'Xbox as a Platform' Approach May Lead Microsoft To Digital-Only Media

Larry 'Major Nelson' Hyrb lauds the digital storefront as an integral part of the 'Xbox Platform.'


At PAX Australia Larry 'Major Nelson' Herb spoke about Xbox as a platform to GameSpot. With the recent Xbox Play Anywhere initiative the lines between Xbox as a console and Xbox as a service infrastructure have blurred, and Microsoft will only be pushing that further in the future.

Hyrb is the director of programming for Xbox Live and is therefore at the forefront of Microsoft's development of Xbox as a platform. Hyrb stated that with PC and the upcoming Project Scorpio joining the Xbox One under the umbrella of the Xbox Platform, there's going to be more choice for customers than ever as to how they can game.

Microsoft had tried to attract PC players before with its Games for Windows Live program, which was massively panned, but now it's looking to give PC gamers equal treatment to the Xbox console audience that has been their gaming bread and butter for over a decade. Project Scorpio isn't seen as a "new" platform, but a continuation of the Xbox family, offering increased capabilities over the standard Xbox One for those that wish to purchase it.

The big take on this mindset though is that players will be able to take their content with them. To do that, though, will require almost total reliance on a digital storefront. If you want to use Xbox Play Anywhere, you're going to have to use the Xbox Live service. Even if you buy a physical copy of an Xbox One game, that disc isn't going to work on your PC. You're going to have to download a copy of the game. Furthermore, the Xbox platform promise seems to be that if you upgrade to new hardware "all your content goes with you." This appears to indicate that Microsoft intends for customers to utilize their digital storefront in even higher numbers.

Customers are becoming more and more accepting of digital marketplaces, much more so than when they rebelled against the announcement that the Xbox One would need to be "always online." Microsoft changed that requirement in the face of public agitation, but it seems like they're slowly inching towards that same end goal. Regardless of the fact that most Xbox platform users wouldn't be affected by a digital-only media approach, there are still gamers all over the world that don't have access to reliable, unlimited high-speed internet.

In the United States, there are plenty of people living in rural areas who depend on physical media to be able to play the latest titles. Giant ISPs like Comcast and their attempts to add caps onto broadband connections for millions of Americans would also put quite a damper on a digital-only gaming world. Hopefully, Microsoft will keep all of its customers in mind when making decisions involving media availability instead of just the majority.

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 13, 2016 7:14 AM

    Jason Faulkner posted a new article, 'Xbox as a Platform' Approach May Lead Microsoft To Digital-Only Media

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      December 13, 2016 7:57 AM

      Unless they address how bad the Windows Store is this is all kinda moot for PC gamers. I assume that's where we'd have to download from.

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        December 13, 2016 8:03 AM

        don't forget telecoms shifting to monthly data caps.

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          December 13, 2016 8:07 AM

          That's an odd one. Ya, we're seeing some ISPs shift towards caps, but then we're also seeing some move away from it. TWC/Spectrum (and I think Charter?) still has no caps. And it looks like AT&T is moving away from them.

          Need to keep on the FCC to kill data caps. Although, I'm sure the ISPs will find other ways to nick, dime, quarter and pummel their customers more.

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            December 13, 2016 4:54 PM

            Net neutrality is dead with the incoming FCC. And with it there will be more restrictive datacaps unless you use blessed services that your ISP approved.

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              December 13, 2016 4:56 PM

              Unless you have specific proof, this is just the Shack's usual anti-Trump voice.

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                December 13, 2016 5:03 PM

                He's been very vocal about being anti-net neutrality.

                Why do people keep assuming that Trump won't pursue any of the things he promised on the campaign trail? I think it's about time you started taking him seriously.

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                  December 13, 2016 5:10 PM

                  I was more asking for proof of the specific claims. Yes, he's pro-business. That goes without saying.

                  I think we shouldn't take things he says right now on surface value or to heart. Not a lot anyways. He's managing his transition and having to find his actual presidential voice. Remember, he hasn't been in politics before, so he's having to learn all of that as he goes. So, I just expect there's going to be some huge swings in his policy vs campaign, and some things that just get dropped completely.

                  Honestly, I've had a good deal of family concerns going on in the past couple of months that I haven't kept up to speed on everything single thing. I've been trying to keep an ear out for a few specific things, but I hadn't heard anything specific about FCC and what he'd actually do next. And, the FCC is technically an independent government agency, so it's not directly under the president's control.

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                    December 13, 2016 5:12 PM

                    It's not under the presidents control, but I can't imagine him not appointing ultra conservatives to the board. He's certainly doing that for every other appointment.

                    I'm not being anti-trump, just realistic. This would likely play out the same with any GOP president, not just Trump, they are all anti-net neutrality.

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        December 13, 2016 1:23 PM

        The issues with the servers for the Windows Store version of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare not being able to connect to the Steam version's severs has made me a bit weary of buying from Microsoft.

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          December 13, 2016 1:53 PM

          I'd be more concerned with buying Activision games from MSFT Store. You know, because Activision.

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          December 13, 2016 4:13 PM

          GFWL has made me warrey of buying any content from them on PC.

