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Microsoft Plans to Upgrade Xbox One Hardware, Unify PC and Console Platforms

These moves are part of a larger strategy that Xbox head Phil Spencer explained at a press event last week.

The name of this file is
The name of this file is "Quantum Break Xbox One Time Shield.jpg" and that's sort of an amazing mess of words, isn't it?

Last week, Microsoft held its annual Xbox Spring Showcase, an event that normally puts the spotlight on a few upcoming game releases. This time, though, Xbox head Phil Spencer used the event to outline his vision for the future of the Xbox brand, and depending on how you interpret what he said, it could telegraph a pretty drastic shift.

At the heart of Spencer's plan for the Xbox One is an effort to unify the console platform with Windows 10, both literally and figuratively. Games created on the recently debuted Universal Windows Platform will work across Xbox One, Windows 10, and Windows-based smartphones and tablets--that means that the developers should have a much easier time porting Xbox One games directly to PC. These games could more easily take advantage of features like cross-play and cross-save, too.

Unfortunately, things are off to a bit of a rocky start, as Gears of War: Ultimate Edition released on PC only to run headfirst into a mess of issues with AMD graphics cards. That's only part of the reason to be concerned, though. The recent Rise of the Tomb Raider PC release revealed that games released on the Windows store (which will include all Universal Windows Platform games), have some pretty severe restrictions on them, including forced VSync and Borderless Fullscreen modes, locked FPS settings, and the inability to create mods. Microsoft's Mike Ybarra has confirmed that Microsoft is aware of these issues and is working to address them, a claim that was re-iterated to Jeff during the Spring Showcase.

We'll be able to judge how troublesome those restrictions are soon: Quantum Break releases on both Xbox One and PC on April 5th, and though the full edition of Forza Motorsport 6 isn't releasing on PC in the near future, a "curated," free-to-play version of the game called Forza Motorsport 6: Apex will be out this Spring. (Turn 10 creative director Dan Greenawalt has said the full game is on its way, and notes that all future Forza games will coming to both Xbox One and PC.)

Beyond just releasing games on both platforms, Spencer also indicated interest in taking a PC-like approach to the hardware side of the Xbox platform. During his statement to the press, he spoke about wanting to bring the the tech-driven innovation seen in the PC and mobile markets back to the consoles.

[On PC and mobile] you get a continuous innovation that you rarely see on console. Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger.

Now, said Spencer, Microsoft plans on "decoupling" the Xbox One as a software platform from the hardware it first shipped with. It's not clear exactly what he means yet, and in a statement provided to Polygon, Spencer explained that he wasn't ready yet to give specifics, but that he was committed to bringing the "capability of hardware iteration" to consoles. In other words: The hardware will improve, but it will still be the Xbox One (and therefore still draw from the same catalog of games and apps).

To this day, I don't really understand why they dropped the C from
To this day, I don't really understand why they dropped the C from "pack."

Statements like this lead to a lot of speculation. Does this mean we'll see a new, modular Xbox One? An add-on like the old Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak or the rumored PlayStation VR external processing box? Or maybe we'll just see a new Xbox One console every few years with an improved tech inside, a la Apple's iPad or a high-end closed-box PC?

Regardless, this plan signals a dramatic shift away from the traditional console model. For ages, conventional wisdom has said that optional hardware upgrades split a console's user base, which in turn discourages developers from fully taking advantage of the increased power. Why should devs spend time developing for the handful of people on the high end when most folks only use the baseline model of the console? We've seen that problem illustrated with both peripherals (like the 32X) and upgraded consoles (like the New 3DS), but perhaps Microsoft thinks that the problem with previous attempts was in the execution and not the basic idea.

In some ways, this whole plan actually started to roll out last year. Microsoft brought Xbox Live's friends list to Windows 10 and allowed for cross-platform play in games like #IDARB, and it released the Universal Windows Platform for developers to start building cross-platform games. It also launched its Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility program, which symbolically lines up with Microsoft's envisioning of "Xbox" as a long-running platform and not just a single generation console.

Despite all these efforts, I'm not sure I'm convinced by the vision. I like its ambition, and in an ideal world, I'd love to see an Xbox One that keeps pace with PC but also maintains all of the ease-of-use benefits that consoles have. I'm just not sure that this is the way to do it--and I really don't think that this was the way to make the announcement. While I understand the need to take time with big decisions about hardware iteration, I'm just not sure why you'd make the announcement before you had specific details to offer. As it stands, it's just so easy to imagine the worst case scenario, and the last thing Microsoft needs is more people assuming the worst about the Xbox One.

