A console launched, a publisher purchased, and a whole pile of Xbox Game Pass subscribers. 2020 was a pretty epic year for Xbox overall, as Microsoft dominated Steam, launched its next-gen hardware, and continued the rapid expansion of its Netflix-like Xbox Game Pass subscription service. But by no means does that mean Xbox's work is done, oh no sir.
2021 is shaping up to be another good year in the Xbox calendar, with piles of games in development at Xbox Game Studios. However, beyond the games, there are some outstanding items of business Microsoft is and should consider looking at throughout the year.
I've been beating the localization drum for a fair while now, and it sounds as though there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
With Microsoft seeking to expand Xbox Game Pass via cloud streaming to new markets, there has been one very glaring and obvious issue that could hinder this effort. The Microsoft Store is generally atrocious for localization unless you're willing to learn English. The Microsoft Store across the board seems to struggle with language support per region, unaware of different languages spoken per country in Europe, while not supporting other language regions at all. What's worse, the store doesn't let you sort games by localization, meaning that if you were hunting specifically for games in Korean, for example, you'd need to defer to a third-party list to find them.
We've heard that there has been some movement internally to start resolving some of these localization issues, and we could see news on this as early as Q1 2020. Hopefully, it'll become easier for everyone to find the best Xbox One games
2. Xbox mobile app and sharing
In 2020, Microsoft updated the Xbox app on iOS and Android with a more standard design language, inspired by the Fluent Design System Microsoft has been very, very slowly rolling out to Windows.
The app update was a huge boost for speed, but it came at the cost of features. Lots of features. We no longer have the capability to browse the store, check achievements, and do many other things the previous app allowed users to do. There's no real reason Microsoft couldn't re-introduce these features, and we expect to start seeing some of the old usability return throughout the year.
Additionally, Microsoft has allowed its Upload Studio feature, which was fairly innovative when it launched, to become completely and hopelessly abandoned. In fact, it's no longer pre-installed on the current-gen Xbox systems. With vertical video and all the innovations taking place on Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter for sharing edited video, it feels like Microsoft is missing an opportunity to capitalize on the short-form memetics of these new trends. If I want to upload a game clip from my Xbox to any service other than Twitter, it's an absolute pain, and even then, all you can do is trim your clip. This is something that Microsoft could really innovate with.
3. Upgrade Project xCloud
Another item on Microsoft's epic 2021 to-do list involves upgrading Project xCloud, also known as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Cloud Gaming (lol). Brand awkwardness notwithstanding, xCloud is Microsoft's not-so-secret weapon for growing Xbox beyond the console base, which has arguably maxed out in some ways. For countries where people are more likely to prefer games on their phone than their TV (if they even care to own a TV), xCloud presents a large opportunity for low-power devices, from smartphones to tablets, to laptops.
Microsoft is looking to upgrade its server tech to Xbox Series X-level hardware.
The downsides of xCloud pertain to its hardware limitations, as of writing. The servers are currently powered by old-gen Xbox One S consoles, complete with slow mechanical HDDs and 720p-1080p resolutions. The HDDs are a big part of why xCloud servers take so long to spin up initially, taking anywhere up to a minute.
Last year, The Verge noted that Microsoft is looking to upgrade its server tech to Xbox Series X-level hardware throughout this year. We later confirmed this with our own sources too, which stands to give xCloud a big boost in speed and resolution potential.
4. Fix Xbox Series X/S Quick Resume
What's the deal with Quick Resume?
On the Xbox Series S and X, one of the big touted features was Quick Resume, which allows you to suspend multiple game states in storage for rapid reloading. The problem is, right now, it barely works. Most games don't support Quick Resume, and those that do can often offer an inconsistent experience, where games seem to slip out of the Quick Resume state without warning.
Back in October, a Microsoft spokesperson told us that they had identified a bug with Quick Resume that would be resolved in a post-launch update. Some of the more recent games do seem to support Quick Resume fully, while many (most) others do not. Hopefully, we'll get some definitive answers on the state of Quick Resume and what the plans are for the feature going forward.
5. Replenishing Xbox Series X/S stock
One big item on Microsoft's list is the on-going stock issues with the Xbox Series S and Series X. Launching a major hardware product in the midst of a global pandemic is undoubtedly going to serve a whole host of unexpected challenges, particularly when you compound that with the holiday season, and the work-from-home policies of many states and companies.
With demand for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo hardware vastly outstripping supply, Microsoft knows it has its work cut out, as Xbox head Phil Spencer recently noted on the Major Nelson Xbox podcast.
"I get some people (asking) 'why didn't you build more? Why didn't you start earlier? Why didn't you ship them earlier?' It's really just down to physics and engineering. We're not holding them back, we're building them as fast as we can. We have all the assembly lines going. I was on the phone last week with Lisa Su at AMD, 'How do we get more?' So it's something that we're constantly working on."
It's all down to time, ultimately, but we do have an Xbox Series X/S stock tracker if you're still trying to hunt one down.
6. Upgrade Xbox achievements
Xbox achievements were once a major pioneering feature of the platform and spawned countless imitations to the point where it's just generally expected now. Steam, PlayStation, and even some games like World of Warcraft even have their own incarnations of Xbox Live achievements, but while others have innovated, Microsoft has arguably allowed Xbox achievements to become stagnant.
The only real major addition Microsoft added to achievements in recent years was that of the "rare" achievement pop, which offers a diamond and a unique sound effect. However, Sony has forged ahead with rewards for completions and more, leaving Xbox achievements in the dust. Additionally, Microsoft's relaxed publishing rules for Xbox One and beyond have led to a slew of low-quality games that use simple and easy achievements as a way to artificially boost interest in their games, lowering the value of some of the more difficult achievements out there.
This is one area of Xbox I would love to see Microsoft double-down and produce some real innovation with, but we'll have to wait and see.
7. More back-compatibility expansion
Microsoft has been forging ahead with deals to get games on Xbox Game Pass, and in some ways, backward compatibility suffered a little as a result. Hundreds of games are available from the Xbox and Xbox 360 era on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S consoles, which is a huge and remarkable achievement. However, there are many fan-favorite games that are just out of reach, which is a bit of a shame. Some of these include the classic Max Payne titles, Oddworld games, and some of Microsoft's own like MechAssault.
Perhaps backward compatibility for some of the more niche titles isn't worth the licensing headaches they might induce within Microsoft's legal teams, but I for one would like to see more classic games get the future-proofing they deserve.
What would you like to see Xbox improve this year?
I'm sure "games" will probably come to mind when asked what Microsoft should improve this year, but we all know those are coming and that it's simply a matter of time. What are some of the perhaps smaller issues that you'd like to see Microsoft address for Xbox in the near term? Hit the comments, and let us know!