Project Scorpio is Microsoft’s next step in realising its dream of being at the heart of every home
When Bill Gates got Microsoft into home gaming, he was clear that this wasn’t an end in itself. Now, with the release of more details about the company’s upcoming console, he comes closer to making Windows the hub of our digital lives
Back in 2007, during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft’s Bill Gates said he never would have allowed his company to get into the video game business if creating a console was going to be just about video games.
“The reason we got into Xbox was not just for gaming,” he said at the time. “It’s a general purpose computer. In terms of the first generation in particular, where we were so known as a PC company, the need to make clear how we were prioritising the needs of demanding gamers, that was super important.
“We wouldn’t have done it if it was just a gaming device. We wouldn’t have gone into the category at all. It was strategically getting into the living room.”
But to do that, especially back in 2007, Microsoft had to earn its gaming stripes. It had to prove to gamers that this strategy was in fact not the company’s strategy at all, that they were all about the games. (Coincidentally, Microsoft had to reprove this after the bungled unveiling of the Xbox One.)
Enter, a decade later, the Xbox Scorpio, a sexy code name for the next iteration of Microsoft’s gaming console which, once you dig in a bit, seems to be the next step in realising the dream Gates had for Microsoft and gaming all those years ago.
This month, Microsoft released more details of the console, basically showing off that it would be the most powerful console on the market when it is released towards the end of this year. Powerful enough to run virtual reality and augmented reality headsets designed under Microsoft’s Mixed Reality programme. Certainly powerful enough to run games in a way that will look better than ever. Powerful enough to really behave like what Gates said the Xbox was all of those years ago: a PC.
While Microsoft has been vocal about the need for more power to push more pixels, it’s also reasonable to assume that greater power will help the company achieve the sort of universal operating system it’s been hungering for since before the launch of Windows 10.
The key to achieving that is to convince game developers to get on board with Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which essentially allows developers to create a single programme that will work across anything running Windows 10, be it a game console, a smartphone, a computer or a VR headset.
That may seem like an easy choice, but there are quite a few developers who worry about so much power being handed to Microsoft when you step into its walled garden of devices and the company’s operating system.
The Xbox One runs on a stripped down version of Windows 10, created through a patch that upgraded the system from Windows 8. But it wasn’t designed from the ground up for UWP and Windows 10. The Scorpio is, and it brings with it a surprising amount of extra performance.
The device is essentially allowing Microsoft to apply more pressure on reluctant developers who want in on the lucrative console market but are hesitant to create for Windows 10 and UWP.
While it’s probably true that a big part of this new system is an attempt to win back the massive amount of ground Microsoft lost to Sony and its PlayStation 4, that’s not really the chief goal.
This is a play for the developers – and not just for the Xbox, but for Windows. Microsoft is, with a little bit of pressure and a little bit of reward, trying to cajole game-makers into their new garden. If the company succeeds, it will likely mean a lot more games for both the console and Windows computers. That’s because creating a game that runs on both devices will essentially require no extra work.
And the power of the Scorpio will also mean that those games will likely run at the bleeding edge of graphic fidelity on PCs.
What if Scorpio succeeds and Microsoft manages to retake the lead in the console war?
Perhaps it will lay the groundwork for what should be Microsoft’s long game: winning over not just the living room, but the entire house.
Google and Amazon have, despite Microsoft’s exceedingly large head start, managed to make their way into so many people’s homes with technology that it looks as if Microsoft isn’t even competing in this area. But it is. It has to.
As the internet of things becomes a … thing, and appliances, entertainment, gaming and communications all become inexorably mixed and interconnected, Microsoft needs to make sure it has a powerful operating system, if not device, sitting at the centre of our lives. It needs to be the hub of everything you do, to be able to touch every single digital moment of your day.
That might sound Orwellian, because it is, but it’s not really Machiavellian, not given the times. This is an inevitability, a future where corporations and commerce are the keystone of daily living, Microsoft is just trying to catch up.