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How the Xbox One and Windows 10 come together (and where they fall apart)

Jared Newman | Aug. 24, 2015
Microsoft has realized that it can’t ignore PC gaming anymore, but it still has work to do in building a bridge from its game console.

Familiar faces

The Xbox One’s interface currently takes a page from Windows 8 with its extensive use of Live Tiles, but Microsoft is backing off this ill-conceived strategy soon. This November, the Xbox One interface will get a massive overhaul that takes after the brand-new Xbox app in Windows 10. It’s a subtle, but important shift: Instead of copying Windows itself, Microsoft is giving the Xbox software its own identity, one that persists across devices.

As part of the update, the Xbox is also getting Cortana for voice commands. The console version of Microsoft’s virtual assistant will work with gaming-related functions, such as forming parties or sharing video clips by voice, but it’ll also carry over any reminders you’ve set on a Windows 10 phone or PC.

The result should be a familiar experience as you move from the console to the PC, along with a single system for achievements, game clips, and messages. It’s worth noting, however, that the two interfaces aren’t identical. The Xbox One focuses on launching games as quickly as possible, while the Windows 10 app emphasizes your friends’ activity on Xbox Live.

Same old controls

If you prefer to play games with a controller, switching between console and PC play gets a bit easier with Windows 10, as the Xbox One’s controller drivers are pre-installed on the PC side. That means you can plug in the controller with any standard micro-USB cable, and it’ll work with many PC games out of the box. (The Xbox One controller itself is a huge improvement over the Xbox 360 for PC connectivity, as it requires no extra hardware.)

What about Xbox gaming for mouse-and-keyboard diehards? Xbox Head Phil Spencer has hinted this might happen, at least for PC-to-Xbox streaming. It’s unclear whether the Xbox might allow native console play with a mouse and keyboard, as doing so might create an imbalance in competitive multiplayer.

Cross-platform, in theory

Microsoft has flirted with a “buy once, play everywhere” model for years, but with Windows 10, this remains a hazy dream at best.

So far, Microsoft hasn’t announced a single paid game that you can buy on Xbox One and play natively on PC at no extra charge, or vice versa. The company is instead starting its cross-buy initiative with a few free-to-play games—Pinball FX2, Fable Legends and Gigantic—whose in-app purchases will work on both platforms.

There are signs that Microsoft has bigger ambitions. The company has put out an Xbox Live SDK for Windows 10, so PC game makers can take advantage of the same tools that Microsoft offers to console developers. Microsoft is also extending its ID@Xbox indie games program to Windows 10, and the upcoming Halo Wars 2 will launch on both Xbox One and PC. But while the pieces are starting to fall in place, Microsoft has yet to put them all together.

 

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