Microsoft's E3 2019 message: Xbox is more than just a console

Xbox E3
Xbox E3 (Image credit: Windows Central)

As E3 2019 comes to a close for another year, in among all the amazing game trailers and announcements, Microsoft was sending a powerful signal that stood out above all other things for me. Although the writing has been on the wall for many years for those who have been following along, E3 2019 felt like the first time Microsoft itself was willing to stand up and shout that Xbox is more than just a box under your TV.

The sheer volume of content, features, and announcements that weren't specifically Xbox console-centric far outshone previous years, and perhaps more crucially, everything Microsoft announced for PC and other platforms was good. It's a departure from previous years, where pandering to the prevailing internal Microsoftian, often Windows-led ideology of the time took precedent over what consumers actually wanted.

None of this means Microsoft is forgetting its home console platform, though, revealing the next Xbox, Project Scarlett, for the first time, a codename my colleague Zac Bowden revealed first here on Windows Central.

So what is the real implication of all this? Microsoft's goal is to build platforms and games for literally everyone, everywhere. The entire market, two billion gamers strong, across all sorts of platforms and services. Microsoft wants to be the glue that ties your gaming life together, wherever you are and wherever you play, and they're better placed than most to pull it off.

Project xCloud and the promise of "everywhere"

I finally got to try Project xCloud for myself at E3 2019, hooked up to a Microsoft data center some 400 miles away from the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. While there's still some very slightly perceptible latency, I described it as being less significant than running an Xbox to a TV without Game Mode turned on. My colleague Matt Brown perhaps described it best to me, he was able to hit every active reload on Gears of War while playing, which would be impossible with poor latency.

Related: Project xCloud is real. It is insane.

Of course, there's no way to know for sure how good Project xCloud will be in the real world until you have it in the palm of your hands. But let's just assume it works as well as it did for me at E3 for the sake of argument. If Microsoft nails xCloud, make no mistake, it could upend the entire industry in much the same way Netflix and Spotify changed the game for media and TV respectively. The very idea of being able to take your entire game library with you to any device isn't exactly new, but nobody has really delivered on that promise yet. Microsoft appears as though it could be the first to truly deliver.

Redmond's chief competitor right now is, of course, Google, with its Stadia platform. In terms of latency, Stadia is reportedly quite good, but the platform faces an uphill battle to get content, as it will require developers to spend time and effort to port their games to the Stadia platform. For Xbox, the work is already done, for the most part, a developer need only flip a switch to push their game across the service, targetting quite literally hundreds of millions, billions of devices on all sorts of platform.

Game streaming via the cloud well and truly is Microsoft's game to lose right now.

Repairing the damage with PC gamers and devs

Another big slice of the growth pie is on Microsoft's very own platform, Windows PC, which it gave away to distribution platforms like Steam owing to decades of misunderstanding (or simply dismissing) what makes PC gaming great. With gaming at Microsoft elevated to the senior leadership team, for the first time in the company's history, gamers are driving what happens on Windows, instead of Windows execs more beholden to the operating system than what consumers actually want.

Microsoft unveiled a range of new mechanisms and services for PC in the run-up to, and during E3 2019, including Discord-like Gamertag suffixes to give players more control over how they present on Xbox Live. A new Windows 10 Game Bar app gives PC gamers quick access to recording and sharing, as well as performance monitoring and other tools, like Spotify controls. The biggest upgrade is the Xbox app itself, which finally gives core PC gamers a place to find Microsoft titles without having to dig through the frankly awful Microsoft Store for apps (which itself is due an overhaul). Game developers can now bring their games to the Microsoft Store without first porting them to UWP, too, since Win32 programs are now fully supported. Microsoft isn't forcing developers to adopt the Xbox Live APIs either, despite their availability for Win32.

