Fortnite
by Paul Lilly via Hot Hardware
Sony has not exactly been a champion of supporting multiplayer gameplay across different platforms, otherwise known as crossplay. If there was a time and place to reverse course, it would be now, in Fortnite, the world’s most popular battle royale shooter. Sony is sticking to its guns, however, drawing ire from not just gamers, but also Microsoft.
Fortnite is a veritable cash cow for developer Epic Games, and part of the game’s success is its availability on so many different platforms—PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo SwitchiOS, and Android. And for the most part, players on one platform can play against people on another platform. That is, expect for PlayStation 4 owners, who can only play against other PS4 owners.
“On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play,” Sony’s new chief executive officer Kenichiro Yoshido recently said, according to Independent. “Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief.”
It’s an absurd excuse, that somehow forcing people with friends who own a PS4 to also purchase a PS4 for crossplay is somehow in their best interest. As one former Sony executive put it, the stance essentially boils down to a dumb money grab. It’s also drawn the attention of rival execs, namely Microsoft Xbox boss Mike Ybarra.
“[Sony] still isn’t listening to gamers. All games should be crossplay and progression with the right input flexibility and gamer options,” Ybarra wrote on Twitter, in reference to Sony’s lack of crossplay support in Fortnite.
Make no mistake, Sony’s hesitation to support crossplay in Fornite is not rooted in some kind of technical limitation. Yoshida essentially confirmed as much, noting that Sony picks and chooses when to support crossplay, based on this mystery metric of user experience.
“But actually, we already opened some games as cross-platform with PC and some others, so we decide base on what is the best user experience. That is our way of thinking for cross-platform,” Yoshida added.
It seems clear that Sony is financially motivated. Does the company have a point? After all, the PS4 has more cumulative sales than the Xbox One. Ybarra addressed this when it was brought up as a comment to his above Twitter post. Here’s the exchange:
Twitter user Hero: Lol he’s wrong but can you really blame him… as far as a business standpoint, they’ve been beating Xbox for years now.
Mike Ybarra: We run Windows and Console. Larger gaming audience who wants to play together. Gaming is diverse, if you only serve to bring joy to part of an audience then you are behind in many, many ways.
The situation stinks, though as was also pointed out in the Twitter thread, there is room to criticize Microsoft as well. Specifically, Microsoft’s subscription Xbox Live service is viewed as a ‘paywall’ to multiplayer (and by extension, crossplay) by some users.

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by L.W. Barker aka ‘Sarge’ Founder/President Gamer’s Outpost

Marvel’s Spider-Man – The Heist DLC Black Cat Reveal Trailer is despicable. As of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet but this paid DLC (which was obviously cut out of the main story line) is being shown? This is pure greed at its finest, and a new low for Marvel, and Insomniac Games.

We are being played by this Industry, and quite frankly enough is enough! Yes, I understand that DLC adds a sense of longevity to our games, but the Industry also needs to understand that we will no longer pay for content that shoud be free in the first place.

Simply put, the industry has played the gaming community like a foolish fiddle and it needs to end! For if not, these publishers and developers will continue to take advantage of us with the twisted mindset that raping our pockets is the right thing to do.

My advice (and its something I practice) is to wait for our games to be released as Special Editions with ALL the DLC included and buy at that time at a discount. Yeah I know waiting sucks, but doing so will tear a proverbial hole in the Industry’s greedy pockets, and put that money where it belongs…in our own.

#ByeFelicia Gamer’s Outpost

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ps5

by Will Fulton via Digital Trends

As we approach five years out from the initial launch of the PlayStation 4, history tells us it’s time to start digging for rumors about its successor, Sony’s inevitable PlayStation 5. Although the recent release of intra-generational upgrades with both the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X led many to speculate that the age of discrete console generations might be coming to an end (or at least slowing down), there are rumblings of varying credibility suggesting that Sony is working on a full-fledged PlayStation 5.

We’ve rounded up all the rumors floating around about the PlayStation 5, so you can judge for yourself.

When is it coming?

In May 2018, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO John Kodera told reporters, “We will use the next three years to prepare the next step, to crouch down so that we can jump higher into the future.” This came shortly after he remarked that the PS4 was entering the “final phase of its life cycle.”

