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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by Shawn Knight via TechSpot

The lead-up to Fallout 76 arguably couldn’t be going any better for Bethesda, especially considering the developer hasn’t had to lift a finger as of late to keep fans tuned into the Fallout universe. Fallout 4 fan mod Northern Springs dropped earlier this month and now, we’ve got another land expansion to drool over.

Fallout Miami will send players on a journey to the post-nuclear vacation wasteland of Miami Beach where they’ll take part in the ideological struggle between Order and Freedom. The new game map is said to be a loving recreation of part of southern Miami Beach. A few creative liberties were taken but otherwise, it’s a mostly accurate recreation of the real world location.

The in-game map is said to be slightly larger than Far Harbor and feature a new set of factions that better fit with the unique culture and history of Miami. The pitch sounds a lot like the one made for Northern Springs (not that that’s a bad thing) with a main quest, multiple side quests, new items, companions and a large cast of voiced characters.

“The Sole Survivor journeys to the sunny South, following the promise of a well-paid job, but ends up embroiled in a conflict between various groups, some vying for power, others fighting to uphold their ideals.”

The mod doesn’t yet have a release date but when it does eventually arrive, it won’t be available on consoles due to its size (and Sony’s policy on the use of external assets). It will also require all of the official DLC including Far Harbor and Nuka World.

Fallout 76, meanwhile, launches on November 14 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

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Microsoft has confirmed that work is now underway on the Xbox Two… But there’ll also be another, surprise addition as well

by Richard Goodwin via Know Your Mobile

The Xbox Two is happening, Microsoft confirmed that work is now underway on a new console system at E3 2018.

This new Xbox console, likely called the Xbox Two, will be a straight-up console in the vein of the Xbox One and Xbox 360.

That means lots of hardware and specs. But there is another system in development alongside it that sounds, well… quite a bit different.

According to Thurrott’s Brad Sams, Microsoft will also build a completely unique, and cheaper, cloud-based Xbox console that will get a release alongside the Xbox Two.

Xbox Two Codenamed “Scarlett”

The two new systems are currently codenamed, Scarlett. The cloud-based system, however, is known as the Scarlett Cloud.

The cloud system will be cheaper, and this will be achieved by it not running the same hardware as its big brother.

This cloud Xbox will be ALL about streaming, so even though it is cheaper than the Xbox Two it will still be able to run the same games.

Here Are The Specs For Microsoft’s Xbox Two Console:

  • CPU: Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz
  • GPU: 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz
  • Memory: 12GB GDDR5, 326GB/s bandwidth
  • 4K UHD Blu-ray optical drive

Game Services Are More Profitable Than Hardware

Microsoft’s always maintained that game services – things like Xbox Live, Xbox Games Pass – are more profitable than hardware.

And the end game for Microsoft has always been to make Xbox content available on ANY platform.

For now, the Xbox Two Cloud console will serve as a cheaper, entry-level console for those that might find the price of the Xbox Two a bit too prohibitive.

“With all Scarlett games living on its cloud,” notes BGR, “Microsoft could dictate the rules when it comes to subscription fees, opening up its library to exponentially more players while charging them for access, even if they don’t own an Xbox device. 2020 looks to bring sweeping changes that will change the industry forever.”

Don’t expect to see either of these consoles before 2020, though…

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by Taylor Soper via GeekWire

Microsoft already said it is working on the next version of its Xbox console. But now a new report reveals some of the company’s plans for not just one, but two new devices — including a lower-cost option powered by Microsoft’s cloud streaming service.

Brad Sams at Thurrott.com reported Monday that in addition to a traditional new Xbox, Microsoft will sell a cheaper “streaming box” designed to work with its previously-announced streaming service.

Sams said the streaming box, codenamed “Scarlett Cloud,” would run games both locally and in its Azure cloud — also known as slice or splice. This would apparently help reduce poor latency that gamers experience with cloud-based services.

Sams notes that Microsoft makes a bulk of its gaming revenue on subscriptions and game sales, versus hardware. “If Microsoft can create a next-gen console that requires lower up-front payment and longer subscription payments (remember, all games will run in the cloud, so you will need to pay ‘something’ to access them), this is a huge win for Xbox and Microsoft,” he wrote.

Microsoft has been investing in AI and cloud resources related to gaming technologies. Speaking at E3 last month, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the company is building a “game streaming network to unlock console-quality gaming on any device.”

“We are dedicated to perfecting your experience everywhere you want to play: on your Xbox, your PC, or your phone,” Spencer noted.

As the gaming industry moves toward cloud-based infrastructure, it may reduce the need for a high-powered console. Other gaming giants like Sony, EA, and Nvidia are also building cloud-based game streaming services.

Microsoft’s cloud division continues to be one of the primary architects of its comeback in recent years. The Intelligent Cloud division posted revenue of $9.6 billion during the three-month period ending June 30th.

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by Matt Weinberger via Business Insider

If you’re under 18 or know somebody who is, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Roblox, a massively popular online gaming platform with 64 million players that also turned three teens into millionaires last year.

