LOS ANGELES – Microsoft reaffirmed its focus on PC gaming in a big way last year with its Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. Now that most first-party Xbox One titles work seamlessly with their Windows 10 counterparts, the next step is to ensure that the games themselves are on par with each other. Whether you own the most powerful rig on the market or an old clunker that’s just chugging along, Microsoft wants its games to be available to you and is working with studios to make it so.
I spoke with Kevin Unangst, the senior director for PC gaming at Xbox, at E3 2017 right after the PC gaming show, where Microsoft had a huge presence. From Forza Motorsport 7, to Sea of Thieves, to Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, some of Microsoft’s biggest games will be on Windows 10 within the next year or so, and Unangst’s team is committed to ensuring that they run just as well — or better — than their console counterparts (where applicable).
“We’re showing a side of Xbox that you don’t typically associate with PC gaming,” Unangst told me. “We’ve got dedicated PC gamers leading teams inside [our studios] to build games.” The developers behind Forza and Sea of Thieves aren’t just creating ports; they’re creating the Xbox and PC versions of their games in parallel, to ensure that they function equally well and provide similar end-user experiences.
Not every Microsoft title even has to have an Xbox counterpart. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, the remaster of the 20-year-old RTS classic, will be a PC exclusive.
“We build technology and experiences for PC gamers,” Unangst said. “So many older games, you remember them as better than they really were. The team really set out to say, ‘How do we bring Age of Empires back the way you remember it?’” And sometimes that's even if the way you remember it isn’t exactly the way it really played. In the case of Age of Empires, the game will also leverage Xbox Live multiplayer and matchmaking technology to give the game a modern multiplayer experience.
Another challenge in developing for PCs is the incredible breadth of configurations. The Forza team in particular reaffirmed its commitment to lowering its minimum requirements to make the game available as widely as possible. Unangst explained that while PC gaming may seem shiny and sophisticated from the outside, not every machine is the gaming equivalent of a racecar. Some are just everyday sedans.
“We look at things like DOTA and League of Legends, and there’s a fairly mainstream PC that the vast majority of audiences play on,” Unangst explained. “It’s [an Intel Core i5] machine. We’re seeing movement toward discrete GPUs, but [gamers] even play on integrated graphics cards.
“At the same time, we don’t want to lose what makes the PC special,” he continued. “You want to throw in dual GPUs, we’ll take advantage of it … Architecturally, we want to build [our games] so you can scale that out. There’s not a single answer; there’s not a single target customer. It’s making sure you respect the diversity of the experience.”
Gamers can judge for themselves how well developing PC and Xbox versions in tandem worked out when Forza and Sea of Thieves come out. Until then, there’s always Halo Wars 2 and Gears of War 4.