About a year ago I made a post on Reddit about the future of the video game console market. I made some basic predictions about the video game industry and used those predictions to make some assumptions on where I believed the console market is going to head into the near future. The underlying forecast was, as PC’s continue to become more accessible and easier to play games on, gamers are going to start spending more time playing on the PC due to the better variety and quality of games the PC has to offer. Although this assumption seemed a bit dire for the console market, using this assumption, I provided some advice to Microsoft and Sony to keep the console market alive for future generations.
And it seems someone has been listening.
With the most recent comments from Xbox’s Phil Spencer, Microsoft plans on creating a marketplace where applications will run on all of Microsoft’s hardware. This means PC games on the Xbox and Xbox exclusives games on the PC. Microsoft plans on blurring the lines that separate gaming from the PC and consoles through the use of Universal Windows Applications (UWA).
Here is a messy analysis of my past assumptions and predictions with updated assumptions, predictions, and speculation on where I think the Xbox is heading with Microsoft new initiative of UWA’s.
My original assumptions predicted 10 months ago are indented and marked with bullet points
- We’re now 3 years into the future
10 months later
- PC’s can be built for less than 500 and are significantly more powerful than current gen consoles
I still believe this to be the case, 3 years from now the Nvidia GTX 970 and R9 390, two cards significantly stronger than the consoles, should be two generations old and price should be on par with a GTX 680 now which you can find on Amazon for a 150$.
- Middle tier Steambox’s are selling for 399 and are also significantly stronger than current gen consoles
I also believe this assumption is still on track. Right now the Alienware Alpha which is relatively on par with current gen consoles is priced around the 500$ range. The 2nd gen Steambox’s price and spec ratio should give a much better indication of what Steambox’s will look like in the future.
- 4k gaming has caught on and is on the way to becoming the new gaming standard
I’m much more skeptical about this prediction now. As it stands, building a PC to run The Witcher 3 at MAX settings with a steady 60 frames on the 4k resolution will set you back at least two grand, and that still hasn’t really changed since last year. Nvidia’s Pascal cards scheduled to release this summer should drive down the cost to run older games at 4k 60fps, but I don’t see 4k becoming a gaming standard until the mid-tier graphics cards can run most games at 4k 60FPS. If that’s not going to happen during Nvidia’s Pascal generation, we might have to wait for 1 or 2 more generations of GPU’s. 4k monitors and tv also need to drop significantly in price as well. I’d project early 3 years but more likely 5 years until 4k is an affordable standard.
- PC gaming is picking up Steam and is now starting to take a piece of the console market. Fortunately for Microsoft and Sony, 3rd party hardware manufacturers are struggling to market Steambox’s and gaming PC’s to the semi-casual gaming audience, i.e., the average Call of Duty/Assassins Creed player. There still exists a PC enthusiast stigma to PC gaming, but it’s rapidly going away.
So the primary assumption here is claiming that 3 years from now, PC gaming will start to directly compete in the console market. With now 36 million PS4 units sold and whatever Microsoft has sold, I don’t see the console market taking any real hits anytime soon. People are going to continue to buy Sports games and Call of Duty on the console for as long as this generation lasts.
As far as what Valve has done with Steambox’s thus far, the marketing has been a complete mess. Right now there is absolutely no benefit to buying a Steambox over a pre-built PC. The form factors and specs between the two are the same, and because the Steambox runs on Linux, you’re actually getting a smaller game library. Not only that, but all the user-friendly benefits you get from Windows 10 are completely non-existent on Linux. The Steambox is failing in every market it’s trying to compete in, while Windows PC’s continue to grow.
- Now let us look at the current-gen consoles now into their 5th year
- both Microsoft and Sony each have their 3-4 big exclusives that drive the majority of sales each year
Yup seems about right. But what if Microsoft started selling Xbox exclusive games on the PC? More on this later
- 3rd party games are also doing very well but don’t look nearly as good their PC counterpart
This is an interesting one here. 3rd party games are not only looking much better on the PC now, but these games are now running much much better on the PC as well. On consoles, Fallout 4 and Just Cause 3 launched with horrible frame rates, Rainbow Six Siege was riddled with bugs, and the latest Hitman game suffers from terrible load times. If this trend continues to worsen on consoles, a capable PC becomes that much more desirable.
