Microsoft views San Francisco's Game Developers Conference as an important part of their calendar year. Not only do they take a large number of ID@Xbox games to the show (we'll be dedicating a separate article to those titles later), they also reveal a lot of new and upcoming features for the Xbox One and Windows 10.
Xbox Game PassThe first of these was the Xbox Game Pass, a program that Microsoft has been developing and keeping quiet for around 2-3 years. The Pass gives players unlimited access to over 100 Xbox One and backward compatible Xbox 360 games for just US$9.99 per month or regional equivalent. The service is currently available for select members of the Xbox Insider Program in the Alpha Preview with a lesser number of titles. These are the titles that are currently available:
When the service launches fully later this spring, it will also include titles like Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2: Crimewave Edition, NBA 2K16 and SoulCalibur II HD Online. Not all of the titles will remain in the program; every month sees some titles leave the program while others join the program to take their places. The number of titles that changes each month is not expected to be large, perhaps a handful, but third-party publishers retain the rights to their content and it is up to the publisher as to whether their title remains on the program. However, if you don't want to lose access to any of these titles or their add-ons, you can add them to your library permanently at a discount that is exclusive to Xbox Game Pass members.
Backward CompatibilityHave you ever wondered why your favourite Xbox 360 title isn't yet Backward Compatible on the Xbox One? Well, there's likely a valid reason for that. When a title is published on the Xbox 360, Microsoft enters into a publishing agreement that allows them to publish that title on that console. This agreement does not allow them to publish on Xbox One. This means that for every title that is made Backward Compatible, Microsoft has to negotiate a new publishing agreement. Of course, these things take time. According to Phil Spencer in an interview with IGN, "most publishers have been great in supporting it", but this doesn't mean that everybody has.
Xbox Live Creators ProgramUp until recently, indie developers were only able to get their game on Xbox One through the ID@Xbox program. However, now there is a new program that will allow anybody to publish their game to Xbox One or Windows 10: Xbox Live Creators Program. Any developer can integrate the Xbox Live sign-in, presence, and social features into their games that are built on the UWP platform. This title will then be available on Xbox One, Project Scorpio, Windows 10 and/or mobile platforms. The whole process involves a simplified certification process and concept approval from Microsoft is not required. The program is akin to the old Xbox Live Indie program on Xbox 360.
Those of you who are anticipating a rush of poorly-developed titles can breath a sigh of relief, though. They'll have their own section of the Xbox store and these games won't have achievements. If developers want to include achievements in their game, they will have to apply to join the more rigorous ID@Xbox program. Those that do make it to the store will be available in the new Creators section in the Store. Right now the program is in preview and is only open to a select number of developers. Microsoft will be opening up publishing submissions to everybody soon. Take a look at this page if you want more details.
Project ScorpioAccording to Phil Spencer, Microsoft is actually ahead of schedule with the development of their newest console. Scorpio's system on chip was returned to Microsoft in October 2016, the Xbox One platform was ported across in November and now several first-party developers have early alpha prototypes of the machine to allow them to bring game engines onto the console and to see how they run. Scorpio will be a more powerful machine than the standard Xbox One and the Slim, but how developers choose to use that extra power will be up to them. There will not be separate versions of the game for Xbox One and Project Scorpio; players will purchase a single title that can be played on any of the three consoles — standard, Slim or Scorpio. There will be more news on the console soon.
Virtual Reality and Windows Mixed RealityWhile VR is important for Project Scorpio and it will be arriving on the console, for it to be a success Microsoft needs to allow a large number of developers to access a device for which they can develop. For now, it is easier to do this on Windows 10. Microsoft has already partnered with Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and 3Glasses, as well as developing their own Hololens headset, to allow a wide range of headsets to be compatible with Windows Mixed Reality-ready PCs. However, Microsoft has partnered with Acer to create developer edition headsets that will be sent out to developers later this month.
The following video shows how Mixed Reality apps can blend real people, objects and places with virtual worlds. This ranges from "fully immersive virtual reality to self-contained holographic computing". Take a look.
First Party Titles2017 will be an interesting year for Xbox One. After the cancellations of Scalebound and Fable Legends, players are wondering what Microsoft has in store to be able to compete with other platforms. Well, this year will bring Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2 and Sea of Thieves, as well as already releasing Halo Wars 2 to the masses. Phil Spencer also teased that "maybe there are some things that we haven't talked about yet". Don't be fooled — Microsoft is still investing in first-party studios and first-party titles are important to the company. Just be aware that there is currently not a deal with Remedy right now.
Microsoft is now taking a slightly different approach to the development of these titles. The company has learned from announcing titles when they were in too early a stage of development. For example, Ryse: Son of Rome was initially revealed as a Kinect title Kingdoms and Gears of War 4 was announced on its very first day of development. When they're working with a new studio and a new IP, it is difficult to answer players' questions in a satisfactory way, especially when it comes to a release window. Some games benefit from a longer announcement window, like Sea of Thieves where player feedback is important, whereas others like Cuphead are starting to suffer from player fatigue because it was announced too early. Now, games will be announced in a window that suits their development a bit better.
Looking Ahead to E3 2017This year, Microsoft's press conference has moved out of its traditional Monday morning PDT slot and into Sunday June 11th at 2PM PDT. One of the reasons for this is to allow everybody to digest Microsoft's important announcements and news before having to move on quickly to the next publisher briefing. The later time also gives more people the chance to be there, but it isn't too late for Microsoft to still be the first major company to open E3 with their news. Microsoft's E3 plans are not yet set in stone, so there is plenty of opportunity for Project Scorpio announcements prior to June.
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