Since the very first details of the Xbox Series X started to trickle out, it's been clear that cross compatibility is at the heart of Microsoft’s strategy. Smart Delivery will allow games to be played across Xbox One and Xbox Series X, and we’ve even been warned not to expect too many X-only exclusives in the early years.
It’s a laudable aim, and one that goes some way to making gaming an affordable hobby — something that’s doubly important during a likely pandemic-induced recession. But there’s an elephant in the room: doesn’t having to code for inferior hardware cramp the Xbox Series X’s style?
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Not according to Xbox supremo Phil Spencer, who told GamesIndustry.biz that the idea that Xbox Series X is held back by Xbox One is “a meme that gets created by people who are too caught up in device competition.” Perhaps unsurprisingly for the company that brought us 35 years’ worth of Windows software, Microsoft is looking at the current console market more like the world of PC gaming.
“I just look at Windows. It's almost certain if the developer is building a Windows version of their game, then the most powerful and highest fidelity version is the PC version.
“You can even see that with some of our first-party console games going to PC, even from our competitors, that the richest version is the PC version. Yet the PC ecosystem is the most diverse when it comes to hardware, when you think about the CPUs and GPUs from years ago that are there.”
Spencer made this point more succinctly later in the interview: “the diversity of hardware choice in PC has not held back the highest fidelity PC games on the market.” It’s a fair point, although you could also flip that around and say that consoles have held back PC gaming, as developers try to make their titles work on the slowest hardware available.
In any case, it sets up an intriguing contrast between Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. While Spencer is discussing the need to maintain compatibility between generations, Sony is drawing a line in the sand.
“We have always said that we believe in generations,” Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan said earlier this year. “We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features.”
It will be interesting to see if this difference in philosophy actually manifests itself in how games play when both consoles launch later this year.