- Consoles continue to scoop up 30% of the indie gaming market, (smaller games) but the majority of smaller innovative games are on the PC
Consoles continue to scoop up about 1 of every 3 popular indie games that release on the PC. The PC continues to thrive in the strategy genre in where a mouse and keyboard are preferable.
- Sales for both consoles are starting to plateau and, more and more hardcore consoles gamers are looking for the PC due to the convenience and price of Steambox’s
Remove the word Steambox from that sentence and Windows-based PC in its place. I cannot foresee the world where Steambox’s become relevant anytime soon.
- How do Microsoft and Sony keep the Xbox and PlayStation brand alive? (I’m going to use Microsoft and Xbox as the example but just replace those words with Sony and PlayStation, and you will get the same results)
- Microsoft needs to create a PC that has the form factor of a console, (much like the current-gen consoles) with upgraded specs that will allow dual boot the Xbox Marketplace and the latest version of Windows. The Xbox Marketplace will be the console part of the system that can play exclusive games for Microsoft, and the Windows OS will be a fully functional OS that can run Steam. This allows Microsoft to keep its Xbox brand and continue to make money on exclusives while at the same time keeping the system open to third-party software providers such as Steam, Origin, Uplay, etc. At the end of the day, this is a win/win for Microsoft. They can market this PC as a console with the Xbox brand and keep the hardcore gamers at bay with the alternative options PC gamers have via Steam. They also get the casual COD market because those plebs just want to buy COD, eat Doritos, and drink Mountain Dew all day.
So I almost nailed this. When Phil Spencer recently said this about Windows devices, “We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs.” What he is basically saying is, through the use of Universal Windows Applications (UWA) people who own Microsoft hardware are going to be able to quickly run any UWA through the Microsoft Marketplace because the applications are universal. LApple app store, apps and games can run on any Apple product through the app store and long as the hardware is compatible. So what does this mean for games? As long as games run under the UWA guidelines, they should be accessible by any piece of hardware that meets the UWA system requirements and run on any up to date Microsoft OS. Games that run on your phone will be able to run on your Xbox and PC. Games that run on your Xbox will be able to run on your PC. And like we have already started to see, this new initiative means Xbox exclusive games will run on Windows PC’s
By making the process easy for developers to port and create games under UWA guidelines, Microsoft can convert the majority of PC exclusive games over to the Xbox without having to worry about allowing other marketplaces such as Steam, Origin, and Uplay to get involved.
So what does Windows 10 and UWA’s mean for the Xbox?
If Microsoft can pull this off, they are essentially turning the Xbox into the Ipad of console games. When you buy the latest Xbox, you’re essentially buying a console that runs all the current games on a Windows PC through the use of UWA’s. That means full backward compatibility with older games (provided the developers continue to update the game) and access to smaller games have traditionally been PC only due to the complicated nature of having to port games over to consoles. Like an Ipad, the new model comes out every year or two with better specs and more features. The lifecycle of a future Xbox will likely be longer than an Ipad but will definitely be shorter than the last console generation. My guess would be the 2-4 year range for each Xbox. Another question is whether the next Xbox will be upgradable. Will you be able to swap out an old GPU for a new one in the Xbox and save a couple hundred bucks? Or will you be forced to upgrade to a new console every time one is released?
On paper, this new initiative sounds like the perfect way to integrate the benefits of PC gaming into the Xbox while still maintaining the accessibility of a console, but this idea is going to either live or die based on how easily developers will be able to create and port games under UWA guidelines. The easier it is to build under UWA architecture, the more content you will see in the Windows Marketplace, and more content in the Microsoft Store means more content for the Xbox and for consoles. If the architecture is easy to work with, porting games from the PC to Xbox should be easier than ever and games traditionally only available on PC can make their way to the Xbox console. By creating a more natural architecture to work with, Microsoft can provide an easy way to port games over to consoles without having to provide competing marketplaces available on the PC such as Steam and Origin.
With Sony’s PlayStation 4 selling over 30 million units, we now know consoles are here to stay, but if Microsoft finds a way to successfully integrate UWA’s into the Xbox One and all future Xbox iterations, the way we think about consoles is going to change.
The next Xbox (Nextbox)…
- Will be announced within the next 2 years
- Will be backward compatible will all current UWA games on the Microsoft and Xbox Store
- Will potentially be up-gradable
- Will launch with a larger game library than the Xbox One’s library as of now
- Will function as a multimedia device for the living room that can take advantage of apps available on the PC and on Phones
- Will have a considerably shorter life cycle