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Xbox may be heading toward PC-style upgrades

Microsoft Vice President and head of Xbox Phil Spencer said he believes the game consoles of the future will move away from the traditional console cycle towards an upgradable PC-style track. Speaking at the keynote for Xbox’ Spring Showcase in San Francisco last week, Spencer said he felt the future of console gaming and, by default, the Xbox, featured “a continuous innovation that you rarely see on console,” according to Polygon.

“Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation,” Spencer said. “Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger.”

The announcement reflects and builds on Microsoft’s recent push to bring the Xbox One back under the umbrella of Windows 10 devices. The Xbox One firmware transitioned to a Windows 10-style system in November, 2015, and the company announced that many of its Xbox One-exclusive titles, such as Quantum Break, would have pivoted to “Windows-exclusives,” which will be available on Xbox One and Windows 10 through the Windows 10 store. Spencer said making the Xbox One a Window-based game console will help “decouple” video game platforms from specific hardware platforms.

“We can effectively feel a little bit more like we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Doom and Quake games that I used to play years ago but I can still see the best 4K games come out and my library is always with me,” Spencer said.

Though Spencer’s speech outlined a vision, rather than a tangible plan — he specifically said these remarks are not Microsoft’s official “hardware roadmap” for the Xbox One — his remarks suggest Microsoft may produce external upgrades to enhance the Xbox One’s hardware, or release a new version of the platform that would facilitate such a future.

“When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen, Spencer said. “You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform.”

Of course, this creates new problems, even as it solves age-old complaints. While generational “cycles” hold back innovation, they also make gaming more affordable — players interested in “keeping up” with console gaming trends will be pushed to spend money on hardware more often. Spencer told Polygon in a separate interview he still believed that the game console remains “the best price to performance deal that is out there,” but it isn’t clear exactly Microsoft would implement this strategy, while distinguishing what make consoles valuable compared to PCs. Of course, this all remains theoretical, so there’s plenty of time for Spencer and Microsoft to think this idea through.