Microsoft's Phil Spencer recently spoke to AusGamers about the idea of cross-platform play between the PC and Xbox consoles. He remained tight-lipped about the possibility in the upcoming Xbox One and Windows 8 PCs, but admitted that the idea makes a lot of sense. After all, both platforms are based on the Windows 8 kernel, both platforms support gamepads, and both have a huge revenue-generating audience.
Unfortunately, the PC side isn't quite that cut-and dry: Microsoft can control the hardware aspect of the console, but the company can't do the same with the PC. Even more, many PC gamers could have the upper hand by using the mouse and keyboard input unless Microsoft and developers decide to provide support on the Xbox One console, which could be a possibility.
"I'm not allowed to leak things," Spencer said. "But I think what you're talking about makes a lot of sense. Now, you have differences in Windows gaming and console gaming around control and input… in fact if you go back to Shadow Run on Xbox 360 – something I worked on – we had PC players playing against Xbox 360 customers. We didn't have tremendous success with that, but we learned a lot from it."
"And then earlier this year we released Skulls of the Shogun, which was a game we launched on all three platforms on the same day, and you could start on one platform and then save the game to the Cloud and play across any of the screens and progress," he added. "And then Halo: Spartan Assault has some links between Halo 4 and Spartan Assault, even though they're very different games."
He believes the future of gaming is a connected ecosystem across all the different devices. He points to Xbox Live and the apps on mobile devices that allows users to see what their friends are doing, what Achievements they've accomplished, and so on. Thus he doesn't predict Windows 8 gamers will be playing against Xbox One gamers in a player vs. player or co-op scenario.
Will that ever happen? At one time we were led to believe that eventually all Windows devices would have cross-platform games that could pit a Windows Phone user against an Xbox One owner, and titles that can be played on one device, saved to the cloud, and resumed on another. Currently, the "multiplayer" is locked to stat comparisons.
But as he describes above, the company is testing the cloud-based, cross-platform waters. Now that the Games for Windows LIVE Marketplace is closed, there's questions as to what Microsoft plans to do on the PC gaming front. Former Steam director of business development Jason Holtman recently confirmed that he is now working at Microsoft to focus on making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment.
"I think there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft to deliver the games and entertainment customers want and to work with developers to make that happen, so I'm excited to be here," he said.
But here's something to keep in mind: game streaming. This will likely open the doors to cross-platform play across most devices including Windows-based smartphones and tablets, Android and iOS. Thus, like OnLive, Microsoft can keep the playing level even, and keep players locked into the Xbox Live network. Sources said that Microsoft was recently demonstrating Halo 4 streaming to a Windows Phone, so we're betting this is the direction Microsoft is taking.