          While that debacle is primarily Activsion's fault, it's in Microsoft's best interest to user's of their store to guarantee some type of experience for purchasers. It'd be trivial for them to have a set of requirements for games software listed in their store. Something as simple as requiring that content listed in the store must be patched and supported equally, and any online content must provide an experience in parody no worse than any other version offered for like devices (in this case PC).

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      December 13, 2016 3:04 PM

      I don't find this surprising. Microsoft has wanted to head in this direction with the Xbox platform since they've announced the Xbox One.

      It's my belief home consoles will have to go in this direction if they want to continue to be successful.

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        December 13, 2016 3:27 PM

        Why is that? Plenty of people are perfectly happy with physical media.

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          December 13, 2016 4:03 PM

          There are plenty more people who are happier with digital. You need only to look at other forms of digital media. Music, videos, and soon books are very much primarily consumed digitally. What's interesting is that for music and video, the market is far far larger than that of games, and dedicated stores for music and movies/TV don't exist anymore because digital has consumed it. In fact with the proliferation of tablets and smartphones, most people play their games on a purely digital device.

          Games don't hold any special properties as digital content beyond their size, and the slow march of high resolution video is going to push bandwidth speeds without question.

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            December 13, 2016 4:26 PM

            It doesn't take 3 hours to download music or stream a movie. Apples and Oranges.

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              December 13, 2016 4:29 PM

              It doesn't take 3 hours to download a game either. That experience varies per person. Also, 3 hours is like a trip to the mall where you'll buy the game, eat lunch, and head back home to place it into the console......where it will promptly need to install itself, then update.

              What needs to be considered is this is today, and any piece of that can change in the next 24 months. Having your product or platform ready for that change will give you every advantage.

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                December 13, 2016 4:38 PM

                It definitely does take 3 hours to download and install larger games. Even patching a new game can take over an hour, easily, and I have a 100mbit internet connection.

                I can drive to target and back in less than 10 minutes, but typically I just order games through Amazon.

                This is the same tired old argument we had when the xb1 was originally announced as "digital only". There's no reason to go 100% one way or the other, if you want digital games that's fine, I prefer physical discs. There's no reason a console can't cater to both our tastes.

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                  December 13, 2016 4:59 PM

                  Then you get around that by offering the option to preload any game at any time. When a purchase is made the content is decrypted, and you can start playing right then. The fact that it's not better isn't what I'm arguing. I'm stating that Microsoft moving in this direction is IN LINE with what they have been doing for the better part of the last decade.

                  They don't care about user's who aren't connected.

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                    December 13, 2016 5:04 PM

                    How does offering a physical option prevent them from doing any of the online stuff? You still haven't explained that one.

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                      December 13, 2016 5:20 PM

                      I think a lot of the download and install limitations are not just internet related. They are hardware/console provider server limitations.

                      My PS4 is hard wired to my router. I have gigabit fiber. A large game still takes way longer than it should to download and install. 30 minutes to an hour. Steam on my PC on the other hand is night and day.

                      A lot of it I feel is Sony and MS are building machines to the lowest common denominator. Their hardware and services feel like they are built around 15-50mbps internet speeds. Why invest in server structure and increase hardware costs when they feel no need to push the envelope.

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                      December 13, 2016 5:26 PM

                      It doesn't. It isn't even an argument I'm trying to make. Rather the lack of the disc drive doesn't prevent Microsoft's target audience from using their products.

                      I'm stating that Microsoft turning the Xbox console, into Xbox the platform is obvious and is a good thing for them to do. That means Xbox on the PC, on their Surface product lines, on their tablets, and mobile phones. Interestingly enough. Only one of those device has a disc drive. The actual Xbox. Making the Xbox console niche within their platform.

                      I'll say it here for you again. I'm not surprised Microsoft is moving in this direction. They have been wanting to do this since they announced the Xbox 1.

                      Them actually doing it isn't a surprise. This includes Xbox becoming a larger platform within Microsoft, and the eventual removal of the disc drive. Microsoft's offerings are entirely centered around connected devices. Them expecting users to have a capable internet connection goes along with that.

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          December 13, 2016 5:27 PM

          not me. I've bought just about everything on my xbone digital except 2 or 3 games

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        December 13, 2016 3:30 PM

        you think physical media is holding back the entire platform?

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          December 13, 2016 4:03 PM

          Not at all.

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          December 13, 2016 4:16 PM

          I'm not referring to the loss of physical media. That's trivial overall. I'm talking about Xbox as a platform. They plan to have that brand extend beyond the current console model where it only exist as a momentary piece of hardware.

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        December 13, 2016 3:30 PM

        I can do that no prob, but I worry about my little nephew in rural Colorado who is just growing in to video game age and has little or no internet in the middle of nowhere. How will I indoctrinate him. HOW?

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          December 13, 2016 4:08 PM

          Microsoft has their numbers. They know from sales of users who have an internet connection and those who don't. They know who is connecting their product to the web. They have those percentages. I wouldn't put it past Microsoft, but I don't believe they would attempt that push if they didn't have the numbers to back it up. To Microsoft your nephew is a niche of their potential consumer base.

