There's no excuse for Microsoft not making an 'Xboy' to rival Nintendo Switch
Microsoft is blowing it by not having a handheld gaming strategy. This is why.
I finally broke down and bought a Nintendo Switch. I had been eyeing the handheld gaming system for some time. The constant stream of new game announcements, including surprises like DOOM, was too much to resist. Could it really be that fun?
A week later, and I now consider myself a part of the Switch cult, an evangelist of the giant, clunky device that I now feel is as important as my smartphone.
So why hasn't Microsoft ever made a handheld gaming console? It should. It's not too late, and the company is leaving money on the table if it doesn't.
All the right pieces
The handheld gaming market is a finicky one, especially with the rise of smartphone gaming and Android. In fact, that is where a lot of mobile gaming is these days, so it seems crazy to sell a $300 device that – for many – duplicates that functionality.
Nintendo sold 15 million Switches in 2017 and it expects to sell another 20 million this year. Those sales put it in the range of the Sony PlayStation 4.
While the Switch is touted as both a handheld and console, it uses a standard USB Type-C video and audio connector found on most smartphones and laptops. It's not magic.
Microsoft, for all its shying away from consumer hardware, is in deep with gaming. Investments in Xbox, cloud gaming, and Mixer reveal gaming as the one pure consumer play that has a lot of traction.
How hard would it be for Microsoft to make a handheld gaming device? Let's check the boxes that it already has:
- Hardware engineering group (Surface).
- Gaming IP including original Halo series, Gears of War, and Forza.
- Cloud abilities with Azure.
- Windows 10 and Microsoft Store for distribution.
- Universal Windows Platform (UWP) for games and apps.
- Retail partners and distribution channels.
- Gaming controller know-how.
- Mixer game streaming.
- Xbox brand.
Microsoft is in a unique position compared to even Nintendo, where the company controls everything from gaming content, 20 years of content, distribution, cloud computing, and even the ability to make custom silicon for hardware (see Xbox One X).
Toss in Mixer with a front-facing camera into a handheld while playing Fortnite, and it seems like a no-brainer.
We're at unique crossroads in technology. For the first time, we can reminisce about the "good ol' days." Nokia knows this with its recent retro phones, and Nintendo does too with mini versions of its old consoles.
Heck, I recently found my original Gameboy Advance SP, and a flood of playing SIMS on it for hours came rushing back.
Microsoft though doesn't appear to know the value of nostalgia. The idea of a handheld Xbox gaming device that ran original Xbox, Xbox 360, and even Xbox One titles would be huge. The ability to take Master Chief on the train, or do a quick Forza run (with friends) seems like an obvious sell to those yearning to replay older games.
I take that back — Microsoft does know this, which is why its Xbox One backward compatibility program is so successful. The idea of taking that technology and putting it on a handheld with the bonus of Xbox LIVE syncing and Wi-Fi connectivity seems like an obvious win.
Leverage indies from Steam
Besides getting crazy games like DOOM and even Wolfenstein II (June 2018), the Switch piqued my interest because of the sheer amount of smaller indie games. These aren't games made for the Switch, but titles that are already found and sold on Steam.
Again, Microsoft knows how talented this group is with its successful ID@Xbox program, where smaller and independent game makers can play with the big boys.
But being able to play Super Daryl Deluxe or Retro City Rampage DX next to the latest Zelda title while waiting at the DMV? Priceless.
Plus, with prices ranging from $4 to $20, these games are a lot easier to invest in than Kirby Star Allies, which fetches a stupid $60.
Microsoft Store for apps
Perhaps the one area where Microsoft could even improve upon the Switch is apps and its Store. It already has the infrastructure built. Why not let me run Netflix, Hulu, my Movies & TV collection, Microsoft Edge, and heck, even Skype, on a mobile gaming device engineered by the Surface team?
If Microsoft wants users to take advantage of the Microsoft Store, putting it in the hands of mobile gamers is better than not giving that option.
The bottom line on Microsoft and mobile gaming
Microsoft could make a killer, portable gaming console. But the company lacks the will.
That's not conjecture, as ex-Microsoft lead Robbie Bach said precisely that in 2015 when asked about the rumored "Xboy" project. "We just couldn't focus," said Bach, "we just did not have the bandwidth."
Letting users play Halo on the go or taking advantage of UWP apps from the Store seems obvious. The company could even create a fantastic dock with external GPU acceleration to push those games to the limit for the TV.
Nintendo is proving this market is viable – even with pretty janky hardware and against a lot of initial negative press.
Even without that technology, Bethesda got DOOM to run at 30 frames per second (FPS) at just 720p on the Switch. That is hardly amazing but read the reviews. No one is complaining because the experience is terrific.
If Microsoft was smart, it would take advantage of its 20 years in gaming by going beyond backward compatibility and creating a portable brand. Mix in your ID@Xbox connections, some Surface-level of engineering, quality Xbox LIVE, and a growing market of 30- and 40-year-olds with money to spend, and this could be a hit. A huge one.
But only if Microsoft finds the will to make that happen.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.
The Vita had the problem of bad marketing (many people didn't knew that there was a difference to the old PSP) and Smartphone gaming just got popular.
It was the wrong time. But PSP was a huge success. And the switch is a huge success.
No risk of a specific device just for gaming, just as accessories for specific uses like they do with the keyboard cover or the Pen and Dial. This is exactly why I tried to push through the feedback hub over a year ago, would be nice to get some upvotes on it to make our voice heard : https://aka.ms/AA17ikl
Sony's gaming division made $1.6b and xbox made $2.3b? And tbh, XPA runs on Win10PC, and Win10 is now available on ARM. The last thing we (game programmers) need is to be able to compile a ARM64.
