How The Marriage Of Windows 10 And Xbox One Will Help Microsoft

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 Reasons Gamers Will Love Windows 10.

Although the overwhelming majority of PC gamers run Windows, it would be fair to say that their relationship with Microsoft has been fraught throughout the years.Whenever I think about Windows 10, I hear Russell Watson belting the Star Trek: Enterprise theme song: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here…” The muchballyhooed new iteration of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is indeed here, available July 29 for anyone bold enough to make the leap.

It’s a compelling proposition on paper: A free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, and an interface overhaul rife with snazzy new features and tantalizing curiosities, many of them aimed squarely at gamers. Windows 8, meanwhile, brought an unfriendly interface and a half-hearted App Store pricing model, which was met with a collective shrug by countless gamers worldwide who stuck with Windows 7. Valve CEO Gabe Newell told The Verge that “Windows 8 was like this giant sadness” that “just hurts everybody in the PC business.” Minecraft creator Notch said, “I’d rather have Minecraft not run on Windows 8 at all than play along” with Microsoft’s attempt to sell games itself.

If you share that conception of Windows — as the beating heart of a souped up, console-shaming, uber-gaming powerhouse — you’re in good company. Spencer cautioned that it could be a “little more challenging” than getting Xbox One games to stream to the PC. “But challenge is good,” he added. Following the troubled launch of Windows 8, Microsoft proceeded to torpedo Xbox’s reputation by making its new console less powerful than the PlayStation 4, more expensive due to a mandatory Kinect bundle of dubious value, and more focused on entertainment features to the detriment of gaming. “It was a tough time for the team, a tough time for what we were trying to do with Xbox,” says Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer in an interview with The Verge. “Because a lot of the original ideas around Xbox One didn’t meet the expectations that Xbox fans have of what we should do with our product.” But after taking over from Don Mattrick, Spencer’s gamer-focused approach has started to pay off after hard decisions like unbundling Kinect; Microsoft’s E3 keynote last month was universally well received. To break that down and explore some of the less well-known angles, I spoke with Stardock CEO (and Windows insider) Brad Wardell, the guy behind recent PC games like Galactic Civilizations III and Sorcerer King, as well as up and comers Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity and Servo. So it’s on this tentative surge of momentum that Microsoft is putting the Xbox brand at the heart of Windows 10, with an expansive new Xbox app and a long list of gaming features. “We’re taking the Xbox team and really thinking about it as the gaming team in Microsoft,” says Spencer. “Where Xbox is our gaming brand and it’s less solely about the console itself and more about the gaming ecosystem all up — whether you’re playing on a PC, whether you’re playing on your phone, whether you’re playing on your console.” Every Windows 10 installation includes the Xbox app, a major attempt by Microsoft to put its stamp on the PC gaming experience.

DirectX is how games talk to your computer, the crucial “application programming interface” that rests like a byzantine traffic signal between the way a studio wants a game to look and play and the hardware under the hood. DirectX has been with us since Windows 95, and Wardell says DirectX 12, the dozenth iteration of the toolset, is as crucial a rethink as Windows 95 itself was when it debuted two decades ago. “DirectX 11 and before were all made before we had multicore CPUs,” say Wardell. “So at the end of the day, all your games were talking to your video card via one core.” That, for modern CPUs now readily sporting four, six or eight cores, creates an enormous bottleneck. Here’s an example: I own a Steam copy of Ori and the Blind Forest, a game that launched this year on Xbox One and PC with considerable backing from Microsoft.

It’s due to be playable via Steam Early Access next month (It’s also, incidentally, the first game with a DirectX 12 benchmark, adds Wardell.) But it’ll likely have company very soon. If I play Ori in Windows 10, there are some things I can do through the Xbox app; pressing Win-G or the Xbox home button on my controller to take screenshots or record footage, for instance.

Wardell says it’s “not hard” to go to DirectX 12, and that his developers made the shift with relative ease. “These high-end games, like Unreal Engine or CryEngine, you know, your first-person shooters and such, they will probably have DirectX 12 versions very shortly. And when they arrive, we’re talking about a pretty huge, instantaneous performance boost.” It sounds counterintuitive, but Wardell told me the performance gains with DirectX 12 will be greater the slower your CPU is. That, to put it simply, is just a reflection of how big a deal activating all those idle cores turns out to be. “The older your box, the better Windows 10 is,” says Wardell. “So if you have like a Core i5 [Intel’s mid-range CPU series] with a decent video card, you’ll actually see a bigger gain than if you have some monster Core i7 high-end CPU.” Again, the game has to be DirectX 12 aware to benefit, but it’s a fascinating, hugely ironic Windows 10 wrinkle that its chief beneficiaries may be gamers running older multicore hardware. “Because it’s using all your cores, DirectX 12 uses a lot less power,” says Wardell. “Whenever you max out a core, you’re using a lot more power overall than if you’re distributing the load across multiple cores. So that means big power savings, especially for laptop gamers where battery life becomes a vital factor.” The unanticipated flip side of this, Wardell tells me, is that DirectX 12’s core repurposing could actually harm extreme-end overclocked PCs. “Here’s a sneak preview of the first scandal,” jokes Wardell. “All these people who overclocked their machines could in theory wind up frying their computers, because with all those cores going all out, your PC’s going to run way hotter.” How many video cards do you have in your PC? Xbox Live-enabled games didn’t exactly take off on Windows 8; as of today the store is populated with little more than mobile ports and Microsoft’s new, social versions of games like Minesweeper and Mahjong.

The one big Windows 10 game to hit the store today is a new version of Minecraft, ironically enough given Notch’s prior statements on the Windows Store. Add the one on top of the other and, if he’s right, the shift at a developmental level starts to sound like that rare confluence of evolutionary plus the letter ‘r’.

The PC’s open nature is one of its biggest strengths — Spencer correctly points out that Minecraft’s success came down to “a dude just creates a Java app, throws it up with a PayPal link, and all of a sudden it becomes massive.” But in practice, most PC gamers are so entrenched in their Steam libraries that almost anything else is an unwelcome distraction. But Microsoft believes the Xbox ecosystem has something unique to add to Windows. “Back in the day with Games for Windows [Live] when it was out, really there was a sentiment inside the Xbox group that if we could only get those Windows people to play games on the console, that would help us sell more Xboxes,” says Spencer. “I love selling more Xboxes. [But] more than selling more Xboxes, I love having people have fun on Xbox Live.

But if you’ve been living on Windows 7 all this time, Windows 10’s startup times are slightly faster than Windows 8’s, and dramatically faster than Windows 7’s. I look at the opportunity on Windows to connect the ecosystems.” For existing Steam users who don’t care about the Xbox One, it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be able to propel its Xbox-on-Windows initiative beyond an occasionally-opened annoyance.

Microsoft doesn’t seem too invested in the concept of a PC gaming store, let alone the prospect of taking on Steam. “Steam is massive and they’ve been incredibly important to the Windows gaming ecosystem,” says Spencer. “Five years from now I want Steam to be incredibly popular and successful. Windows 10 is making the Xbox UI faster, which is great.” It’s also worth noting, of course, that Windows 10 is the best-designed and most usable version of Windows in recent memory, and that if you do anything with your PC beyond gaming you’ll probably want to upgrade at some point anyway.

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