In this series of semi-regular features we take a closer look at new and upcoming features for Xbox, and speculate on what they might mean for the console and the brand.
At their E3 2016 briefing, Microsoft announced a handful of new features coming to Xbox, but in the glitz and glamour of the City of Angels detail was, predictably, light. We took a quick pass at Xbox Play Anywhere after the announcement, but what does it really mean for gamers, and for Xbox?
Let’s start with the soundbite.
“Now when you own an Xbox Play Anywhere digital title, it’s yours to play on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. Purchase an Xbox Play Anywhere digital game, play it on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC at no additional cost. Pick up where you left off on another Xbox One or Windows 10 PC, bringing all your saves, game add-ons, and achievements with you.”
A dozen upcoming games have been announced as Xbox Play Anywhere titles – in fact Microsoft have confirmed that all future Microsoft Studios-published games will launch as Play Anywhere titles.
Xbox Play Anywhere digital games will be available to buy through either the Xbox Store or the Windows Store. Once purchased in either store, it’s available to download and play on both platforms – Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. Xbox Play Anywhere will require the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition update for PC (coming later this year), and the latest update on Xbox One.
Game progress for all Xbox Play Anywhere games is saved on Xbox Live – all game saves are available on both platforms. Achievements are linked to the game, not the platform, so you won’t double-up that gamer score by completing the game on both console and PC. Downloadable content – whether earned in-game or purchased through either store – for Xbox Play Anywhere games will be playable on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. This includes game add-ons, Season Passes, consumables and in-game unlocks.
Those are the facts – but what’s the story here? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s clear that we have been seeing, and will continue to see, the convergence of the console and PC spaces. That’s the fundamental benefit of Windows 10 for developers after all. Develop once, run everywhere – so it makes sense that we’ll see that in games, too. There was a huge (and ridiculous) outcry when it was announced that Quantum Break – initially an Xbox exclusive – would be playable on Windows 10 from launch. In fact, other than cross-buy, which was a limited time pre-order bonus for QB, Remedy’s entertaining title actually ticks the Xbox Play Anywhere boxes.
Xbox Play Anywhere titles are – for obvious reasons – digital titles only. With no mechanism to link physical titles to Xbox Live accounts – a concept shared at the console’s announcement and then quickly rescinded when the backlash started – if you buy Gears 4 on disc and want to play on PC, you’ll have to buy it a second time. As we move into a more digital future, it’s starting to feel even more like Microsoft got a lot of things right at that reveal three years ago.
The dozen titles announced thus far (and you can see the full list at www.xboxplayanywhere.com) include the Xbox big-hitters (Gears 4, Forza Horizon 3, etc) but also throw in a few surprises – the brutally hard Cuphead will be a Play Anywhere title, as will the stylish We Happy Few. Ark: Survival Evolved makes the list too – completing the circle for a game that started life on PC before hitting the Xbox Game Preview Programme; when it exits preview, it’ll be available on (Windows 10) PC through Xbox Play Anywhere.
Things get even more interesting when we look to the future. With all future Microsoft Studios-published games launching under Xbox Play Anywhere, Halo 6 will likely mark the Master Chief’s return to PC – a platform he’s avoided since the Windows Vista-exclusive Halo 2 released in 2007. Halo is the franchise most closely associated with Xbox, and undoubtedly many will see Spartan 117’s arrival on Windows 10 as a death-knell for Xbox.
But to do so is to completely miss the point. The convergence of console and PC gaming doesn’t mean the death of Xbox – far from it. Xbox Play Anywhere only strengthens the Xbox brand. Under Windows 10, Xbox is now, more than ever, a service – not a platform. You choose your platform of choice – console or PC – and you play your games. And if you can’t choose, you play on both. As consumers, more choice is great. I love that I can play games on a huge TV on a console I picked up for £250. I love that I could play those same games on a £1,500 gaming rig (I don’t, because I’m not made of money). I love that however I choose to play my games I’m still playing an Xbox game. I’m still playing on Xbox, even if I’m not playing on an Xbox.
If backbone of this convergence is Windows 10, then its central nervous system is undoubtedly Xbox Live. Microsoft’s online offering has grown since those first pioneering steps to become the most powerful weapon in the Xbox arsenal. Whilst the Xbox team has worked hard to rid itself of the baggage associated with its disastrous launch, and hardware sales lagging far behind PlayStation 4, Xbox Live remains a bright beacon and Microsoft could do a lot worse than shape the future around it.
What do you think of Xbox Play Anywhere? Let us know in the comments!