Five years ago, a scintillating rumor crept across gaming news sites and forums – a rumor that satisfied deeply entrenched beliefs held throughout the industry. The story goes that Microsoft was once considering introducing cross-platform play between PCs and Xbox 360s. It had the technology and the software infrastructure in place, and the idea looked like a nice way to boost the then-fading market for big desktop Windows computers.
But there was a problem. When the very best console gamers were pitted against teams of average PC owners in a series of gameplay tests, the Xbox kids were destroyed. To paraphrase Han Solo, a console controller was no match for having a good keyboard and mouse combo at your side, kid.
The rumor of this abandoned concept was started by VoodooPC founder Rahul Sood and was repeated throughout the gaming press. It was popular because it confirmed long-held beliefs that console players just couldn’t cut it against PC players.
Ostensibly, this was about the differences in user interfaces: the mouse affords a level of directional freedom and accuracy that even an analog joypad controller cannot hope to compete with.
Also, if we’re going to look at this in terms of technical specifications, then sure, a high-end or even middling modern PC will out-perform a current-gen console, both in terms of frame rate and graphical fidelity. But that’s not really what it’s about either.
PC and not PC that is the problem.
Let’s be honest: PC gamers sometimes feel, well, superior to console gamers. There is a sort of belief amid some computer owners (and I can’t stress the word “some” enough) that the PC is for people who are “serious about their hobby” while consoles are for people who like to play Call of Duty in their pants on a Friday night. When PC Gamer recently suggested that its readers should maybe stop self-identifying as “the PC Master Race,” a lot of people were miserable.
Whatever the case, the cultures are different. For 20 years, the console industry has been guided by the design maxims of Japanese manufacturers and developers. Nintendo, Capcom, Namco, Sega, Konami, and Squaresoft once dominated the console industry. They built the success of the Mega Drive, SNES, and PlayStation machines around arcade-originating fighting games, racers, and hack-’em-ups. Even now, those dynamics – built around immediate accessibility, highly choreographed violence, and hyper-real visuals – guide console game design to a degree.
In the PC world, however, the culture has largely been defined by Western developers. Divided many years ago, they have evolved along different lines, driven by the natural selection of their contrasting marketplaces. The long-dominant first-person shooter genre has mostly strived for increasing visual realism rather than the aesthetic experimentalism of Japanese studios. And the real-time strategy genre has become complex and intimidating to many casual players. Although big games do well on both PC and console, there are often profound and complex differences between titles built specifically for the console and titles made only on PC.
So now, Microsoft has revealed its plans to bring Xbox functionality and compatibility to Windows 10 PCs. Xbox Live will be “seamlessly integrated” into the Xbox Windows 10 app allowing cross-platform social communication – and gaming. The company has also announced that Fable: Legends’ long-awaited role-playing sequel will be the first to support true cross-platform play. Furthermore, the Xbox Wire news site confirmed that PC developers could get full access to the Xbox Live API so they would be able to create their own console-vs-PC titles.