So while Sony is obviously thinking and working on the future, the PlayStation 5 will likely launch in 2021.

Industry analyst Michael Pachter, however, believes the console could launch earlier. Speaking to GamingBolt in July, Pachter said he believes the console will come in 2020, and this could be why Sony announced such a small number of new games during its E3 2018 event.

What are the specs?

The PlayStation 5 could use an AMD Ryzen processor. A note written by Simon Pilgrim, principal programmer of Sony’s Advanced Technology Group, revealed that he was working on improving compatibility between AMD Ryzen processors and “Zen” core architecture within the LLVM compiler stack. All of that may sound like gibberish, but the compiler stack is a key component of the development environment in PlayStation systems.

SemiAccurate’s Charlie Demerjian claims to have tangible details about PS5 devkits that are already in circulation (via WCCFTech). According to Demerjian, the PS5 will feature an 8-core Zen CPU and a GPU based on AMD’s upcoming Navi architecture (Hey! Listen!), both customized, of course.

We’ve known that Navi is likely coming in late 2018/early 2019 for several years now, but details are otherwise unavailable on its capabilities. Demerjian has a history of leaking accurate console specs, so his rumors are worth serious consideration.

Another report from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company said the company is producing a new gaming chip. If development kits have made it out to developers, new hardware production would have to be ramping up. The report doesn’t mention Sony or PlayStation by name.

On the other hand, in a report responding directly to Demerjian’s, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier said a source with knowledge of Sony’s plans laughed that the rumored specs were not accurate. According to Schreier’s reporting, early PS5 devkits may be out in the wild, but most developers seem to be unaware of them.

Improved VR support

In addition to under-the-hood power, Demerjian’s report suggested the PS5 will be built from the ground up with virtual reality support in mind. Although PSVR (or, frankly, VR in general) has not yet set the world on fire in the way that many optimistic analysts predicted it would circa 2016, Sony’s headset has been home to a few gems so far, and it’s still almost certainly the best value and most readily accessible, high-end consumer VR.

The PS4 Pro buffed up the base console’s specs in order to better support PSVR, but starting from scratch with VR as a core feature of the console will no doubt open up a lot of possibilities for developers.

Any word on games?

With no official announcement from Sony about the console, developers are remaining tight-lipped if they do have PS5 devkits in hand. Several have made comments that could be construed as hints that they do, however.

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The Witcher 3’s developer, CD Projekt Red, is hard at work on their next epic, Cyberpunk 2077. At a 2018 conference in Bergen, the studio heads gave a presentation about the game which included a slide with the phrase “Rich, true-to-life visuals built on current and next generation technology.” That could mean a lot of things, of course, but one could interpret that as a nod to the fact that they are simultaneously developing the game for both the current- and next-generation of consoles, of which the PS5 would have to be one.

Similarly, Gran Turismo Sport creator Kazunori Yamauchi made a comment that could suggest they are already tinkering with the PS5. On a studio tour, he told Finder.com that new cars take so long to develop because they are “building for future versions of the console rather than the one we see today.” He also mentioned that he thought it “would be no problem to run it at 8K even,” which is well above what the PS4 Pro is capable of putting out.

Sony’s own Death Stranding, which is planned for a PlayStation 4 release, could be coming to the PlayStation 5. Speaking to GamingBolt, industry analyst Michael Pachter said the game will “likely be a cross-generational title.” Sony hasn’t done this very often in the past, though a number of third-party games released on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 at the beginning of the generation. Given that Death Stranding doesn’t even have a release window yet, it seems like the most likely candidate, and would certainly be a good way for Sony to sell consoles early on.

Bethesda Softworks appears to be one of the game companies most open about its ambition to release upcoming games on next-generation systems. Speaking to Eurogamer at the Gamelab conference in Spain, Bethesda game director Todd Howard revealed that the science-fiction game Starfield will be next-generation in both hardware and software. Given that Bethesda is releasing Starfield before The Elder Scrolls VI, which it also announced at E3 2018, there’s very little doubt that The Elder Scrolls VI will also release on PlayStation 5.