233 Comments

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Relkin

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I'd like to see this work out.

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NachoBizNas

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Naw dawg, I'm good.

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JoystickJunkie

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Maybe certain components within an Xbox One will be replaceable/modular, but wasn't that the problem with the Xbox 360? I mean I heard it was a small problem, that the original models launched with a bunch of different skews (replaceable hard-drive, add-on wireless, etc) and developers had to plan for all the older models.

I think it'd have to be an expansion pack situation, where games can take advantage of a box/add-on if it's available and some games would rely on it.

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GERALTITUDE

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I'm very, very curious about that plan.

At bare minimum, you would need people to able to walk their XB1s into a store and trade them in for new ones. Either free, or for a very minimal price.

Otherwise, I think Austin is on the money. This is a nightmare scenario in so many ways.

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BlackLagoon

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Edited By BlackLagoon

I think a big issue is that a console relies on programmers learning that specific hardware configuration and optimizing their game to run well on it, not to mention figuring out how to squeeze out more power as they get more experienced with it. If you're going to have multiple Xbox Ones, that means a lot of extra work to get the most out of each model. I'm not sure I would expect it would be worth it for publishers to out in the effort to make the games run all that better on the newer models.

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Darth_Navster

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I'm not as pessimistic as most people are on this. I honestly don't mind the XBox One be seen as a Steam Box-like extension for the PC. Let's face it, at this point consoles are inevitably going to merge with PC in some form, so it's encouraging to see a traditionally conservative company like Microsoft lead the charge. I've liked what Phil Spencer has done with his tenure as the XBox chief so far and this step feels like another savvy move by his team. Of course, the execution could certainly fail but the ideas behind it seem sound.

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DiscoStu

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I hope this idea stays in the idea stage and doesn't get implemented. In a industry that is already embracing season passes and free to play business models that nickel and dime consumers, asking for gamers to also continually put money into the console itself seems to neglect why people buy consoles in the first place - to not worry about compatibility.

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mayor_mccheese

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I want to see what an "expansion pak" looks like in the holy year 2016.

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Mike17032

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Edited By Mike17032

This sounds like a terrible idea. Consoles work because the average person knows they can just buy them and play "xbox games" or "ps4 games", it's simple. Most people simply can't keep up with multiple versions of the hardware, look at the Wii-U disaster for evidence of that.

Anyone that is inclined to do things like that, is already gaming on a PC in most cases. This might be the nail in the coffin of the Consoles.

Edit: also the link to Gears of War in the story goes to a 404 page. A funny 404 page, but still a 404 page.

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Jorbit

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I'll believe it when I see a modern Halo on PC.

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MrPlatitude

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Really hoping this is going to mean I can play Halo MCC on my PC soon.

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MattyFTM

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MattyFTM  Moderator

Sounds like they might be trying to turn the Xbox One into a phone or tablet like upgrade structure, where incremental upgrades happen regularly but most software remains compatible across generations. Eventually you end up with the older generation phones being incompatible with modern software, but in the short-medium term, compatibility is retained.

It's an interesting strategy. It'll be interesting to see the details. I guess we'll learn more at E3.

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FinalDasa

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Edited By FinalDasa  Moderator

@mike17032: Spencer says Xbox One games will work on whatever iteration of the system you have. Buy a new game and it'll work on an Xbox One no matter the time you bought it. Spencer compared it to running Doom and 4K modern games on PCs today, both run, Doom looks right, but the PC can still push out amazing, new, games. Assuming it all works that is.

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DaveKap

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The last time Microsoft tried to unify PC and Console, we got Games for Windows Live.

Please, don't unify PC and Console.

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AMyggen

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I never realized that Nintendo spelled it "Pak".

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hassun

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Edited By hassun

The cat's finally out of the bag. It sure took them a long time to publicly confirm it.

Early reports sure are terrible though. It looks like the golden rule still applies. "When Microsoft says it's planning to invest in or focus on PC gaming, be wary!"

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limond

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Coming soon the XBox Chameleon!

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wibby

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Get in!

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hippie_genocide

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I don't know how this is going to go but I'm fucking fascinated by it all the same.

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big_jon

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Maybe I'm crazy but a Hardware upgrade for my Xbox one is something I'd like to see.

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deckard

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GFW Live didn't go well, but this time it's a little different. Since the Xbox One is more of a PC than any console before it, they might as well eschew the traditional console upgrade model and do incremental updates.

