At its Windows 10 event today, Microsoft outlined new interactivity between its current console, Xbox One, and the next version of its Windows operating system. Players will be able to play some games, like Fable Legends, across both platforms and they'll be able to stream games from their Xbox One to a Windows 10 PC or tablet.
Some of Microsoft's other plans for cross-platform and cross-buy — meaning that owners of Xbox and Windows platforms can buy a game on one platform and access it on multiple platforms — sound like they're still in flux. And some of those decisions simply aren't up to Microsoft.
"We're the platform. We will enable what publishers want to do with their content," Xbox head Phil Spencer said in an interview today when asked about cross-buy support for games that span Xbox and PC. "I'm not giving anybody's content away to somebody else. That's not our role. But how you end up with the game on both platforms is going to be dependent on who's selling the game.
"We're going to let the publishers decide the business model that they have on their titles."
Microsoft's chief console rival Sony has enabled cross-buy and cross-platform play across its devices, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Vita, making it possible to buy a game on one platform and play it on others. Sony recently announced support for cross-platform play between PS4 and PC for Capcom's upcoming fighting game, Street Fighter 5.
Spencer said Microsoft is still figuring out what it plans to do for first-party games, like Fable Legends and future games that span Windows and Xbox platforms.
"We're going to have to work through the scenarios and the games," he said, saying that some games benefit economically and gameplay-wise from having a much larger install base. "I think it's going to be a little game-by-game."
Spencer said that unlike Games for Windows Live, in Windows 10 developers get full access to Xbox Live and "everything that an Xbox One developer has."
"You're going to see a lot more commonality in the gameplay and the experiences that people put together," he said of games that comes to Xbox One and Windows 10. "We did Shadowrun and enabled cross[-play] on PC and Xbox 360 and I think it was OK. I don't think it changed gaming when it came out but it was a good investigation of control input and fidelity, and I think you're going to see that same creative focus as this evolves to figure out which games are great for cross-platform play and which aren't. Resolutions between PC and console will be different in certain cases. Controllers versus keyboard and mouse is sometimes an issue that people sometimes get hung up on.
"My job on the platform side is to provide the tools and let developers figure it out."
Spencer said Microsoft isn't interested in demanding that developers support cross-platform play. Instead, it would rather enable "technology to make games great," and let developers make their own decisions. As for Microsoft Studios' games, he envisioned scenarios in which cross-platform play between Xbox and PC could work.
"You can imagine playlists that people are cool with just playing with their friends, like [Gears of War's] Horde mode," he said. "If you were on keyboard and mouse and I was on a controller playing PvE, you wouldn't care ... Or in PvP where there's a playlist that's controller-only, [keyboard and mouse]-only and cross-play — let people decide where they want to go play. In the end, some people are hardcore about the competition and some people just want to have fun playing together. And I want to enable both.
"The other thing I'm interested in that scenario is cross-platform chat. We have a lot of people that get into parties and just start chatting even though they're playing different games at the same time."
Microsoft said earlier today that Windows 10's new Xbox app will allow players to chat via voice and text across Windows and Xbox platforms. For more on today's Windows 10 event, check out Polygon's StoryStream.