It could be the last PlayStation system

Game streaming services could replace traditional consoles in the future, at least if you ask Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot. Speaking to Variety, Guillemot expressed his belief that there will “one more console generation” before the industry completely moves to a streaming-only model.

Guillemot added that this technology would become more accessible to more players over time, but with the loss of net neutrality and data caps in place at many internet service providers, the market for a traditional console with physical media is still strong.

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Update: Legal notice clamps down on sales of ‘new’ games from ‘unauthorized sellers’

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by Colin Campbell via Polygon

Amazon’s Marketplace who was trying to sell a sealed copy of The Evil Within 2 as new, demanding that they remove their listing. That letter included a phone number for sellers of Bethesda’s games to call, suggesting that the company is sending out such notices to multiple sellers.

Philadelphia-based Ryan Hupp recently contacted Polygon to explain how he’d been forced by Bethesda to stop selling his copy of The Evil Within 2. He bought the game but never unwrapped it, he told us. He’d been expecting to purchase a PlayStation 4, but instead spent his money upgrading a gaming PC. Hupp said he often sells used goods through Amazon Marketplace, which works in much the same way as other online trading sites, such as eBay.

Bethesda’s legal firm Vorys sent Hupp a letter, which he forwarded to Polygon, warning that the game must be taken down and threatening legal action for non-compliance. In its letter, Vorys made the argument that Hupp’s sale was not “by an authorized reseller,” and was therefore “unlawful.” Bethesda also took issue with Hupp’s use of the word “new” in selling the unwrapped game, claiming that this constituted “false advertising.”

Hupp complied with the demand, but in a reply to Vorys, he pointed out that the resale of used copyrighted goods — such as books, video games, DVDs — is protected in U.S. law through the First Sale Doctrine. This allows consumers to sell a game, so long as it’s not significantly altered from its original form.

Bethesda’s letter claims that Hupp’s sale is not protected by the First Sale Doctrine, because he is not selling the game in its original form, which would include a warranty. The letter says this lack of warranty renders the game “materially different from genuine products” that are sold through official channels. In theory, this argument could be used against anyone who sells a game without specific permission from Bethesda.

“Unless you remove all Bethesda products, from your storefront, stop selling any and all Bethesda products immediately and identify all sources of Bethesda products you are selling, we intend to file a lawsuit against you,” the letter reads. It goes on to state that a lawsuit would seek “disgorgement of profits, compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and investigative and other costs.”

Hupp’s specific listing appears to have been targeted because it was listed as new and unopened. Amazon still list dozens of used and new copies of The Evil Within 2 from Marketplace sellers.

When contacted by Polygon, Bethesda declined to comment on this story. We also asked for clarification on how the company’s warranties work on used and second-hand goods sold through official channels. GameStop, for example, offers a blanket 30-day warranty on used games that do not work, so long as the game has not been broken by the buyers. (GameStop stores also decline sealed games during trade-ins, requesting that the customer open trade-in games if they’re unwrapped.) Bethesda did not reply.

We also contacted Vorys for comment multiple times, but did not receive a reply. Amazon’s publicity department also did not respond to a request for comment.

On its website, Vorys offers advice for companies seeking to eliminate the sale of products via places like eBay in an article titled, “Three-Step Approach to Stopping Unauthorized Online Sales on eBay.” Here’s an excerpt:

Under what is known as the First Sale Doctrine, once a trademark owner (“the company”) sells a product, the buyer ordinarily can resell the product without infringing the owner’s mark. However, the First Sale Doctrine does not apply when a reseller sells a trademarked good that is materially different from the company’s genuine goods.

Case law has established a few important principles relating to material differences. This includes that: 1) the threshold of materiality is considered “low”; 2) only a single material difference is necessary to give rise to a trademark infringement claim; and 3) material differences do not have to be “physical” differences.

This appears to be the basis of Bethesda’s legal claim against Hupp. Bethesda is a notoriously litigious company. It’s not clear how many similar letters have been out to people selling its games online, but Vorys’ voicemail message for Bethesda’s used games cases tells callers to leave details based on “the letter you have received” such as storefront name. It also thanks recipients of the letter if they have already ceased sales of Bethesda’s software.

