Over the past few years, Microsoft has made moves to blur the lines between its flagship gaming console, the Xbox One, and PC Gaming. It began at E3 2017 when Microsoft announced that all of their first party games would see a simultaneous release on Xbox One and Windows 10.
Since then, Microsoft has continued to push in that direction. In the marketing for the ultra-powerful Xbox One X, they described the console using PC terminology. The upgraded system seems directed at tech-minded folks who want to get closer to that PC fidelity but didn't want to leave their couches.
Now, with Project Scarlett, Microsoft will borrow even more things from the PC space. In a recent interview with GameSpot, Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, called out Windows specifically, reminding folks that Xbox and Windows fall under the same umbrella. It looks like the company hopes to stand out in the upcoming console generation with a push to further give console players a PC experience.
A Focus on Performance
The Xbox One X introduced Xbox fans to 4K gaming and gave them a taste of what a horsepower kick can do for a console. It hasn’t had the same consistency when it comes to high frame rates, which many gamers see as a more important metric. According to Xbox head Phil Spencer, the next console will change that.
The new console carries the codename Scarlett, and while the company didn’t reveal a whole lot about it, they did claim that it would run four times faster than the Xbox One X. In the interview, Phil Spencer made it clear that Xbox understands players’ desire for console manufacturers to prioritize game performance over resolution. He says that with Scarlett, the team at Xbox will place a much stronger emphasis on frame rates and loading times. He states a clear goal to shoot for 4K and 60fps.
Console developers haven't had to worry about this kind of thing too much in the past. Sure, for the tech-minded, things like framerate and resolution would come up. But they didn't really exist in the typical living room gamer's lexicon until the most recent generation. Games just needed to work. The concept of a mid-generation upgrade changed that conversation and Xbox has listened.
Backwards Compatibility & Games Pass
Over the last few years, Xbox has taken a firm stance on backwards compatibility. The Xbox 360 generation saw hugely successful titles for the company and they know gamers like to return to old games they love. But Microsoft has gone even further. Their backwards compatibility program includes many of the great hits from all of the way back to the first Xbox console. Gamers can grab many of these titles through the Xbox Game Pass subscription service, which it shares with Windows.
For Scarlett, Phil Spencer said that Xbox will continue this focus on supporting their old titles. The games that run now on Xbox One will also run on the upcoming console, including the ones more recently released for backwards compatibility. This dedication relates to PC gaming as well. If a gamer wants to run a Windows game from 20 years ago, they still can, provided they have access to it.
Consoles these days have more in common with PCs than ever before which has made this easier to do. Now that Xbox has done some of the leg work bringing some of the more difficult titles up to speed, those games shouldn't have trouble working on future consoles. In other words, Microsoft have put resources into making sure gamers can play old games and new ones on Xbox, just like they can on PC, and that future consoles support that indefinitely.
Legacy Controller Support
In the past, a new console meant a new controller. Fans of console gaming got excited to see the ways their favorite companies would change how they interfaced with their games. Now, controllers vary wildly. Everyone seems to have a different controller style they like.
Microsoft specifically has shown an interest in giving players the opportunity to create the controller they want. Last year, Xbox unveiled an adaptive controller for gamers with disabilities that they can use on Xbox or PC. The adaptive controller affords players a ton of different customizable paddles, switches, and more for playing games in the way that best suits them.
The company has also made a splash in the luxury controller market. At E3 this year, they unveiled the second version of their $200 Elite controller. The Elite controller features customizable paddles, colors, grips, buttons, sticks, and more. It lets Xbox fans play the way they want, and it works on PC too.
In the Scarlett interview, Phil Spencer spoke to this support Xbox has shown and revealed that the new console will support all of these controllers, plus the standard Xbox One controllers if players prefer to use those. Giving players a wide variety of interfacing options comes directly from the PC gamer playbook. Microsoft even recently patched mouse and keyboard support into the Xbox's operating system. PC gamers have long had a variety of fist-party controller options and now console owners will too.
A New Console Experience
Microsoft has clearly decided that some modern console gamers prefer choice over the curated approach, and there's no reason the company can't provide both. Project Scarlett could easily come in a variety of different forms. Perhaps one version of the console could offer the complete package the way consoles always have; while another could come with just the box itself and allow players to use the peripherals they already have like they would with a new PC.
Either way, taking the PC approach gives Microsoft the flexibility to support many different types of gamers in the next generation. By bringing Windows and Xbox together, focusing on backwards compatibility, and giving players the chance to use whatever peripherals they want, Microsoft puts themselves in the position to have an enormous overall stake in the gaming community. It'll be curious to see if that pays off when Project Scarlett launches next year.