With Xbox One X nearly here the big question is what impact will it have on gaming as we know it. Let's ask Dave McCarthy, Xbox general manager about the console, the games, and also Microsoft’s attitude towards developers, and how they’ve shaped the console.
It's all about the future.
OXM: Almost all of our readers will have an Xbox One. What does the Xbox One X offer for those people? What would you say to tempt them to upgrade?
DM: So if you already have an Xbox, the good news is that your games library is going to come right over, your accessories are going to come right over, and it is going to play better from day one. I’ve experienced this myself. We’ve had the early development kits at home now for a couple of months, and it was pretty amazing. I was able to basically pull my HDMI cable out of my Xbox One S, put it in the back of my One X. I resynced my controller. I took my external hard drive, which I store all my games on anyway, and I plugged it into the USB port. And in five minutes I was off and running. I was playing with my son, but I obviously hadn’t told him what machine he had in his house. He said, ‘Dad, why is everything quicker? Why does it look better?’ [laughs]
So that promise of everything not just working but playing better is a nice safety for people who are considering the upgrade, I think. If you put a premium on true 4K, so not just 8 million pixels on screen but HDR (high-dynamic range), a wide colour gamut, spatial audio like Dolby Atmos... If you put a premium on those things you can tell the difference. And even if you don’t have a 4K TV at home yet, we still do things like automatic supersampling to make sure that in 1080p the output from an Xbox One X looks great. So if you’re an existing Xbox One user, I think whenever you’re ready to make the jump, developers are going to take advantage of the high-end capabilities of it. We think it’s a compelling combination of power, performance, compatibility, and also design. By the way, it’s the smallest Xbox to date – that will really pull customers in. Some of them will be new to the Xbox family, as well, which I think is great.
OXM: One of the things that Phil Spencer was saying at E3 was that this was ‘the most diverse lineup ever’. What was the thinking behind that?
Dave McCarthy: Where were we going? Yeah, it’s interesting, especially if you juxtapose it against, ‘Oh yeah, and it’s the show where we’re unveiling the world’s most powerful console and talking about all that’. As we shaped up for the show, and we looked at all the content available, it dawned on us that we had every type of game for every type of gamer, and so we really started to gravitate towards this promise across the Xbox lineup that there are a bunch of different ways that gamers define themselves, right? Some love the 4K showcases like Forza Motorsport 7 and Anthem. But community games are now hugely relevant to people, too; you’ve got experiences that can use things like Mixer.
We showed The Darwin Project as an example using that in the eSports space. And I thought there was a neat surprise in the community space around PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds as an Xbox exclusive. Some people really gravitate to the triple-A third-party publisher titles. Some of them go the indie route. We had games from around the world. We had Minecraft, the biggest gaming community in the world, going across all these devices. We love telling the story that you as a gamer may define yourself on a bunch of different avenues. The good thing is, they’re all working across this lineup of Xbox One devices. They’re going to play best on the Xbox One X, but we thought that diversity fit really well into our narrative that we were trying to hit.
OXM: And how do you foster that diversity? Do you go to developers or do they come to you?
DM: You know, it’s a good question. It’s a bunch of different things. I think first and foremost you need a developer-friendly platform for them to come to, so we’ve done a lot of work over the past few years in making sure that the Xbox platform was really approachable to our developers. A lot of their input actually led to the design of Xbox One X. They were talking to us about stuff they were doing in the PC space with true 4K, and how that was really deepening their storytelling, and that led us to a lot of the decisions we made, like, ‘Okay, we’re going to put 40% more processing power than any other console, and we’re going to go six teraflops, and we’re going to create a situation where they can write to a 2160 frame buffer.’
So making sure that we’re really developer friendly [is important], and having a development platform where they can easily plug into the family of devices without having to do a lot of reworking. In fact, the existing lineup on Xbox One, with a developer not even touching it at all, is going to run better on Xbox One X, is going to load faster, should have smoother frame rates through dynamic frame rate techniques, and you should see the highest version of visual assets with titles that use dynamic resolution – which a lot of them do actually. So being really developer-friendly is part of it.
