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Xbox Scorpio may deliver on Bill Gates’ promise of the console as powerful PC

Ten years in the making

Xbox Scorpio

It was a weird thing, meeting in person one of arguably the most powerful, wealthiest people in the world and then having a chance to chat with him.

But on one relatively warm day in January 2007, that’s where I found myself: In a mansion-sized tent on a Las Vegas parking lot during the Consumer Electronics Show chatting with Microsoft’s Bill Gates, along with a half-dozen other reporters.

They key takeaway of that strange, last-minute interview was that Gates, a long-term planner of the highest order, would never have allowed Microsoft to get into the video game business if creating a game 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 prioritizing 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, now 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 realizing the dream Gates had for Microsoft and gaming all those years ago.

Earlier this week, Microsoft released more details of the console, basically showing off that it would be the most powerful console on the market when it hits. Powerful enough, I suspect, to even run virtual reality and augmented reality headsets designed under Microsoft’s Mixed Reality program. 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, all developers, to get on board with Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which essentially allows developers to create a single program 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 the power being handed to Microsoft when you step into its walled garden of devices and the company’s operating system.

The Xbox One now actually 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 its Universal Windows Platform.

While I’m sure it’s 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 take back 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 they are, they have 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 center of your lives. They need 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.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding editor and executive editor of Polygon.

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