head Phil Spencer has made an announcement that will reverberate through the gaming industry at large. He wants Microsoft platforms to speak the same language, through the Universal Windows Platform. He said that the company’s “focus, going forward” would be to “[build] out a complete gaming ecosystem for Universal Windows Applications.”
Spencer wants to break from what he sees as generational limitations on software and hardware. By “allowing [Microsoft] to decouple [their] software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs,” he hopes to gain the same “continuous innovation in hardware” that consoles, who “lock the hardware and software platforms together at the beginning” traditionally do not have.
But adding more hardware variations will inevitably require minimum specifications on Xbox games, forcing console developers to play the same “system requirements” game so typical of PC game development. Adding complexity to an entertainment medium whose main attraction is its straightforward simplicity of use might not be as attractive to consumers as Spencer seems to think.
Despite this, his selling point seems to be the past, rather than the future:
We can effectively feel a little bit more like what we see on PC where I can still go back and run my old Quake and Doom games, but then I can also see the best 4K games coming out. Hardware innovation continues and software takes advantage. I don’t have to jump generation and lose everything I played before.
Microsoft’s in-house studio Turn 10 will be the first to demonstrate the possibilities of UWA, converting its critically-acclaimed racing simulator Forza to the new “ecosystem.” Forza Motorsports 6: Apex will be a “curated and focused” version of the game, meant to draw attention to the franchise among PC gamers. The transition to the UWP means that further iterations of the franchise will release on both Xbox and PC.
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