A future beyond consoles: what is in store for Xbox?
Microsoft’s commitment to Xbox and to gaming as a whole has never seemed stronger than it does at the moment- after all, this is coming off the back of Microsoft having released the Xbox One X, the most powerful home console ever made, them openly admitting their investment in games has been lacking so far, and expanding their spending on first party games, them making many steps towards making Xbox more palatable for gamers, thanks to initiatives like Game Pass, and the promotion of Xbox boss Phil Spencer to Microsoft’s advisory board, which is among the highest positions he can hold in the company.
In other words, that Microsoft sees gaming as an important pillar for the company as a whole is not under question- even if they do see gaming as important for helping them further their other objectives as a corporation. It is also very clear that Microsoft sees the Xbox brand itself as important- after all, it is one of the few customer facing successful brands Microsoft has, and even though the Xbox One has taken a beating at the hands of the PS4 and the Switch, it’s a well loved brand, with history and cachet. So, as long as Microsoft continues to treat gaming as important – and it is clear they view gaming as an important long term goal, as specified already – they will keep the Xbox brand around.
But what is also becoming clearer as time passes by is that Microsoft no longer associates the brand Xbox with hardware exclusively. In fact, it is now clear that Microsoft views Xbox as an umbrella brand- essentially, it is the branding they are using for all their gaming initiatives and services, from Game Pass to Play Anywhere to Xbox Live, to, yes, consoles as well. What this means is that a commitment to gaming and Xbox doesn’t necessarily have to be equivalent to a commitment to consoles- in fact, all indications are that Microsoft are moving away from keeping their gaming initiatives married to their own hardware.
"It is now clear that Microsoft views Xbox as an umbrella brand- essentially, it is the branding they are using for all their gaming initiatives and services, from Game Pass to Play Anywhere to Xbox Live, to, yes, consoles as well."
The first reaction of many might be to dismiss what I said off hand and summarily, but I implore you to stop and consider what I am saying logically and rationally. Between initiatives such as Play Anywhere and cross platform play, as well as Microsoft’s open insistence that for it, users for its services are more important than hardware sales, as well as Microsoft’s bid to put products like Minecraft on every product under the sun, alongside Xbox Live, as well as recent statements by Microsoft personnel which have very explicitly specified that Microsoft is looking at a future beyond hardware for gaming, as well as their recent purchases of middleware such as Havok and Simplygon, which are cross platform development tools, it becomes abundantly clear that Microsoft is looking at going hardware agnostic eventually in the future.
It’s not even out of character for the company- under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has stopped trying to push its own proprietary products and platforms on its users, and has instead moved to provide its services and products to users on the platforms they like using the best. Where in the past, Microsoft kept its own offerings reserved for Windows, now Office, Skype, and OneDrive are available on every OS under the sun. Where in the past, Microsoft systematically sought to block out Linux, now they have embraced it, and are even sponsoring and developing for it. Where in the past, Microsoft pushed Windows Phone and Zune, now they will provide their own software offerings on iPhone and Android, so you can continue to use their products on whatever platforms you do feel comfortable with. Going platform agnostic has been a company-wide move- the gaming division is just going to follow in the rest of the company’s footsteps.
However, I must make it clear that by no means is this doomsdaying, nor does it spell the end of Xbox hardware in any capacity- as a matter of fact, even though Microsoft has moved away from pushing its proprietary products to users, it still has, for instance, the Surface line of tablets, laptops, and computers. Why does it sell those when you can pick up any other PC and get Windows and Microsoft software on it anyway? Because that’s Microsoft’s “premier” offering- if you want pure Windows, as Microsoft intends it, or if you just don’t want to have to go to Microsoft for software support, and their OEM partner for hardware support, or if you just want the convenience of an integrated experience, Microsoft has you covered with the Surface line. The existence of the Surface line doesn’t mean that third party OEM PCs don’t have Windows, just as their existence doesn’t rule out the existence of the Surface line.
"Where in the past, Microsoft pushed Windows Phone and Zune, now they will provide their own software offerings on iPhone and Android, so you can continue to use their products on whatever platforms you do feel comfortable with. Going platform agnostic has been a company-wide move- the gaming division is just going to follow in the rest of the company’s footsteps."
This is also something we see with Android- not only is Android, along with all Google services, available on third party hardware, but Google themselves put all their apps and services on iOS. That doesn’t stop them from having the Pixel line of laptops, tablets, and smartphones that they sell.
In the future, that is what Xbox might become- for those who prefer the integrated experience that the Xbox ecosystem provides, Microsoft will still offer Xbox consoles, and they will probably continue investing in making them premium, aspirational products, like the Xbox One X is. However, that won’t stop Microsoft from spreading the love as much as they can. Xbox Live and Game Pass are already available on PC; Minecraft and associated Xbox Live functionality is available on PC, as well as on Nintendo Switch. Xbox Live itself is available further on iOS and Android, as well as on PCs. Who knows? In the future, Microsoft might let Game Pass stream to smartphones, tablets, and- assuming they are allowed to- even rival platforms like Switch and PS4. For Microsoft, it’s a win anyway as long as you are engaging with their games and services- they don’t care where you are doing it, just that you are doing it.
For the gaming industry, which has traditionally relied on siloed an insular incompatible platforms, this might come as a bit of a culture shock- but that is presumably why Microsoft’s steps towards this goal are baby steps for now. But, looking at everything they are doing, both within the gaming sphere, and as a company overall, the conclusion of what end they are moving towards is inevitable and inescapable- truly, gaming beyond and without boundaries. And for fans of Xbox consoles? Don’t worry, they’ll still have those around as well.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.