Cognition Dissemination: Microsoft’s Newest PC Initiative

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Microsoft’s upcoming E3 2015 presentation, set to occur Monday, won’t be too different from ones they’ve held in years prior. They’ve already gotten news like the 500GB Xbox One receiving a permanent price drop and the announcement of a new 1TB bundle out of the way already, so their presentation can focus almost entirely on games for around an hour and 30 minutes. Sure, you won’t see all the games they have planned there, but it should be a good show regardless.

But Microsoft will be attending E3 for another reason: to showcase future plans for gaming on Windows. Xbox division head Phil Spencer explained how the company has previously made claims to remain committed to PC gaming over the years, but hasn’t lived up to them. He claimed they want to change this by having the Xbox team drive the initiative for more games on Windows 10 in addition to their Xbox One offerings, as their ecosystems will be further connected when the new operating system launches next month. This wasn’t quite the case with Games for Windows, which gave people quite a few headaches compared to the ease of use with Valve’s Steam. But this time, they presumably have something more user-friendly in store.

They let Capcom publish Dead Rising 3 on Steam, but let's see if they go further.
They let Capcom publish Dead Rising 3 on Steam, but let’s see if they go further.

This sounds like a great plan on the surface, but when don’t they? After reading Spencer’s statement, I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. Microsoft’s venturing down a well-trodden road with claims to improve their PC presence and reputation, claims dating back to 2005. A kind NeoGAFfer rounded up all the times they’ve pledged further support for PC gaming, and while it’s netted some results, they rarely amount to anything worthwhile.

But after mulling over those comments further, and observing the current hardware and software climate, maybe they actually do mean it this time.

It’s no secret that the console market is in a tumultuous state in some parts of the world. Though set-top boxes and their software won’t be disappearing as soon as others who’ve written editorials for large press sites think, consoles eventually losing their luster outside the enthusiast market could happen one day — a trend that could begin noticeably manifesting within a decade at most.

While members of that same enthusiast market can’t see it happening, or don’t want to, many also didn’t see PC gaming rising again in a huge way or mobile games taking a significant chunk out of the dedicated handheld market. Unpredictable changes are a common occurrence for the industry. Microsoft, and others, want to prepare themselves for a day where consoles could seriously lose market share, making it even tougher for big-budget AAA titles to profit. Shifting some resources to expanding their PC base is a good way to potentially avert this.

Hey, Killer Instinct on PC could really happen!
Hey, Killer Instinct on PC could really happen!

This isn’t solely about a corporation future-proofing themselves, though. AAA games need a constantly expanding market to justify ever-increasing budgets and team sizes, sure, but Microsoft will also use this space to experiment with smaller initiatives. Don’t be surprised if one of their upcoming announcements is for Killer Instinct on PC, but expect experiments akin to the free-to-play Fable Legends to also be part of that ecosystem. They’re already porting smaller efforts like recent Metroidvania title Ori and the Blind Forest to Steam, and given that title’s performance, that won’t be the last.

And hey, maybe that rumor suggesting that all the Halo games were coming to Steam from a few years back could come to fruition one day soon. There would be a better chance of these working at launch on PC, unlike last year’s Master Chief Collection release on Xbox One. If that happens, the rest of the Gears of War games should follow.

At least the single-player was fine at launch.
At least the single-player was fine at launch.

Of course, they’re also breaking into the PC market due to a partnership with Oculus VR, just announced at their press conference hours ago. Spencer appeared on stage to reveal that every Oculus Rift device will be packed with an Xbox One controller. Additionally, XB1 games can be streamed to the device, a useful feature for anyone who has to share the TV with someone. Microsoft isn’t too committed to supporting the device at the moment, but it’s a gesture that might be a prelude to a larger relationship in the future.

Microsoft assuredly has grandiose plans for expanding further into the PC market, but expect them to focus on their core audience first before tackling the causal one — especially outside their primary markets. No one would mind if they resurrected a few PC-only franchises from their past as part of this, especially titles from developers they killed like Ensemble Studio. The sky’s the limit, but Microsoft has to do their job in seizing it, and you can’t blame anyone for being skeptical.

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