JAN. 23, 2015 • Microsoft Corp. unveiled a slew of features this week geared specifically for PC gamers at its Windows 10 press conference. First off, the company chose for the first time to offer the operating system as a free upgrade to all existing Windows 7 and Windows 8 owners for one year. Next, Microsoft showed off the new DirectX 12 application programming interface (API) that translates greater efficiency into visuals that are more complex and have higher detail at a lower cost to system resources. This latest version of API is exclusive to Windows 10. The new operating system also arrives with an Xbox App that enables Xbox Live multiplayer and social features on the PC. Microsoft promises an increased number of titles that are playable on both the PC and Xbox One, which include far greater competitive and cooperative interaction. Fable Legends was touted as the first title to meet the new standards of platform interoperability. Much like Sony’s Remote Play feature that permits the playing of PlayStation 4 titles on the Vita handheld, Windows 10 will include its own game streaming feature that transfers gameplay to a PC or Surface tablet. The Xbox One’s Game DVR will also migrate to Windows 10. Further, the Cortana voice assistant app from Windows Phone 8.1 will be added to Windows 10, and a new scaled down browser called Spartan will debut. Microsoft drew from its Halo franchise to name previous two desktop features. Much less tangible was the presentation of the company’s upcoming augmented reality system called HoloLens. Microsoft says Windows 10 will launch sometime during 2015 with HoloLens arriving sometime during the operating system’s release cycle.
Impact: Windows 8 was definitely a misfire for Microsoft. The idea was to integrate tablet interface design onto the desktop. Apple Inc. has been able to do this relatively successfully with its OS X despite significant grumbling. But Microsoft charges a great deal more for a copy of Windows and the firm faced outright consumer rebellion. Win 8.1 was a partial walkback of tablet features that was unsuccessful at divorcing PC users from their trustworthy installations of Windows 7. Therefore, it is a monumental change that Microsoft will give away Win 10 upgrades for free. Given that core PC gamers build their own systems, that usually means going out and purchasing a copy of Windows. So the free upgrade is an overture that directly appeals to this consumer group that has a great deal of influence on family members and friends.
Bottom line, the big draw for the speed-crazed core crowd in Win 10 is DirectX 12. The prospect of getting more return on existing GPU hardware is too tantalizing to pass by. That this enhancement can be had for free will be a major inducement to upgrade. Cross-platform playability is another big draw. People tend to like PCs and consoles for different genres of games, and we do not see that changing, yet essentially all console gamers play on the PC in some form. Although the potential of cross-platform titles between Xbox consoles and PC has been with us a long time, execution on that promise has been lackluster. Sometimes there is an issue in certifying game servers. In other cases the Xbox One, PC and Xbox 360 versions are each developed by a different studio, which makes unifying updates and DLC difficult. Many reasons such as these can derail good faith cross-platform intentions. Some of the keyboard and mouse fraternity suspect Microsoft does not want to risk the video game controller customer receiving regular embarrassing multiplayer beatdowns. Regardless of Fable Legends’ virtues, if Halo 5 is released day and date as a cross-platform title, that would be a huge deposit on the promise of cross-platform gaming on the PC. Otherwise, all of the Xbox Live social features in Windows 10 will be so much window dressing on the desktop. Overall, based on past performance, DFC will take a wait-and-see attitude on cross-platform play. It should be noted that Microsoft is somewhat limited by lack of a strong mobile entry.
HoloLens is an interface technology, like Kinect, that could go far in giving the Xbox and PC platforms a strong point of differentiation. Augmented reality does not isolate the user from the real world like the virtual reality implementations such as Sony and Oculus Rift are developing. Consumers can still use all of their existing controllers and display screens. As a result, we think AR has more upside potential as a result compared to VR yet a lot will depend on how Microsoft refines the technology, however. This is category DFC will be watching closely in 2015.