Editorial

Editorial: If the next Xbox is a Windows 8 PC, it could be a boon for indie game developers

This is a concept for the next Xbox design that was published in the now cancelled Xbox World print magazine

It's now the middle of April and Microsoft still is not talking in an official capacity about what it has planned for the next version of its Xbox game console. Internet rumors now claim that the company will reveal the first details on May 21st, but Microsoft has apparently changed that reveal date at least once and it's possible it could just wait until June for a full reveal at E3 2013 in Los Angeles.

While there have been plenty of Internet rumors and leaks about what the next Xbox will be like over the past year or so, Microsoft may have offered up a few clues about what they have in mind for the successor to the Xbox 360 in their online job postings. A quick look at the Microsoft Careers website has uncovered some small but interesting morsels.

One job post is looking for a "Materials Research Engineer" to join the Xbox design team to help develop "innovative technologies, new materials and advanced manufacturing processes". That could mean that the company is looking to make the next Xbox with a manufacturing process and materials that are different than the current Xbox 360.

Another job listing, this time for an "Experience Developer" to join the Xbox team, says that the person who takes the job will help Microsoft "reinvent entertainment led from the living room, powered by the cloud, and available across multiple screens. That sounds an awful lot like an extension of what Microsoft is already doing with its Xbox SmartGlass apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8. We would not be surprised to see an "Xbox SmartGlass 2.0" effort that would be launched alongside the next Xbox.

All of the published rumors claim that inside the next Xbox, there will be a Radeon-based graphics chip from AMD. Microsoft is also reportedly going to have AMD create the actual CPU of the next Xbox. It's based on the x86 design that's been a part of Windows-based PCs for decades now, including processors that run on Windows 8.

Perhaps most importantly, other rumors about the console claim that the next Xbox will run a version of Windows 8 itself. By contrast, the operating systems on the Xbox 360 and the original Xbox were custom made for those consoles.

So what does this mean at the end of the day? If all these reports are true, then the next Xbox will in fact be a Windows 8 PC. This opens up a new slew of possibilities for the console. It could mean that all Modern Windows 8 apps could be made to run on the next Xbox. It could mean that game developers who want to release their titles on a game console could in fact do so just by uploading their game to the Windows Store and having it certified to run on the next Xbox.

That could be one of the reasons why Microsoft decided to discontinue its XNA game development tools a few months ago. The tools were supposed to be an easy way from small development teams to make downloadable Xbox 360 games and then upload them to the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. If the next Xbox is based on Windows 8, game developers only have to learn how to make Modern UI-based games to have them published for the console.

There's been a lot of talk lately about how Sony has been trying to court more independent game studios to make games for the PlayStation 4. An example is Jonathan Blow, who released Braid for the Xbox 360 first several years ago. However, his next game, The Witness, will make its console debut on the PS4. Many indie game developers feel that they have had a hard time dealing with Microsoft in the past few years in terms of publishing games on the Xbox 360.

However, if anyone can publish games for the next Xbox via the Windows Store, it might make things easier for indie games to make their mark on the console. It could also make it easier for those developers to promote their games if the next Xbox retains the Windows 8 Modern UI. That could allow Microsoft to put a better spotlight on those games than the current set up for Xbox Live Indie Games.

Bill Gates wants a Windows PC to be the hub of every home. He may get his wish.

Perhaps more importantly, having a Windows 8-based next Xbox would mean that Microsoft would help to fulfill a long time dream of its chairman Bill Gates when he wanted to see a Windows PC as the hub of a normal home. As far back as 2002 during Microsoft's keynote speech at CES, Gates talked about how he saw the Windows PC connecting to the television, the music player and other objects in the home. He stated at the time, "Everything in the home will be connected."

Fast forward to 2013. There are lots of homes with WiFi networks that connect to notebooks, desktops, tablets and smartphones. However, many homes use hardware and software from lots of different companies than just Microsoft. A household might use an iPad from Apple, a PC made by Dell or HP, a notebook made by Lenovo, a smartphone made by Samsung running on Android and a game console from Sony or Nintendo. Even many TVs can connect to a WiFi network on their own, streaming content from Netflix.

Gates and Microsoft know that a living room PC would evolve into a true electronics hub for any household. A game console or a set top box is an intermediate step towards that goal. A game console that's also a Windows 8 PC would be an even greater step towards that milestone and it might also encourage others to buy, for example, a Surface tablet or a Windows Phone-based smartphone to link to that next Xbox more easily.

Long time Microsoft-themed journalist Paul Thurrott claims via his own sources that the next Xbox will cost $500, or $300 with some kind of contract to sign up for Xbox Live. While paying $500 for a game console might seem expensive, paying that much money for what is basically a Windows 8 PC is a bit more reasonable.

The big question: Could this Windows 8-based next Xbox (if indeed that is what Microsoft has in mind) also be used as a true PC, complete with access to the Windows 8 desktop UI? We doubt that Microsoft would give owners of the next Xbox fast access to the desktop interface, especially since new rumors claim that the console will basically take over the UI of the television it is hooked into. But we bet that a bunch of modders will waste no time in changing things up to make the next Xbox a desktop computer.

Microsoft has been making hardware for a long time, with its own keyboards, mice and controllers, and then moving up to the Xbox console, the Zune media player and most recently the Surface. Even the leader of the Surface team, Panos Panay, has admitted that the Surface Pro, running on Windows 8 Pro, should be considered a PC. It's not that much of a stretch to say that the next Xbox could also be a Windows 8 desktop PC, even if Microsoft doesn't actually call it by that term. Hopefully we won't have to wait much long to learn what's really inside the next Xbox.

Images via Future Publishing, VGLeaks and Microsoft

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