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Alucitary

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I really have no idea what they were thinking with the original Xbox One at this point. Even if the TV, and online stuff had worked out perfectly it was just such shitty hardware it was doomed to fail. I'm honestly surprised it managed to hang on this long.

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kasaioni

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So unifying PC and Xbox makes sense to me, but less so does the hardware upgrades of the Xbox One.

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asantosbr

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Edited By asantosbr

It seems that Microsoft is doing all it can to piss off PC and console gamers.

Releasing games only on that terrible Windows store, with lots of limitations, will sure infuriate gamers. That shit makes uPlay looks like heaven. I mean, no SLI, forced vsync, framerate cap, no fullscreen, 10 installs limit, no mods, etc. Disaster ahead.

Not to mention a cut down Forza version with no wheel support.

And for the console gamers, I would be really mad if I own a xbone, and a new upgradable version is released now...

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Necrotron

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I generally play on PC anyways if it isn't an exclusive, but hey, if it can make my Xbox One exclusive games not run like garbage on that platform, I'm totally on board.

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arbayer2

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Edited By arbayer2

I can see it going either way. Microsoft's been making overtures to try and do things differently, which I immensely appreciate.

That said, if this idea of a unified platform (which otherwise could profoundly improve the console experience through cross-play, account-sharing and save-sharing) involves locking out end-user modification and customization, the one major natural benefit owning a PC has over that of a console, then I'm not only not interested, I'm opposed on an ideological and ethical level.

It would, to me, completely negate the point of owning a gaming PC in the first place, especially if regular major hardware upgrades were to become the new standard for Xbox One and later consoles. The last thing I need is for the PC gaming ecosystem to become a walled garden, though I'm fairly certain the market will prevent that just like it prevented GFWL from going anywhere.

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freakydude20

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i'm hoping they won't go the route of new consoles all the time or buying new add on's every time one is released (if i could even afford that) but i can't see any other way the would do it. gotta make money on what you're producing right?

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Jinoru

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Yo Austin, you might want to have a look at PCGamer's interview. Phil doesn't like the "Unify" term.

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UncleBenny

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holy shit this upgrading xbox plan sounds weird. I was thinking about picking up an Xbox one at a later date but now I have to wait and see how this thing is going to work out. This is weird.

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Klyith

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*checks calendar*

Ah, I see the microsoft has emerged from it's burrow to make overblown promises about how PC gaming is important to it. That means only 3 more weeks until spring!

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Novis

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A lot of talk, for a system struggling. And the games have not been worth it, especially with PS+ killing it with their free games. So frustrating to see both consoles having this many issues when everything was worked out last gen.

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Grimluck343

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@klyith said:

*checks calendar*

Ah, I see the microsoft has emerged from it's burrow to make overblown promises about how PC gaming is important to it. That means only 3 more weeks until spring!

Pretty much. Would be more newsworthy if we went a year without Microsoft making big promises for PC gaming.

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nickhead

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Edited By nickhead

"While I understand the need to take time with big decisions about hardware iteration, I'm just not sure why you'd make the announcement before you had specific details to offer. As it stands, it's just so easy to imagine the worst case scenario, and the last thing Microsoft needs is more people assuming the worst about the Xbox One."

This is exactly what I'm thinking - all of this speculation could hurt just like "always on" did.

If somehow Xbox One exclusive games could run better on my PC, though, that sounds cool?

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imallinson

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I imagine the way to make an "expansion pak" type thing for the xbox one work is to take the idea of graphics settings from pc games. Obviously it wouldn't work and wouldn't make much sense to have a load of sliders in the options menu but having set graphics settings that are determined by whether you have the extra hardware or not should work. That way you don't have to make a game for a subsection of the install base to make use of the hardware.

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Gaminggumper

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I think the key differentiation here is the Direct X12 and Windows 10 component. As was discussed in the article. If the hardware is irrelevant so long as it meets Dx12 specs, it allows devs to simply have the Xbox and PC SKUs be essentially the same. Dx12 does the up/down scaling based on the hardware specs, so Devs don't have to worry about the various devices. Right now the biggest hardware limiter for Xbone vs PS4 is RAM. From a cost perspective MSFT could simply start there. Since software views anything over the base Memory spec as a "bonus" you would get auto performance buffs without having to code around the increase, and still design the base level using the earlier specs.