Despite solving its own app delivery mechanisms, Microsoft isn't going to try and compete directly with other PC stores, opting instead to nurture them as part of the wider Windows PC ecosystem. Microsoft is planning to bring first-party titles to Steam, including Halo itself. Microsoft is also exploring a partnership with GOG to bring Xbox Game Pass for PC and even Xbox Live chat integration to a future version of CD Projekt's own PC store.

Hitting other platforms hard

Continuing with its push outside of Xbox's traditional markets, Microsoft is making waves with its remarkable take on Pokemon Go, dubbed Minecraft Earth, leveraging the power of Azure and open street maps to really push the possibilities of augmented reality. We tried Minecraft Earth out for ourselves at E3 2019, and we'll have a full preview up soon. I fully expect Minecraft Earth to be truly massive, though, owing to Minecraft's near-ubiquitous appeal, and the simple fact that it already seems like it's ready for the prime time, ahead of its Summer 2019 beta tests.

Microsoft also made its presence known during Nintendo's showcase, lending its Banjo-Kazooie IP to Smash Bros Ultimate to rapturous applause. This comes during rumors of more support for the Nintendo Switch with some of its own games, as well as quite possibly Project xCloud itself. Cuphead will eventually be the second game, joining Minecraft, to use Xbox Live APIs on the Switch. Microsoft is also publishing Minecraft Dungeons not only on Nintendo Switch, but PlayStation 4 as well, which practically guarantees it'll be a huge sales hit − if the final product is as awesome as it seems, that is.

A platform for two billion gamers, with Xbox as the central pillar

Microsoft may be building out its portfolio to incorporate mobile devices, Windows PC, and maybe even Nintendo Switch down the line, but that doesn't mean Microsoft is forgetting where it earned the bulk of its gaming fans. Microsoft unveiled Project Scarlett during its E3 2019 show, touting 8K resolution, 120 frames per second, and the near-elimination of loading times. Microsoft is also investing more in content than it ever has, picking up another studio, Double Fine, for its in-house roster. It also offered glimpses of Gears of War 5, Halo Infinite, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Bleeding Edge, Flight Simulator, Minecraft Dungeons, and various other first-party titles that will come first to Xbox Game Pass.

No matter where you want to play, no matter how you want to play, Microsoft is exploring ways to bring that content to you.

Despite this big foray into new technologies with game streaming, and the re-emergence of Win32 and other PC efforts, Microsoft still wants Xbox consoles to offer the best home gaming experience possible. Despite swirling rumors that cloud compute could replace PC and console gaming entirely, Microsoft has reiterated to us that it believes there will always be a market for local gaming, implying very strongly that Scarlett will not be the last Xbox console.

Microsoft not only sees the limitless potential of leveraging its massive data center clout in gaming, but truth be told, I genuinely believe from talking to various members of the executive team throughout E3 2019 that they simply want to make a good set of products. The Xbox of yesteryear has been hamstrung by budget limitations, and support for Windows technologies that were often half-baked at best. The Xbox leadership sees gaming as a unifying force for social good, through the joy of play, intrinsic to our humanity and well-being. That is why Microsoft is championing technologies like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, helping schools to leverage Minecraft as an educational tool, and building interactive tools on Mixer to promote healthy gaming communities.

There's still an argument that Microsoft needs to do more to meet PlayStation and others on upping its in-house game development, but we're already starting to see the fruits of those efforts with Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge, and Mojang's Minecraft Dungeons, with the big guns likely to drop in 2020 when it has to go up against Sony to make the case for its next-gen console.