“I understand the legal arguments Bethesda are relying on, and accept that they have some legitimate interest in determining how their products are sold at retail,” said Hupp in an email to Polygon, “but threatening individual customers with lawsuits for selling games they own is a massive overreach.”

If you’ve come across a game company seeking to stop you from selling a used or second-hand game, please contact Polygon via our tips line.

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by David M. Ewalt via Paste Magazine

Melvin the Barbarian is angry at the dirty goblin sniping arrows at him from behind a tree. I can hear it in his voice; my earphones convey every nuance of his bellowed threats, even if the avatar I see in my headset remains passive, resembling less a raging half-Orc than a featureless robot. I can’t see when he swings his greataxe, but I know the attack connects. The little blue die Melvin tosses across our virtual play area comes up 20, and that means the goblin has fired his last shot.

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is usually played with pencils and paper, around a table, with no gadgetry involved. But recent innovations in the field of virtual reality allow characters like Melvin to team up with other players inside high-tech simulated worlds. I don’t know the real name of the person playing this raging barbarian, or his physical location, or anything about him other than the sound of his voice. But here we are, slaying monsters together inside an online game space constructed by a company called AltspaceVR. We haven’t really met, but I think I’ve made a new friend.

In the 44-year history of D&D, emerging technologies have usually been the game’s foe. When home video game consoles became popular in the mid-1980s, the hobby lost millions of players; in the ‘90s, online role-playing games (RPGs) like Everquest and World of Warcraft took away even more. But it turns out that 21st-century technologies that create immersive, simulated environments are complementary to tabletop gaming’s social vibe. Virtual reality could be the best thing to happen to D&D since polyhedral dice.

Until now, players have struggled to replicate the tabletop gaming experience using the tools of the digital age. In the ‘80s, I tried to play a few times with my friends all dialed into a telephone party line, but it was too noisy and chaotic. In more recent years, I’ve been in one or two games played successfully over Skype or Google Hangouts, which allow you to see your friends’ faces. And a few specialized bits of software like the website Roll20 and the application Fantasy Grounds combine video conferencing with shared maps and dice-rolling tools. If you can’t meet in person, they’re good enough for a few hours of fun.

But I’d never been excited about playing D&D over a computer until a new generation of virtual reality hardware, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, met the social VR spaces created by companies like AltspaceVR. In 2015, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast cut a deal with Altspace (then a startup, now a subsidiary of Microsoft) to bring officially licensed D&D assets to a tavern-themed virtual game room. Users put on their VR headsets, gather around a 3D table and appear as individual avatars inside the space. They can build a map using dungeon, wilderness and city themed terrain tiles; record their characters on official D&D character sheets; and move around figurines representing various D&D player classes as well as monsters (including gelatinous cubes and dragons).

VR may be the ultimate “you have to see it to believe it” experience. But as a one-time skeptic of the technology, I can testify that I was surprised how much Altspace’s virtual game room felt like the real thing. When you’re immersed in these simulated worlds, you forget where you are; the table in front of you seems solid, the people around you move and everyone seems to be gathered in the same room.

Sure, the virtual version of D&D is far from perfect. While today’s VR hardware can create surprisingly convincing simulations, it’s no fun wearing a VR headset for more than an hour. The graphics are still relatively primitive—more Lawnmower Man than The Matrix—and your fellow players are represented by cartoonish avatars, not realistic depictions of their actual selves. But VR is good enough in 2018 to provide proof of concept; it actually feels like D&D. The problems are just technical hurdles, and we’ll clear them in time.

In five years, I suspect playing D&D in virtual reality will be almost as good as playing around a dining room table. Next generation headsets will be lighter and more comfortable; graphics will get to a point comparable to the most realistic 3D video games. Tracking technologies will allow you to see where players are looking, make eye contact and read expressions on their faces. Our digital selves will convey body language and gestures, making it feel like you’re in the same place as your friends.