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I have one game on X1. Tomb Raider. The moment that comes to PS4, I will have no problem getting rid of the console, especially if they plan on going the new console every couple of years route. I could technically get the steam version right now and get rid of the X1, but I like play those games on my Playstation consoles.

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ramb0211

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I would love to upgrade my xbox where all my friends play and most of my gaming is done rather than my PC.

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Teddie

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I was already considering getting rid of my Sunset Overdrive Box and putting the money towards upgrading my PC, but this news has got me checking the closet to make sure I still have the packaging.

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Evilsbane

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Edited By Evilsbane

I would be totally fine with this the Xbox One app in Windows 10 is REALLY good and makes it very easy to access my Xbox Live stuff and use all of its features. The hardware stuff is a radical idea after years of that line of thinking completely failing but I think it can be pulled off, think about it, most new PCs have processors that are honestly complete overkill everything is more GPU reliant and having an addon GPU would be fairly simple and make it easier on developers since they have to only work with like maybe 3-5 GPU iterations within a consoles lifespan and allow the game to run at lower settings, we already do that on PCs with a massive number of GPU models.

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Devil240Z

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So you're telling me that I don't have to buy an xone and I can still play the games? I'm in.

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Tennmuerti

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It seems that Microsoft is doing all it can to piss off PC and console gamers.

Releasing games only on that terrible Windows store, with lots of limitations, will sure infuriate gamers. That shit makes uPlay looks like heaven. I mean, no SLI, forced vsync, framerate cap, no fullscreen, 10 installs limit, no mods, etc. Disaster ahead.

Not to mention a cut down Forza version with no wheel support.

And for the console gamers, I would be really mad if I own a xbone, and a new upgradable version is released now...

Waaaait, tell me you are joking about install limits. In this day and age. No fucking way!

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Devil240Z

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I like that Microsoft has adopted the vision that Sony abandoned when they dropped BC on the PS3. Makes me really start to regret backing Playstation all these years.

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Random_Dave_

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Austin's news writing is great. His interjection of opinion serves it well too. I'm not trying to make the argument that it makes this kind of article any more honest or better, but it reminds me of CagePotato's work (Mma. Anyone?). And that's something people can get behind.

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korwin

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I'm very, very curious about that plan.

At bare minimum, you would need people to able to walk their XB1s into a store and trade them in for new ones. Either free, or for a very minimal price.

Otherwise, I think Austin is on the money. This is a nightmare scenario in so many ways.

Works for Apple, this is technically no different. We aren't talking about 400 different configurations of Xbox's, maybe a handful at most much like the iPhone.

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audiosnow

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I can't wait to buy the Xbox One 32X.

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Seeric

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I honestly and truly do not understand the weird, nearly-obsessive drive Microsoft has had for years when it comes to unifying things across its various platforms, especially when this drive so frequently results in decisions like making the original Windows 8 interface look more like it was designed for touch controls instead of mouse and keyboard controls.

In my opinion, if you want to have multiple platforms, you should learn to play to the strengths of each platform. One of the strengths of console gaming is the general assumption that, unlike with the more flexible PC market, you only need to pay a single time for the system itself and then you are set for the next 5+ years until the next console generation comes around. Games coming out fine on PC's and then turning into giant, barely-functional messes on consoles has been a legitimate issue for this console generation, but talking as though you plan to treat your console like it is a PC is not the right solution.

An Xbox is not a PC and it's definitely not an iPhone - if Microsoft tries to make its playerbase shell out cash every year or two for some sort of weird add-on or, worse, an entirely new system model, most players are simply going to either go over to the PS4 or, if it's going to basically end up costing the same amount anyway, move over to PC gaming.

Microsoft has a habit of putting its foot in its mouth when it comes to announcements for the Xbox One, often resulting in a message which leads to an idea coming across as far worse than it actually is, so it's too early to really know anything for sure until they start giving more concrete facts, but I do think there is still a valid reason for concern whenever Microsoft starts spouting off about unifying their Windows/Xbox/etc experience since it so rarely works out.

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Herman_Mariusen

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This is it guys, we're moving away from consoles being boxes to them being services. Look forward to have your playstations, steams, xboxes, nintendos on whatever device you will use to play games on in the future.

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Chillicothe

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Spoiler: You have already bought an XBox One!

Yeah, no thanks. I like my PC strengths with console strengths coming over, not their weaknesses.

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warmonked

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Edited By warmonked

Xbox hardware as subscription service - You now pay a small monthly fee that gets you all hardware including new updates, but you have to return it all when you cancel.