Regardless of all that, though, the message is clear: no matter where you want to play, no matter how you want to play, Microsoft is exploring ways to bring that content to you, on any device. It's time to stop thinking of Xbox as that console sitting under your TV − if Microsoft nails its plans, it'll become so much more.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • > Microsoft isn't forcing developers to adopt the Xbox Live APIs either, despite their availability for Win32. I think that's a mistake. I understand that beggars cannot be choosers, but we've been down the road of this split ecosystem before (mobile games on Windows Phone) and it was a disaster. They need consistency in their platform. Most of the Win32 games that will be releasing on Game Pass for PC are likely already on Steam with Steam achievements. Surely Microsoft could've worked on developer tools to facilitate the transfer of those into Xbox ones. Microsoft should not underestimate the importance of achievement hunters to driving a burgeoning ecosystem. They're the ones most likely to hop on board, but if you alienate them from the get-go, you're in trouble.
  • I would prefer they did force it, but Steam doesn't force its devs to add Steam achievements either, so it's a constraint that prevents content hitting the platform.
  • This is very lame and super worrisome. This means there's no standard guarantee of features and quality on PC Game Pass like there is on Console Game Pass. Hopefully games that are missing features like these are clearly labeled so those of us that care can just skip them, but this makes the value proposition of PC Game Pass questionable at best. When adding achievements to Steam og console, developers usually have to do lots of programming. Despite having achievements 98% of the Steam library, developers choose to skip them on Xbox Game Pass, despite having put down the hard work in order to add them elsewhere. Why? Doesn't Microsoft provide them with the proper tools to easily convert them to Xbox? What the point of Xbox Game Pass if it doesn't feel like Xbox? Xbox is XBL, servers, cloud saving, Play Anywhere, achievements, and so on. Developers are free to ignore all these things on PC.
  • def need Xbox live and cross-save integration.
  • Yes, but isn't this technically XPA? Or can you have cross saves without XPA ability, meaning two store purchases?
  • Not forcing the Xbox API is very worrying. That means Xbox on PC isn't "forced" into the same high level of quality as they do on consoles. As for games without the API, I would go as far as pretending they aren't there.
  • Why does the new Xbox app still uses windows store for downloads? I continuously run into the same download issues I had with the windows store, that was a dumb decision. I thought the new Xbox app was going to be its own separate store for Xbox games for PCs going forward but nope...
  • What download issues do you have with the Store? I am aware of difficulty FINDING desirable games in the Microsoft Store, mainly because of all the junk and poor sorting and filtering options, but I'm not aware of any problems downloading once you find something you want. Not denying it exists (and if it's hurting you, then obviously it's going to be bad from your perspective), but I don't think it's very widespread. Or is this a bigger issue and I'm just unaware?
  • Yea, finding games is a huge issue. My biggest problem is there is no way to filter games between traditional PC/Console games vs touch friendly games. Makes the idea of touch first gaming on say a Surface device less attractive.
  • Where do you think these games download from in the first place? If they did download through the new app (which is still in Beta BTW), they will still pull from the same servers and possibly have the same issues if not new and worse ones. Also them being in the store can mean easy upgrades without the Xbox app using even more resources in order to constantly check games. Personally I have had little issues with the Store as of late and I had to download Metro over a week with a crappy wifi connection that kept dropping out. Every it gave an error and I resumed, it continued to download from the same place.
  • My priority will always be games. So I'm really looking forward from a lot more games from them.
    I hope they give freedom to all their studios and put enough resources so that they can each grow into something like Naughty Dog. It's like I've been saying in that other topic. I don't see the point in buying the new XB console. I already have a PC. Play a lot more games, more freedom, more options without the need to pay to play online.
  • And to your point this is also why we have been saying that Game Pass and Xcloud are great things for the community in general. While you or someone else may not personally use them, they do make the hardware choice less relevant, which means more people get to experience games they never would have before. What difference should it make if we were playing Halo together online and I am on a console and you were on the phone/computer/competitor console? I think the vision of Xbox across devices is a great future and hope that it pans out.