Still, no doubt Microsoft will not release anything portable, switch will be priced more realistically in a year and I might be able to pickup doom etc discounted and I’ll be a happy chap anyway. Spot on Dan!
And btw 7nm should change a lot
It's hard for MS to beat that mindset.
(I think MS should start with retails, and games for not core gamers but general public. Softbank pushed iPhone REALLY REALLY HARD like their life depend on it. But jPhones are weak and problematic so...) Except IPs like Resident Evil or Dragon Ball that have the international appeals, most jGame's target audience is Japan + surrounding Asia countries. (Western release is sorta like a "why not" thing or if someone wants to help publishing...) Years of experiences and sales taught'em that. Even "TPS" like Border Break... because xbox don't sell in Japan, it's hard for higher up to release fund for a xbox version. * Because outsourcing is cheaper, many times... company won't even fund their internal studios (you pay'em to drink coffee in the office). ps: Arcade games nowadays run on Windows but Border Break got ported only to ps4. Why not a xbox port?
The game need to earn enough to convince higher up to release funding for a xbox port, otherwise, not happening.
First of all, there is no processor available to them. X86 is no go. ARM, sure. Snapdragon's GPU is nowhere near the power they need. Switch uses NVIDIA Tegra X1, which is a very very very very old SoC. Tegra X1's GPU is very powerful for sure, but it is still weaker than Xbox360. The Xbox One backward compatibility uses emulation because Xbox360 is PowerPC. To emulate, the host machine needs to be more powerful then the emulated one.
Secondly, Microsoft is really a company looking toward the future instead of the past. Handheld gaming device is really a thing of the past. Nintendo can sell it only because they make it soooo cheap and they put maximum effort into first party games. If you know what the Tegra X1's performance level, then you should really appreciate the effort went into Zelda. The openness and level of graphic they can achieve (especially it can do 1080p 60FPS when docked) is a optimization marvel. Microsoft will look to replace centralized computing in the next ten years, so it's probably not a good idea to start a whole new handheld ecosystem that are targeted only to a small under powered device.
XPA works on Win10PC and S-mode and WoA is a full Win10...
1) There are many related but even more important tasks that are not close to complete or maybe not even started, e.g., VR on Xbox, Project Andromeda, more 1st party games (not the ones that repeat every years) and new 1st party IPs. It's hard to believe Microsoft could assign enough resources for handheld gaming device in this situation.
2) Frankly speaking, Microsoft doesn't quite match with customer and mobile in general, and more likely to fail when combine both.
3) Switch sale doesn't because the device, but more because of Mario, Zelda, and upcoming Pokémon, Fire Emblem. If we believe vgchartz, top 9 games on Switch are either Nintendo games, or based on Nintendo IPs. Could Xbox games or IPs be as strong? I would think instead of XBoy, try to make Project Andromeda great for gaming is something more likely to be success. I know it doesn't have physical buttons, but that could be solved by providing official cover that designed in a way that could attach controller, similar to Switch, and you could even play it as single screen (Switch), or dual screen (3DS).
I think Nintendo is in a unique position to succeed with a mobile gaming system like the switch. I don't think MS could pull it off. I just see it as an extra device that I could use my phone or tablet or laptop to do the same thing plus much more.
Linx 8 Tablet or Vision 8 Tablet:
https://m.windowscentral.com/linx-vision-8-xbox-streaming-tablet-lot-bet... I got it for only €60,00 from iBood. It's priority is streaming. And sadly they only put a 32bit UEFI BIOS in it, which is why you can only run 32b Windows 10 on it. But XBOX Streaming works great, even have PS4 streaming working fine with Gamepad Emulator software and older Steam games work fine on the Atom CPU in it.
For the price I am happy with it, it is a bit clunky compared to my Switch but it works fine.
BTW it would be great way to make use of AR in real world and get into it, funy AR characters/buying/translation is far from full performance.
I would like to see a variant of Windows CoreOS that has the subsystems that businesses need, but then also the stuff gamers want, and the shell adapts when you switch to game mode; maybe even a full Xbox OS as the gaming shell. That said, there's a real risk in being a jack of all trades and a master of none with this device. However I think you're right in saying they have a broad library with a lot of depth to help build their gaming case with a device like this, and I hope they recognise that and use it.
Then if Microsoft wants to 'blow minds' - they could give the hardware OEMs for these class of devices a set of customized SoC/GPUs or co-processors that include the Xbox One X technologies with DirectX instructions in hardware.... Additional thought... (A possibility)
Without WP... The world is starting to wake up to the Google/Android problem - and with nearly 2 billion people using Android - the world is starting to realize this is a crisis, as there are so few laws/rules/regulation for this type of monitoring and data collection, and the few that exist, Google side steps and dances around them. We need an OS like WP to be available if Android gets crushed with regulation and Google operations start getting shut down. (Which is a big possibility in the EU and even the US following behind.) So this requires something to take the place, and I hope that Microsoft has their Windows PC devices w/Phone ready. Windows already has full regulatory transparency. (Yes, Microsoft complies with transparent and full source code access to government regulatory commissions.) Windows also needs an Android subsystem in all versions, include these new devices, even if Microsoft has to somewhat cripple it to avoid Google lawsuits and use of Google's now proprietary APIs that controls Android.