And the virtual tabletops will be even better than the real thing. When you’re playing D&D on a friend’s dining room table, the game is limited by physical accessories like dry-erase battle maps, pre-printed terrain tiles and miniatures to represent characters. In a virtual world, those elements can come alive. Animated, photo-realistic maps can slowly reveal themselves as players advance through a dungeon, and their minis can actually move and fight. Imagine the Millennium Falcon’s holographic chess game, but more realistic than any animation Industrial Light and Magic could pull off.

But the best thing about D&D in VR isn’t the bells and whistles—it’s how it will bring people together. For decades, too many RPG campaigns have been crippled by the limitations of geography; all too often, it’s impossible to get enough players together in one place. With VR, it doesn’t matter if your Dungeon Master moves to Timbuktu. VR will let you step into a game room and play with people around the world.

And when it comes to D&D, the gathering is more important than the game itself.

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by Matt Weinberger via Business Insider

If you’ve been following this stuff for a while, you think of Microsoft and Apple as bitter rivals — before there was iPhone vs. Android, or even Facebook vs. Snapchat, the biggest fight in tech was Mac vs. PC.

So it might be somewhat jarring to visit the recently-revamped Microsoft Visitor Center at its Redmond campus, only to find that the very first Apple Macintosh is proudly displayed, right next to other significant artifacts like Bill Gates’ first business card.

There is, however a very good reason for it: Microsoft as we know it might not exist without Apple’s groundbreaking Macintosh, the first mainstream computer with a graphical user interface (GUI).

In the early ’80s, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were something like frenemies. Jobs flew up to Microsoft’s Washington headquarters for what Gates later called a “weird seduction visit,” in a successful attempt to have the company make Macintosh software.

Gates played a key role in hyping up the Macintosh, and even appeared alongside Jobs in a “Dating Game” parody video that was circulated among developers. In the video, Gates said that the Mac “really captures people’s imagination.”

The Macintosh would eventually come out in 1984, with its arrival announced by its still-infamous “1984” Super Bowl ad. Microsoft followed through on its commitment to the fledgling Mac: The first-ever versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Mail followed thereafter. Indeed, Microsoft Office 1.0 started on the Mac. Gates once quipped that Microsoft had more people working on the Macintosh than Apple did.

Behind the scenes, though, things started falling apart in 1985, when Microsoft announced that it was getting into the graphical operating system game with Windows 1.0. A furious Jobs accused Gates and Microsoft of ripping off the Macintosh. But Gates didn’t care — he didn’t think Apple had the exclusive rights to the idea.

Besides, Gates and Jobs both got the idea from Xerox PARC, the famous research lab, which had originally pioneered the GUI.

As Jobs accused Microsoft of plagiarism, Gates famously replied: “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

The ongoing battle between Apple and Microsoft, which included at least one lawsuit, only widened the gulf between Jobs and Gates. Over the years, the two would take very public potshots at each other, with Jobs once ripping Microsoft for making “third-rate products” in a PBS documentary.

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Later in life, though, the two came to a kind of reconciliation. One of the very first things that Jobs did as Apple CEO in 1997 was announce that Microsoft had invested to help keep the company afloat after a years-long rough patch. The deal was announced with Gates appearing on a massive screen above Jobs.

By the end of Jobs’ life, tensions between them had cooled significantly. Jobs conceded that he admired Microsoft, and enjoyed working with Gates. For his part, Gates acknowledged Jobs’ taste.

“I respect Steve, we got to work together. We spurred each other on, even as competitors. None of [what he said] bothers me at all,” Gates said after Jobs passed.

In more recent years, Microsoft has mellowed out about competition in general. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has released Microsoft Office apps for iPhone and Android, and made several appearances on-stage at Apple events. They still compete, especially as the Microsoft Surface laptops go head-to-head with Apple’s Macs and iPads. But tensions between the two companies seem lower than ever.

So maybe it’s no surprise that Microsoft is bragging about that aspect of its history, which played an important role in the current dominance of Microsoft Office 365. Perhaps it’s a new day at Microsoft, after all.

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The future is the new Xbox

Posted: July 28, 2018 in Opinion Piece

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by Navneet Alang via The Week

Technology is inherently unpredictable. But tech analyst Benedict Evans has a good rule when it comes to predicting the future: Whatever people dismiss as just a toy is very often the next big thing.

