If you have an Xbox One and a Windows 10 PC, you are now ready for Xbox Play Anywhere - whether you realize it or not. The new cross-buy/cross-play/cross-everything digital initiative which Microsoft announced at E3 in June was enabled with the "Windows 10 Anniversary Update" which began rolling out yesterday. And the first Xbox Play Anywhere game, ReCore, will be released on September 13.
"We're delivering our first-party games now on Xbox and Windows," Xbox boss Phil Spencer explained just after the company's E3 stage show. "We want you to be able to buy one copy of the game that works through your Xbox Live account on both Windows 10 and Xbox. So buy the game once, your save game works across both platforms, and many of the games are going to allow you to play games across devices. So you can play on Windows against people on Xbox or with people on Xbox. But it's really the idea about buying the game once and having it available on both platforms."
Spencer's since gone back and explained that not every Microsoft Studios game will necessarily be part of Xbox Play Anywhere, but it will be the norm going forward:
@pcgamer Just clarifying could be unique game not right for all devices. Intent to bring our franchises to Win10 & XB1 is unchanged.July 7, 2016
So, why is Microsoft making such a big deal about Xbox Play Anywhere?
"Everything else works that way"
Microsoft wants to be your home for everything electronic, from work to relaxation to play. And the best way to do that is make the whole thing so convenient that you never even think about leaving. It's like how Spotify has your favorite playlist ready to go whether you're on your phone or on your desktop browser.
“Things like Xbox Play Anywhere are really about choice and where [people] want to play", Spencer told The Guardian. "So if you’re at school and want to play a couple of rounds of a game and then you go back home and want to continue on your couch, that seems normal. Every other kind of media - your music, your movies - everything else works that way."
Many active Xbox One owners also play a bunch of games on PC, Spencer said. But it's not about blurring the lines between formats, it's about making them reinforce one another as part of a convenient environment. We Happy Few is one of the first Xbox Play Anywhere titles and Compulsion Games COO Sam Abbott told me the studio was keen to make its game easier to play on both systems.
"While in theory we may lose a few sales from people who would have bought multiple copies of the game on different platforms, I think it's more important to (a) support things that are good for gamers generally, and (b) support our community in how they want to play the game", Abbott explained.
Microsoft went out of its way to make sure the first slate of Xbox Play Anywhere games - all the games that appeared on its E3 stage this year - were ready to show off the program ahead of time. But going forward, it doesn't seem like it will be much extra work for developers who already planned to put their games on both Xbox One and the Windows Store. Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain told me that Microsoft's tools now have the pertinent features built in as the studio puts together State of Decay 2.
"We’ve made State of Decay for the PC in the past - and learned some great lessons along the way - so we know our way around mouse and keyboard input, but by also building for Windows 10 through Windows Dev Center we get all the features of Xbox Play Anywhere," Strain said.
So Microsoft is trying to make Xbox Play Anywhere a no-brainer for developers to participate in, with a lot of potential pay-off for relatively little investment. As for players, it could mean some welcome changes for playing on Xbox and gaming as a whole.
It's about flexibility
If your Xbox One game is single-player like We Happy Few, you probably won't notice the fact that it's Xbox Play Anywhere-certified at all. That is, until you boot up your PC and see it's ready to pick up popping pills and evading the happiness police exactly where you left it on Xbox, using automatic cloud saves. "I think it's really more about what flexibility it offers people, rather than how it changes how people play games," Abbott said.
But if your game is multiplayer, like State of Decay 2, it could have a very real impact on the way you play. And the fewer instances of, "Ooh, you bought that too? We should play together!" that are quickly soured by platform divides (I know I've had plenty), the better.
"Xbox Live cross-play is another cool feature that will open up State of Decay 2 online with a huge community," Strain said. "It’s not just that the game will be available on both the console and PC, but the fact that gamers on both devices can play together in the same world is pretty powerful."
And don't worry about Microsoft keeping cross-platform multiplayer limited to just Windows Store games - Rocket League players on Steam and Xbox One alike have been playing together for months now. The cross-platform multiplayer support built into Xbox Play Anywhere means you'll likely see more of that both inside and outside of Microsoft's ecosystem.
Will it matter?
So that's everything going into and coming out of Xbox Play Anywhere. We know Microsoft is pushing hard to let players take their games with them wherever they go in the Windows kingdom. One big question remains: will that dedication make a difference for players everywhere, the relatively small subset that actively game on both PC and Xbox One, or not much of anyone outside Microsoft?
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