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Microsoft is prepping to change the software landscape with Windows 10, and one of the main focal points of the upcoming operating system is that Microsoft has plans to focus on gaming this time around and the Xbox is going to play a part in it all.
Double Jump recently published a piece that sets up the excitement for the launch of Windows 10. They explain how on January 21st, head of the Xbox brand, Phil Spencer, will unveil some exciting new content for the long-running platform and introduce PC gamers to some long-awaited attention.
According to Spencer...
“For the Xbox team, this is the beginning of our discussion with fans about the work that we’re doing to bring gaming to the Windows 10 operating system,”... “It’s really nice to finally get to be able to talk about this. We’ll continue the conversation throughout the year.”
This glimmer of hope that a bridge between Windows gaming and Xbox gaming has stirred the pot of interest once more. Chatter and talk about possibly playing Xbox games on Windows began bubbling up in hardcore gaming discussions, especially after a new Xbox app was leaked for Windows 10.
This isn't the first time these talks have cropped up, though, and this isn't the first time Microsoft has sought to bridge to the two platforms. Originally Microsoft tried with Windows Vista and the OG Xbox and Xbox 360. They first ported over Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, the latter of which was a Windows Vista OS exclusive. These titles were followed by games like Viva Pinata and even Gears of War. They were part of Microsoft's initiative called Games For Windows Live.
Unfortunately, Games For Windows Live didn't work out. However, Microsoft is showing a renewed interest in the PC gaming and this makes us question if Xbox games will be playable at some point on Windows?
Well, as Spencer mentioned... the company will be making announcements throughout the year regarding their new gaming initiative for Windows 10, so even if nothing comes out of the January 21st announcement, it doesn't mean they may not have something to reveal later in the year.
Of course, the most obvious question in all of this is: how viable is it for Microsoft to make Xbox games compatible with an OS like Windows 10? Well, from a purely technological point of view, running Xbox One games natively on a mid-ranged PC wouldn't be a problem, hardware wise, since the core architecture is x86 based. A lot of the Xbox One's technology is based on mid-range PC tech from 2013, save for the eSRAM and 8GB of RAM. But, as mentioned, the games would have to be able to run natively in Windows 10 and not through any kind of virtual software or hardware emulation due to the amount of system resources required for emulation.
Also, given that Xbox One games are designed for x86 architecture, it makes it easier than ever to port games over compared to the Xbox 360, which was PowerPC based. Standard PCs run x86 hardware, so the instruction sets are mostly the same.
As far as software compatibility goes... Microsoft has already made it known that they are already capable of running Xbox One games on PC. In fact, last year during a demonstration for DirectX 12, Microsoft showed off the capabilities of the API by having Forza Motorsport 5 run at 60 full frames per second on an Nvidia Titan GTX, as noted by GameCrastinate. The reason they were able to run Xbox One games on Windows 8 is because part of the three layered OS of the Xbox One is based on Windows 8, or more accurately... it is Windows 8.
Last year there was a breakdown of the three-layer OS that explained how the Xbox One handled software operations during the Build Conference, explaining how a little time and some tweaks from software engineers allowed Xbox One games to run on a Windows system.
It's not necessarily whether or not the software and hardware is capable, so much as it is will Microsoft ever commit to making it happen? The reality is that they've just now started making a comeback in the console market after an abysmal PR campaign in 2013, and slow sales throughout most of 2014 until the holiday season. But with the price-cut and a smorgasbord of bundles, the Xbox One now has a very strong sales presence in the U.S. Would Microsoft really jeopardize their newfound sales momentum by announcing that games you could only previously get exclusively on the Xbox One would be playable on PC as well? There would be no reason to buy an Xbox console if you could play Halo and Forza on a decent $400 - $500 PC.
If the Xbox One's sales slump continued, it would seem a lot more likely that we could see Xbox One games making the leap to PC with Windows 10. It could be a fallback plan to maintain some market grasp on the core gaming audience, while making up for the loss of Xbox One sales. However, under the leadership of Phil Spencer, they've managed to rebound with mindshare and marketshare. So it seems unlikely Microsoft would throw that away when they could capitalize on it by continuing to secure and release exclusive software on the Xbox One.
However... is it possible Microsoft could use Windows 10 as a platform to allow people to digitally download OG Xbox and Xbox 360 titles on PC? Microsoft did previously mention that they were looking into backwards compatibility solutions, though not necessarily through the cloud. Enabling PC gamers to play old Xbox titles might be a way to reach a new audience from the core sector of PC gamers. Of course, that would still eat into software sales of the Xbox 360, and I doubt Microsoft would want that.
But this circles back around to the headline: will Xbox games ever be playable on Windows? If the Xbox brand can gain back its luster, I doubt it. If the Xbox brand can't quite get back to where it was during seventh gen, I wouldn't put it past Microsoft to start migrating Xbox exclusives to Windows 10.