There are few areas in which that has been truer than in video games. While the gaming industry has been dismissed as merely juvenile — and indeed in terms of its culture, it often is — it has nonetheless prefigured many of the major shifts in tech, from the rise of artificial intelligence to the importance of online community.

And now, with rumors that Microsoft is planning to make the next generation of its Xbox console reliant on cloud streaming, akin to a Netflix for games, that predictive power may be especially potent. What it points to is not just what’s next for video games, but also the general direction of tech. The future is the merging of the cloud, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous computing.

There is a reason that Microsoft has its eyes fixed on the next few years in gaming. While its Xbox 360, which was released in 2005, was a smash hit, its successor, the Xbox One, has not done nearly as well. It has been outsold nearly two to one by rival Sony’s PlayStation 4, while Nintendo’s Switch console has been a huge success. Although Xbox saw a 39 percent jump in revenue in Microsoft’s most recent quarterly results, clearly a sign of improving fortunes, overall the company is scrambling to catch up.

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But Microsoft has committed itself to gaming. In 2017, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was promoted to executive vice president reporting directly to CEO Satya Nadella, suggesting that the company sees gaming as core to its mission. The company also sought to correct its initial mistake of releasing an underpowered Xbox One by releasing the Xbox One X last year, still the most powerful console on the market. Additionally, in an effort to kickstart its own exclusive content — an area in which it has been seriously outclassed by Sony over the past few years — Microsoft announced that it’s funding the creation of numerous development studios.

If this is the start of a recommitment, then the next generation of Xbox hardware is likely going to reflect a changing strategy. As Microsoft enthusiast site Thurrott.com reports, at least one of the next Xbox consoles will focus on streaming — that is, an online service in which games are accessed remotely over the internet, rather than being stored on a disc or device as they are now. The upside to such an approach would be to offer gamers hundreds of games to play immediately, rather than forcing them to buy individual titles. It will also likely lower the entry cost versus a traditional standalone console.

The persistent problem in that approach has been the lag as information moves back and forth between the console and server, something that is a particular problem for fast-paced games. But Microsoft will try to get around the issue by processing some tasks with dedicated hardware and others remotely, and combining them with machine learning. It’s a technologically intriguing idea.

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But it also represents Microsoft’s broader ambition to turn Xbox into a service, like a Netflix for games. They have already started with their Play Anywhere program, which lets someone buy a game on a PC and also play it on an Xbox One, and vice versa. This next move will then raise the potential revenue stream via monthly subscriptions. Microsoft could even combine both services so that games attained through a subscription could be accessed from a Windows 10 PC. Meanwhile, for those core gamers who might blanche at streaming, the company will still release a high-powered standalone sequel to the Xbox One X.

Whatever Microsoft does release will likely be running on a new version of Windows based on something called Cshell. It is the next phase of Windows, and both siphons off the legacy code that still bogs the operating system down, while also being customizable for different devices, whether a digital whiteboard, a laptop, or a gaming console.

What Microsoft is attempting to do with Cshell, as well as a console that streams games, is to link together its work in hardware, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud solutions. The operating system connects those disparate elements to ideally make the end-user experience seamless.

The Windows company is not alone. Google is hard at work on a project called Fuschia, a new operating system that may replace Android and will unify its efforts in mobile, artificial intelligence, and the “internet of things” — those increasingly popular smart devices.

What it all points to is a shift in the nature of computing in general — from being a thing located in individual devices, to something more akin to a service or a layer, accessed not only from many devices, but in many different ways: through a traditional keyboard and mouse, touch, voice, or AI that predicts what you need before you ask for it. It’s about changing the idea of computing from one of gadgets to simply being everywhere, accessible through a variety of different interfaces.

Whether Microsoft can pull together the technical know-how and marketing to make their streaming idea work remains to be seen. Gamers are not only notoriously conservative, they are also highly sensitive to the minutiae of performance. All the same, it represents a significant opportunity for Microsoft.

Rather than merely being a toy, the next Xbox will be a testing ground for the future of computing itself.

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