For years now, Microsoft has been diligently working on a strategy to converge its gaming ecosystems on Xbox and Windows. Though we’ve seen bits and pieces of these efforts show up, it won’t be until the launch of Xbox Scorpio next year, when the company’s vision fully comes to life.
The company’s struggles and strategy to bring together Xbox and Windows gaming are bundled together in a single strand, codenamed Project Helix. Originally publicized by Kotaku earlier this year, Project Helix involves creating one platform, that allows easy access and performant tools for developers to craft games, while giving varied choices and mobility to the player base to move around in the ecosystem.
If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because you might be thinking of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). That’s the runtime that Microsoft developed for all of its Windows ecosystems, which has largely the same mission statement as Project Helix. And that’s by no means an accident, seeing as the UWP is an integral part of the company’s gaming ambitions.
We’ve already seen how efforts on the part of the Xbox and Windows teams have come together to open up both platforms, and this collaboration will only deepen going forward. While originally relying on a naked Windows kernel to power the Xbox, the two platforms have grown much closer in recent years, culminating in the Universal Windows Platform now being supported by the Xbox One. We’ve seen how this move has unified the Windows and Xbox Stores, and is now bringing universal apps to the Xbox, since the launch of the Anniversary Edition update on the console.
We’re also seeing how UWP apps and support on Windows 10 are bringing Xbox titles over to the desktop platform. The doomed Fable Legends game was one of the first games to come to Windows and Xbox simultaneously and also to allow cross-play and support for the Xbox Play Anywhere platform. However, other titles are faring much better including Forza Apex, Gears of War 4, ReCore and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, have all launched on both platforms, through the now-Universal Windows Store, and running on the UWP platform.
With each subsequent title launch and platform update, Microsoft is making cross-compatibility, and the Universal platform as a whole, more robust, and more capable. And it’s exactly these advances that are letting Microsoft unify the two gaming platforms, Xbox and Windows 10, into a single ecosystem.
But Project Helix will truly come to fruition when the Xbox Scorpio launches. The new device, expected to become available next year, ahead of the holiday season, will be the most powerful console ever created. Scorpio will rely on the Universal Windows Platform, not just for apps but for some games also. Windows Central is citing an unnamed source, who’s reiterating many of the things that Microsoft has previously said publicly, including that Scorpio will be rendering games, be they UWP or XDK-developed, natively at 4K.
Of course, Scorpio, while offering backwards compatibility with existing titles, will become the primary console that devs work on. Because of its higher performance, the device will be a “one-stop shop” for developers, who’ll be able to scale the device’s specs to test out games and target all platforms at the same time: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Scorpio. They’ll be able to create a single package, that will know which type of device is using it, and load the appropriate resources.
The unified ecosystem will all be based around the UWP platform and run through the Windows Store, though XDK will still be highly important. As this comes to pass, Microsoft will finally have a unified, integrated ecosystem, capable of sustaining its users across all platforms.
Whether this succeeds in any meaningful way in the market remains to be seen. Steam is still the dominant platform on PC, and for good reason. Microsoft’s recent missteps with the launch of the latest Call of Duty as a Universal app, have highlighted the nascent platform’s weakness. If users continue to ignore the Windows Store and Microsoft fails to entice them, Project Helix may be little more than an technical achievement. But you don’t get any Gs for trying.