The head of Xbox this week made some telling statements about his vision for the video games industry, which equally gave us a massive clue regarding how the Xbox Two may turn out. Phil Spencer believes that there will be an end to “fixed console hardware” with a shelf life of less than a decade with the same hardware, before being replaced with an entirely new console format.
New Xbox Two concept
It is naturally expected that Microsoft will replace the Xbox One with an Xbox Two in the near future, not least because the manufacturer has not experienced massive success with the existing console. Sony has outsold the Xbox One comfortably with its PlayStation 4 console, and the ethos of Microsoft seems to have been awry with this video games machine from day one.
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It is perhaps not surprising in this context that the manufacturer is considering how to move forward diligently with the Xbox concept. Spencer seemingly envisages a future in which Xbox consoles are upgraded in a fashion akin to smartphones and PCs, which would certainly be more affordable for Microsoft than continually replacing the console with entirely new devices. This is already common for PC users, who often utilize internal upgrades in order to ensure that their machines run more effectively and that they are ultimately more powerful.
Xbox / Windows 10 collaboration
During the Xbox Spring Showcase event, Spencer suggested that Microsoft is currently examining the possibility of aligning the Xbox One and Windows 10 development activities under the Universal Windows Platform. This suggests that Microsoft is completely rethinking the way that it deals with consoles, and that the days of the standalone hardware behemoth console may be numbered.
In this ethos, it has been widely reported that the Xbox Two may be something of an upgrade to the existing Xbox One rather than an entirely new system. Spencer believes that it is essential for Microsoft to decouple this software platform from the existing Xbox hardware platform. His vision is for the next generation of consoles to allow “the same games to run backward and forward compatible,” thanks to the Universal Windows Applications running on the Universal Windows Platform.
What this would effectively mean is that a future console, possibly the Xbox Two, would not be such a dramatic departure from the architecture of the existing Xbox One. There would be more powerful hardware involved, but the Universal Windows Platform would be central to the Xbox Two experience. Additionally, developers would be able to write and publish games that run exactly the same on both PCs and console; something that would be extremely attractive to software houses considering the complexity of producing different versions of games for various platforms.
By separating software from hardware, Microsoft is looking to effectively destroy the idea of console generations. Regardless of whether this would be beneficial for gamers, it is certainly preferable for the manufacturers, and particularly Microsoft, considering the lack of success it has experienced with this latest console release. It would enable Microsoft to introduce hardware upgrades more frequently, reducing the waiting time between console releases, and absolutely ensuring backwards compatibility for all consoles.
However, despite the brave vision of Spencer and the apparent intentions of Microsoft, it should be emphasized that the consumer electronics industry tends to move rather slowly for a niche that is associated with innovation. Consumers tend to be rather conservative, and there is no doubt that console manufacturers and games developers would love to have eliminated the physical disc by now, yet have found this process impossible due to simple consumer demand.
Thus, it is far from certain that Microsoft will be successful in instigating this radical concept by the time that the Xbox Two is released. It has frequently been predicted that the days of the standalone console with massive internal hardware are numbered, and that a streaming and Internet-based console service are inevitable in the foreseeable future. Yet there are significant technical barriers to achieving this, and despite the brave talk from Spencer and other industry insiders, it would not be surprising if Microsoft backtracked on this intention, in the short-term at least, and ultimately opted for a more conventional approach to the Xbox Two.
However, regardless of the gaming model that Microsoft ultimately opt for with the Xbox Two, it is essential for the corporation to deliver the five following elements.
Firstly, Microsoft must ensure that the Xbox Two is capable of delivering 4K gaming. It has been nothing short of an embarrassment for the manufacturer that the Xbox One has struggled to deliver 1080p with some titles, and the Xbox Two simply must be massively more powerful than its predecessor.
Many gaming consumers relish physical disks, but there is no reason that Microsoft cannot make it more convenient for gamers to download titles as well. Flexibility and choice should be central to the Xbox Two ethos.
Additionally, Sony appears to have got something of a head start on Microsoft with the PlayStation Now service, and Microsoft must deliver a streaming games service of the same quality with the Xbox Two.
Sony is evidently placing a massive emphasis on virtual reality with the PlayStation 5 and even the existing PlayStation 4, and this means that Microsoft must respond accordingly. It has invested significant resources in Hololens, and it would be advisable for the corporation to deliver at least one version of the Xbox Two console that features built-in virtual reality from day one.
Get the PR right
The biggest barrier to the success of the Xbox One has been the appalling PR blunders that Microsoft committed before the console was even released. In truth, Microsoft and the Xbox One never recovered from the negative public perception of the console that its pre-release material created.
Microsoft must position the Xbox Two successfully in the marketplace, and ensure that it delivers what consumers actually want, instead of telling them what they want; the first key to any successful business.