  • @Avatar of Apathy
    While services could be good options, it should not replace the current system. That's my worry.
  • > guest
    Game everything (multiplats+ console exclusives) on the base ps4 and game only pc exclusives on a not-so-beefy pc? Odd choice no?
  • Why? If he also gets a Switch he can literally play any game he wants.
  • Not if xstream pans out. Any exclusives could be just played with a sub.
  • @Drael
    Not everyone wants to rent games.
  • @Hirox
    What do you mean?
    Remember power and resolution didn't suddenly become my priority mid gen, so what exactly are you trying to tell me?
  • Just, not a normal PC gamer would do.
    A normal PC gamer will choose to ONLY play PS4 exclusives on a PS4. Multiplats on PC for best experience.
    A PCMR, will only play on PC.
    A poor PC gamer, don't care about PS4. A win7 right? For xb1x and scarlett games? I suppose, you are not the majority. And that explained how much love you have towards Sony.... even defended Sony by calling Epic programmers incompetent.
  • "even defended Sony by calling Epic programmers incompetent."
    11 days later you come out with clear lie. I never said that so please stop lying while you do your MS "fan" work.
  • I read somewhere that Sony is not even sure if they will develop another console after the PS5. So enjoy those one and done exclusives with no replay value while you can. Also where can you find a sub $400 PC that offers native 4k, dolby atomos, 4k blu ray, backwards compatibility, optimization, enhancement for older games. On the other side PC gaming will cost you much more, there is more maintenance involved, constant windows and driver updates, bsod's/crashing and games are less optimized due to 1000's of different hardware configurations for PC gaming. A lot of people just want to enjoy games from their couch(especially local splitscreen multiplayer) via their consoles without having to worry about all that I just listed.
  • Your first paragraph is a childish jab (and kinda stupid, games don't have to have a multiplayer component, look at Cyberpunk 2077, arguably the most anticipated game currently around and yet it's "one and done" by your logic) and your second paragraph is irrelevant, none of those things are required to play games which is what he said he wants to do. Oh, and it's also a little ill informed, did you honestly just say that a PC doesn't have backwards compatibility? What planet are you living on?
  • Easy and local multi are good reasons for a console, as are it's relative portability/size. I think we might get small, high power PCs soon, and perhaps third parties could design remote/controller based launchers for them, offering a similar enough experience. But people will always like consoles. Just slightly different things.
  • @jams
    What's the use of replying to you?
    You'll just post the same bs again and again.
    1) The PS4 has way more exclus that have multiplayer in it than the XB1.
    2) I'd rather play a limited single player experience than a multplayer game where all you do is grind whole day. Or just play the same maps again and again until you're bored. lol
    3) Unlike fanboys, my priority hasn't suddenly become 4K or 4K blu ray.
    4) You seem like you have no idea what PC gaming is. BC on PC? lol
    Maybe you should educate yourself before trying to talk about PC gaming...
  • This does not make is possible to ignore the basis of videogame which is console (event is it doesn 't easy many money)
    So you hear the same mistakes you used 7 years later
  • Most (players ?), they come for the photo mode, and to appreciate each other through a brand (Nintendo, Playstation, Apple …)
  • We arrives with Xbox Live Gold Game Pass Ultimate to propose Dlc for Halo Wars 2 and Super Lucky Tales
    (i have not something against to pay at normal price)
  • In first, for exemple, if you want more that a console, you can to do some social work as service, chat, profile ...
  • I'm less of a gamer, and more here for the multi-media, but honestly I find myself using my Roku a lot more and haven't turned my Xbon One S on in forever.
    I wish Microsoft would do more on that front, or buy into or partner with something like a Roku and bundle that stuff in.
  • Glad they are taking the 'open' route, and also glad they've been taking gaming more seriously. As you say, gaming is microsofts to lose. They could shore up their dominance if they play it right, and rule the roost.
  • Nope. Their PC strategy is more disjointed, chaotic and confusing than it has ever been. Why are there 2 Xbox apps (Xbox (Beta) and Xbox Console Companion)? Why does the store in the Xbox (Beta) app not include some legit games that are on the Microsoft Store (such as Quantum Break)? Why are they doing GOG when they can't even get their Xbox PC strategy straight? Everything, from where to get the games to where to social features are to what all these apps do, is just confusing as hell, I'm at the point of saying, **** it, I'll just stick to Steam because Steam is ******* simple.