Microsoft Expands Xbox Gaming Territory

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Microsoft on Monday launched a new lineup of Xbox game devices at its E3 conference, including Xbox One S, its smallest and most compact console to date. The company also previewed the highly anticipated Project Scorpio, which it claims will be the most powerful game console ever created.

The product rollout is part of an effort to bring top quality gaming experiences to customers wherever they want to play and on their choice of devices. The new Xbox Play Anywhere program will allow game play on Xbox consoles or Windows 10 devices, and support backwards compatibility with some older devices.

Xbox One S has a 40 percent lighter console than existing models, has an internal power supply, and supports 4K Ultra HD for Blu-ray movies and streaming content from partners including Amazon Video and Netflix. The new system also has High Dynamic Range support for video and gaming. It is available for preorder and will be in stores by August.

The device will come at three price points: the 500-GB Xbox One S at US$299; the 1-TB Xbox One S at $349; and the limited edition 2-TB Xbox One S in select markets at $399.

Project Scorpio, which will be ready for the 2017 holiday season, will enter the market as the most powerful console ever created, according to Microsoft. It will have 6 teraflops of GPU, delivering true 4k gaming and high-fidelity virtual reality.

"Most of us play games on more than one device, and it's shifting the way we think of gaming," Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, told the E3 audience.

"The issue with the existing crop of game systems is they are underpowered when taken against the coming wave of 4K HDR TVs and virtual reality headsets, so both Sony and Microsoft are scrambling with updates to hardware early so these platforms don't languish," observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"Having multiple systems in market of the same generation is new," he pointed out, "but game system makers have left older systems in market for those wanting a bargain in the past and kept them in production, so this could work like that if positioned properly."

From a competitive angle, the One S is particularly interesting, Enderle noted, because it could target Apple TV as much as PlayStation.

However, "the S will need to have a solid set-top box value proposition in line with Apple TV," he added.

With the Scorpio's entrance slated for next year, "there is some danger of stalling the market," Enderle said, but that likely was unavoidable. Given that Microsoft needed to get developers working on content, it would have been almost impossible to keep it secret.

"If it leaked and folks thought it was a replacement system rather than an enhanced system, that would stall the market for the Xbox," Enderle said. "So think they made a good decision."

That said, "there needs to be some spectacular content to justify Scorpio," he suggested.

"Microsoft is aiming to differentiate its offer from Sony, support its PC and console business, and grow its games business by targeting consumers that play games on a number of screens," said Piers Harding-Rolls, director for games at IHS Technology.

"Microsoft's strengths lie in the console and PC sector, so that is where most of the impact can be made at this stage -- hence, the repeated mantra of Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive," he told the E-Commerce Times.

What Microsoft wants to emphasize is the ability to deliver a consistent experience across the Windows 10 platform, no matter the device, noted Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IHS.

"It's about a shift from a hardware-centric view of the world to one that's more based on operating systems and server-side technology as the glue that holds a platform and gaming community together," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The company is making collaborative and group play easier on the system, by introducing Looking for Group on Xbox Live, which allows users to seek out available and qualified players for multiplayer gaming.

Clubs on Xbox Live allows users to create private communities with players of similar interests and styles.

Arena on Xbox Live allows users to create tournaments for anyone from novices to aspiring pros.

Cortana will support voice commands on Windows 10 and specific gaming commands on consoles.

Among games being offered are Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusives Forza Horizon 3; Gears of War 4; Halo Wars 2; Recore, from Keiji Inafune and Armature Studio; and the world premiere of a closed beta of Gwent, among others.

Microsoft aims "to make as many Xbox titles as possible Xbox Play Anywhere," said spokesperson Emma Prendeville.

"With Xbox Play Anywhere, we're giving our customers the freedom to play their games wherever they want. When you buy an Xbox Play Anywhere digital game through the Xbox Store or the Windows Store, it's yours to play on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC at no additional cost," she told the E-Commerce Times.

However, "before you download an Xbox Play Anywhere game on your PC, you'll want to make sure that your device has the system requirements to run it," Prendeville cautioned. "To verify that the game will work on your device, check the minimum system requirements from the game publisher using the system information for your device."

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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