          Look at their current product offerings. It's very clear they aren't interested in servicing users who are not connected.

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        December 13, 2016 4:40 PM

        People are way too attached to selling and trading. The Switch is a prime candidate for an all digital platform like the iPad or iPhone. Removing the cartridge slot would totally work but that's not how the console market is.

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          December 13, 2016 4:48 PM

          Is Nintendo still tying your game purchases to a console instead of a user account? If that's the case... fuck buying digital.

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          December 13, 2016 4:55 PM

          The Switch is also made by Nintendo. I don't think they're a good candidate for digital only. They don't seem to have fully grasped expectations.

          I'd also point out that Nintendo and Microsoft are very different companies in their approach and offerings. Again. Look at Microsoft's current line of products. Everything is centered around their platform, and digital distribution. They have been, and are slowly killing off their licensed software lines, and replacing them with software as a service offerings. In fact their new primer consumer OS (Windows 10) is just that.

          I'm not arguing about which is better, or what works. I'm stating that Microsoft going in this direction is COMPLETELY IN LINE with everything else they have been doing for the past decade.

          Nintendo on the other hand loves to sell you physical stuff. They want to sell you Amiibos, they want to sell you accessories for their consoles. They love that kind of distribution. Microsoft and Nintendo are very different. I don't see them as a good comparison in this case.

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            December 13, 2016 5:11 PM

            With two exceptions l, everything I have on Wii U and 3DS is digital. MyNintendo is clearly a push to the cloud for Switch since it already syncs data between devices for Miitomo and Super Mario Run.

            None of that really matters though, I was only bringing up Switch as a prime candidate for downloads only since its a portable. What matters is that console gamers and their habits.

            Whether or not an all digital future is within Microsoft's wheelhouse is completely irrelevant unless the market embraces digital downloads for console gaming.

            Console gamers want to sell, trade, or rent physical media. It is so ingrained into console culture and I don't see it going away. There are so many young, frugal, and lower income people in that market and being able to amortize their hobby via physical media has to be taken into account.

            On a side note, I'm still convinced that DD wouldn't have taken off for PC the way it did in 2007 if it wasn't for the fact the the alternative, keeping track of CD keys, wasn't so incredibly inconvenient and hostile to the customer.

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              December 13, 2016 5:51 PM

              You should also note that Valve made digital down load extremely continent. Which is far more important. In a very watching Netflix is easier than renting from Blockbuster kind of way. It wasn't just that CDs weren't great. There were plenty of ways around using them if you didn't want to. Something better came along.

              As far as console gamer habits go, they're only useful to Microsoft if those habits increase their profit gain. None of the stuff you're showcasing has a direct impact on that. Perhaps indirectly money makes it way back, but it's not guaranteed, and it's defiantly a fraction. Microsoft opting to change those habits makes sense.

              My dig at Nintendo was solely at them having the least appealing online offering, and how the company views those interactions. It is a software company versus a toy company, and they are very very different.

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                December 13, 2016 6:33 PM

                Microsoft doesn't have that kind of leverage. They don't have the global mindshare that Sony does or the valuable IPs and world class developers that Nintendo has.

                Going to an all digital distribution model, especially if Sony keeps physical, would be disastrous for them.

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                  December 13, 2016 6:50 PM

                  That disc drive is coming out one way or another.

                  I'll bet the first time they do it will be with an inexpensive SKU.

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                    December 13, 2016 6:54 PM

                    Maybe in 10-15 years. Not anytime soon.

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                    December 13, 2016 7:03 PM

                    Certainly. I'm one of the few guys that LIKED Steam back in 2002 and saw its potential. I was one of the few guys defending the removal of optical drives when Apple started doing it. I've been all about digital from the start with the exception of movies. Blu Ray unquestionably has better image quality so I'll pick them up for movies I value on top of streaming from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, etc.

                    My personal preferences have nothing to do with the broad market though, that's the thing. The console market is even more conservative than the already conservative PC market. They're going to hang onto physical media for a very long time. I'm not even sure they can begin to have an 100% digital conversation for another 6-10 years.

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          December 13, 2016 5:29 PM

          Selling and trading what? Consoles and console games? Is it really that commonplace still?

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            December 13, 2016 5:31 PM

            I'd say no. Gamestop is doubling down on everything else outside of console games.

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            December 13, 2016 5:32 PM

            Is GameStop still in business?

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              December 13, 2016 5:54 PM

              well their market cap has declined by more than half since 2013 so... yes for now.

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            December 13, 2016 6:40 PM

            Absolutely. Physical sales are very resilient, they still make up the majority on console. The market is still there thanks to the used market and rentals.

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          December 13, 2016 6:40 PM

          For console games I much prefer physical, Nintendo even more so since they retain their value so well. Honestly if it's a decent first party Nintendo game you can pick it up and launch, hold on to it for like 3 months and then sell it on ebay for around a ~$10 loss. I don't do it too often, but it makes decisions pretty easy for games where you are on the fence.

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            December 13, 2016 7:11 PM

            And cartridges fucking rule. