The hottest topic this week was certainly that Phil Spencer hinted at the fact that Microsoft and the Xbox division is looking at creating an Xbox that is upgrade-able much like PC. The topic was thoroughly discussed between gamer’s and executives, even the creator of Xbox had input on how this all could play out.
Consoles are closed systems and for generations that have been the driving force behind adoption. PC’s have always been a driving force behind gaming but the majority of casual consumers always opted for the ease of use of a console when it came to gaming. With the advent of Smartphones and Tablets, gaming became more universal with people of all ages jumping in on the action.
But in today’s world, with graphics cards and smartphones evolving faster than manufacturers can make them, consoles remain in their own league with fixed hardware for what seems like a millennium in today’s fast paced world. So it was only natural to assume that manufacturers would want to look at this model and adapt it to how we look at and use electronics.
In the past, when it came to consoles you always bought one based on the exclusive content available on that platform and how many of your friends owned the same device. But since exclusive content has become a business that is less and less profitable due to the massive development cost, these consoles lost their competitive edge over options such as PC (and their nearest competitors). Console makers have jumped on grabbing ‘exclusive’ DLC and Betas to entice consumers but this is not working anymore. When the PS4 and Xbox One launched, it was which one was the most cost effective, and which was the most powerful. Gone were the days where the most games you played on your platform, weren’t available on another. Exclusives don’t matter as much anymore.
So how can consoles evolve to match and compete against the fast paced world of consumer electronics? Well, create a console that can adapt to changing needs. But what would be the best way to implement this without confusing the average gamer?
Microsoft and Xbox can implement a modular system design. When releasing the next iteration of the Xbox, Microsoft should opt for a system that can be disassembled easily and be upgraded with plug and play components. In the case of the Xbox, the base unit at launch would be a well designed enclosed motherboard and PSU (Power Supply Unit), and the CPU/GPU/Memory modules would connect to that through a standard connection.
As time goes by (every 2 years), Microsoft could release a module which would be competitively priced, and tout the benefits of upgrading your current system with this add on. Consumers will buy the module and remove the currently installed unit, and ‘click’ in the new one instantly giving them access to better and more responsive gameplay.
Computer hardware, as fast as they evolve does have some things in common. For instance, graphics cards use the standard PCIExpress 2.0 (or 1.6) bus connectors. For CPU’s, AMD for instance have been using the standard AM3+ for years now. So from a standpoint of upgrade-able parts, the system should be able to ‘support’ upgrades for up to 10 years, given that the basic system is compliant with the latest standards.
When it comes to games and supporting them, Microsoft could still offer gamer’s the advanced hardware, but since one cannot force parity across all SKU’s, games would still have to be supported for the lowest common denominator. Sure, you can play your games in 4K on PC, but you can still play that game on a Discreet graphics card laptop at 720p. When it comes to Xbox, the differences would not be so vast, and even if you never buy an upgrade, you will still be able to enjoy your games in the same fashion as they were when you first bought the device.
Microsoft is in a prime position to advance console gaming in such a way that gamer’s would look at their systems and decide to buy that instead of building (or buying) their own PC. Microsoft, with their purchasing power can push prices down for upgrade parts and give console users extremely high quality modular upgrades for a considerable discount against what a similar upgrade would cost on PC.
Fight or Flight
With the definition of ‘Console’ in flux, will gamer’s be willing to adapt to this changing platform or dump it altogether? Will gamer’s opt for closed systems for the foreseeable future or embrace the change that Microsoft is envisioning? I certainly believe, with the demands for faster and better hardware, we have to either go with a device that is upgrade-able or be inundated with annual refresh cycles much like what Smartphone vendors are doing.
I for one embrace the change, as long as Microsoft keeps the message on point.