The Xbox One: Does it mean anything for PC gaming?
Yes, it’s one of these articles. A ‘response to a big gaming conference’ piece, penned for maximum impact right after Microsoft’s Xbox One presentation has taken place. You’re right to be suspicious, there is an opportunistic agenda behind it.
But here’s the thing; new consoles should, in theory, be pretty relevant to PC users. Some of the gaming landscape, and how we interact with it as players, will be shaped by the console twins of PS4 and Xbox One.
Only some of it though. Figuring out which parts is down to the art of good old informed speculation.
As it turned out, Microsoft’s event was twenty parts bluster about American television services to one part genuine, useful information. But let’s go over what was shown, and how it may relate to future PC usage.
1). Used games / Online-DRM: To the surprise of perhaps no-one, the most interesting piece of information about the Xbox One didn’t even come out of the conference itself. It comes from this Wired piece, which has a few details about how the console will deal with preowned games. Effectively, it seems like all games will install to the HDD and be tied to an Xbox Live account. If you want to lend your game to someone, they’ll have to pay some sort of fee to install it. They may or may not have the option to just play it from the disc and then return it.
That’s a slap in the face for console users, but we’re sort of used to it here in PC land. Most digital download titles are tied to (say) a Steam account, so you can’t lend them out without taking the major risk of sharing account details. Disc-based releases often have limited installation restrictions or one-off ‘activation’ codes. Of course, these restrictions are hugely mitigated on PC by regular special offers, much lower pricing, access to modding and the openness of the platform. This is Microsoft’s attempt to adapt a method for preventing used game sales that’s been around on PC for years – but without any of the platform benefits that make it (just about) bearable on PC.
As for always-online nonsense (of the type which crippled the recent SimCity); Microsoft says it won’t force developers to make use of its cloud-based servers to offset some of the processing power from the Xbox One’s hardware, but it would like them to. Any games which do take up this option would need a steady internet connection to function. Assuming that a proportion of developers will take Microsoft up on this offer, and assuming those same games get a PC version, we’re probably going to see even more games demanding at least a semi-consistent connection in future. That’s bad news all round.
2.) So what’s inside that massive black box anyway?: Microsoft’s event was significantly light on technical details. It was proudly trumpeted that the One has five billion transistors as if that meant anything, followed by a cursory mention of 8 gig of RAM. Hey, that’s actual information! Except incomplete information, because the RAM type remains a mystery. Maybe Microsoft aren’t the best people to be explaining hardware specs though, because the speakers kept insisting that the Xbox One would be powered by clouds (a blatant lie, it’ll be powered by electricity.) Someone else insisted that the new Kinect was literal rocket science, which isn’t all that impressive either considering rockets have been part of recorded history since at least the 13th Century.
Luckily, Engadget were allowed to poke around the innards, confirming that the RAM is DDR3 stuff. The rest of it looks rather PC-esque as well, with the use of x86 architecture and a Direct X 11.1 graphics chip (albeit heavily customised.)
Developers always manage to squeeze much more efficient and impressive results out of closed, console systems, so the fact that the hardware specs don’t exactly look as if they’ll challenge contemporary PCs is probably misleading. If history is any indication, once developers figure out how to maximise the PS4 and Xbox One hardware we’ll be needing to upgrade our rigs to keep up. No huge surprises there.
3.) It can do stuff we’ve been doing on PC for ages: Microsoft was very proud about the fact that it’d be possible to use the Xbox One to watch TV and browse the internet at the same time, using a picture-in-picture feature. Something you’ve been able to do with a PC since the internet became reliable enough to stream video. The bombshell news that you’ll be able to use Skype on your Xbox One was similarly underwhelming for PC users.
Apparently, this console will also have lots more multiplayer servers which means bigger multiplayer matches in games. Great. Maybe the Xbox version of Battlefield will finally be able to host games with as many players as the PC version.
4.) In control: It just wouldn’t be a Microsoft event without someone pretending to still be excited about Kinect, and the people on stage were pretending hard. The Xbox One is doubling down on voice commands which, while probably not relevant to the PC, does open up whole new avenues for localised griefing. Is someone getting to a tricky part in Dark Souls II? Amuse yourself by saying “Xbox, switch to TV” and watching the ensuing rage!
In more tangentially PC-related news, the new physical controller looked pretty inoffensive. That’s probably because it seems almost identical to the Xbox 360 one (but, supposedly, with a better d-pad.) With any luck, this will mean older 360 controllers will continue to function with PC ports for the foreseeable future. No need to shell out for a new one of those.
5.) Oh hey, it still plays games: Microsoft somehow found a few minutes in its 60 minute commercial for the NFL to share a couple of details about games which may be of interest to the PC player.
Future EA Sports titles will be making use of a new engine called Ignite. This is presumably exciting, but the only real footage we saw of it was wireframe stuff in between Lionel Messi confirming that, yes, he does in fact enjoy playing football. Still, it suggests that the next set of EA Sports ports to appear on the PC will utilise more of our beloved box’s hardware power … in some way.
[Edit: Turns out the exact opposite is true, Fifa 14 will actually be kneecapped on the PC and not use the Ignite engine at all. Thanks for the own goal, EA.]
If Fifa’s Ultimate Team mode is your thing on PC, the news that unspecified parts (not all of it) will be exclusive to the Xbox One could cause some alarm. But don’t worry, it’s probably just some rubbish to do with Kinect.
Alan Wake 2 did not appear in any form, but developers Remedy will be making something called Quantum Break. The aired mash-up of live-action parental chatting and rendered boats crashing into bridges was confusing and didn’t explain much about the game, but given Remedy’s record it might show up on PC in about two years time. Quantum Break is one of Microsoft’s fifteen Xbox One exclusives, but it seems like we’ll have to wait until E3 to learn about the rest.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty: Ghosts has stealthily turned itself into Fable 2 by including a dog. We now know why the player will have to open all of those damn corridor doors in the next CoD: it’s because dogs don’t have hands.
And that’s it.
I’m not kidding, that’s all the game stuff.
So, what does all of this mean for us PC people?
It means we may have to put up with more releases that offset certain computation routines to external servers in ostensibly single player games. Somehow, Ubisoft’s (now ditched) always-on DRM, Diablo 3’s launch and everything about SimCity appear not to have turned developers off this idea.
It means we’ll probably have to upgrade our PC specs sooner rather than later (but what else is new for console launches.)
It means a dog in the next Call of Duty.
Truly, the next generation of integrated living room entertainment made by gamers for gamers is just around the cor … oh god, I think I’m slipping into a PR bullshit coma. Hopefully it’ll pass before E3.