There are programs like ID@Xbox, which have been really successful for us. Over 500 titles to date have come to the Xbox One family of devices through that. I think having the PC and Windows ecosystem is another part of that, right? I mean, that’s a half billion monthly active devices there. And we have programs like Xbox Play Anywhere that play across them. So it’s a really healthy relationship we have with our development partners big and small, and I think if you can provide those different avenues, that diversity kind of naturally comes to play in the ecosystem, which is what we’re seeing now.
OXM: What effect do you either expect or hope the One X will have on the gaming landscape? What do you think it will enable developers to do?
DM: I think there’s a round of storytelling that it’s really going to unlock for a lot of developers. You saw Patrick Söderlund talk a little bit about that, both in the EA Play conference and when he was introducing Anthem from BioWare [at Microsoft’s conference]. There’s an immersion factor to true 4K. Like, you feel the heat come off those cars in Forza. The weather effects are stunningly real, and you find yourself sort of immersed in these experiences. Then I think you combine it with the other interesting aspects of what we do, right? On Xbox Live we have things like interactivity through Mixer, right? You start to combine the high-fidelity high- immersion experiences with the power of Xbox Live, and it starts to bring together other communities.
OXM: A lot of our readers will be aware of other 4K consoles such as the PS4 Pro. For those who aren’t as knowledgeable about the technical side of things, how does this console compare?
DM: Well on some levels I think there’s aspects of even Xbox One S that I’d compare [to the PS4 Pro] in terms of HDR gaming, 4K video streaming capabilities, 4K Blu-ray support. There are only two consoles in the world that support 4K Blu-ray, and they’re both Xbox Ones – Xbox One S and Xbox One X. I make more of a comparison [with Xbox One X] to what the higher end PCs are doing right now. There is a big difference with 40% more processing power, in terms of ensuring that consistent frame rate, including that frame buffer that’s going to get you all those 4K textures, ensuring the spatial audio is going to be at a premium for you. So it really is that top-end experience. But it’s important for us to provide both those options in our lineup. And again, you don’t really have to worry with your content or your accessories. They’re going to work across Xbox Ones, depending on when you decide to make the leap, and that’s true with your TV as well. If you don’t have a 4K TV today, you’re still going to be okay with automatic supersampling from your Xbox One X down to your 1080p TV. It’s going to look better on there as well.
OXM: Obviously this represents a new kind of console for Xbox in a way - a mid-generation, noticeably more powerful machine. Is this what the console industry looks like now?
DM: Well, I can say this much, I think that customers are familiar now with having a family of devices. I think that’s a concept that’s landed with people, whether it’s through phones or other devices. They’ve sort of seen that happen. Xbox One X was born of developers pushing us to do the next big thing in the space. We said, ‘Okay, we’re up for rising to those challenges, but we’ve got these considerations of compatibility and design that we also want to nail along the way.’ We’re going to continue to listen to our developer community, big and small, to see where we should take things next, but I like that we’ve landed on a model that’s not too foreign to customers but offers this broad choice.
They don’t have to give everything up, and they can do it when they’re ready and when they see the proof points that really resonate with them personally. For me, Forza Motorsport 7 already does it. I love racing games, and so it really speaks to me. But I think people are going to see developers introduce experiences quickly that really push the capabilities of the box, because one of the things we keep hearing back is how remarkably straightforward it is to get stuff on Xbox One X – they’re getting games up and running in a matter of, like, one to two days. The exciting thing there for us as gamers is that means they have a lot of time to figure out what else they want to do with [that power]. I think we’re going to see a range of experiences pop out of that.
OXM: Will backwards compatibility with the original Xbox work with discs? Will there be digital downloads as well?
DM: We’re working through all that stuff now. I can tell you this much – it’s going to be a library of games. So it’s not just Crimson Skies, which we showed [at the conference]. You know, we understand that there’s obviously a delivery model we have to sort out. We have a plan on it, we’re just working through the details, and we will be sharing stuff more throughout the year on exactly how it’s going to work. I’m just glad we were able to deliver on the promise of more. You know, I think games are this really meaningful entertainment medium to our generation, and it’s the only one where the generational boundaries have become an issue.
It’s not the case with music or movies or books. And to be able to go back and tap into some of those products that have great memories for our fans on Xbox, I think it’s an awesome thing to do. I know they wanted it, because we see it on our user feedback site all the time, and we’ve seen heavy usage in our Xbox 360 backwards compatibility program. So I’m excited to see some more smiles and cheers when we announce the next round of titles that’s coming in the library as well.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.