This weekend, Roblox is hosting its annual Roblox Developers Conference in Burlingame, California, very close to San Francisco. At the event, the company is expected to tell the 4 million developers building games for its platform that it’s on track to pay them a collective $70 million this year, up from more than $30 million last year.

“There’s enormous upside in the size of our opportunity here,” Roblox CEO David Baszucki told Business Insider.

Some of that upside is for the company itself. Earlier this year, Roblox announced it was cash flow positive for the first time, with “hundreds of millions” of dollars in bookings in 2017. More recently, Recode reported, citing a company filing, that Roblox was fundraising at a valuation of up to $2.4 billion. Baszucki declined to comment.

Unlike “Fortnite” or most other smash-hit video games, Roblox is created entirely by its users. All 40 million Roblox games, including popular ones like “Meep City” and “Jailbreak,” were made by its base of mostly younger independent developers. If a player chooses to spend the premium virtual Robux currency — which costs real money — in a game, the developer gets a cut.

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“Meep City” is the most popular game on Roblox. Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

That has meant big opportunity for Roblox developers. Last year, one top creator cleared $3 million in earnings, while two more claimed $2 million. Others are paying for their college educations or even starting their own companies to make more Roblox games.

Now, Baszucki says, as the platform grows so too has the opportunity for developers. While not every Roblox creator can make millions, “the long tail of developers who are making a living has grown exponentially” over the past year or so, he said.

To keep the momentum going, Roblox has hired the former Activision exec Enrico D’Angelo as vice president of product for the developer platform. The goal is to keep building the behind-the-scenes tools that developers use to build their games, in pursuit of what Baszucki says is the ultimate, ambitious goal of the Roblox platform.

“We have an enormous vision for a new category for human interaction and, ultimately, immersive entertainment,” Baszucki said.

To that end, Baszucki also highlighted the company’s educational efforts: This summer, Roblox has planned more than 500 coding camps and other introductory classes, using its platform as a learning tool.

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“Jailbreak” is another massively popular Roblox game. Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Importantly, those classes are both in the United States and abroad in countries including Canada, Brazil, and the United Kingdom — highlighting what Baszucki sees as a major opportunity to bring the platform to international audiences.

For more established developers, Baszucki says Roblox is working on ways to engage with them and help them be more successful. For instance, the company has begun inviting developers to come to its Silicon Valley offices for two- or three-month residences, giving them direct access to the people who make the platform.

“We’re developing a lot of resources for developers to build their knowledge,” Baszucki said.

Finally, Baszucki says that if Roblox is going to reinvent entertainment as he believes it will, it must continue doubling down on finding other ways for developers to monetize that goes beyond their games. The company recently got into the action-figure and apparel businesses, licensing popular characters from top Roblox games. And Baszucki says there’s no reason Roblox games couldn’t inspire movies, TV shows, or a web series either.

Developers’ vision “goes beyond creating gameplay,” he said. “There’s enormous value in their stories, avatars, and situations.”

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by Tom Chapman via Screen Rant

Another faithful recreation kicks the bucket as Konami shuts down a fan-made Silent Hills playtest. The joint venture between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro promised to be something big for the studio, and although P.T. was pulled from the PlayStation store in 2015, it lives/lived on in various forms like this latest PC port using the Unreal Engine 4.

Since 1999, Silent Hill has had gamers hiding behind their pillows as they venture into the survival horror and take on the monsters that await them in the nightmarish series. From highs like Silent Hill 2 to lows like Silent Hill: Book of Memories, fans have seen it all from the terrifying town. There were once hopes that Silent Hills could reinvent the series, but after a demo was made available following Sony’s 2014 presentation at Gamescom, the title slipped into development hell.

Considering the playable Silent Hills was downloaded over 1,000,000 times, it is easy to see why there is still a fanbase out there. Hoping to recapture the fear factor from Konami’s P.T., a 17-year-old uberfan known as Qimsar ported the playtest for PC. Qimsar’s work proved popular and Silent Hill Reddit mod MarcellusDrum decided to leave it on the site for gamers to enjoy. But now, the fun’s all over. According to a statement by Qimsar (via Game Jolt), the Silent Hills port has been permanently removed. While the staff at Konami were apparently impressed, the legalities mean that P.T. had to be removed. In his post, Qimsar thanked people for their support and credited Konami for being “extremely cool about things.”

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Qimsar reminds fans that there are dozens of P.T. remakes out there and questioned why his was the one removed. That being said, if Konami has started clamping down on unauthorized content, it could be a case of download them while you can. As it stands, 2012’s distinctly average Silent Hill: Downpour is currently the last console game, while the future of the franchise still remains uncertain.

There was some good news though as Qismar revealed he was given some merchandise and has been offered an internship with the gaming giant. As for Silent Hills, the game has returned to fiery depths of the town that it came from as Konami continues to plow its efforts into the long-awaited Death Stranding. 

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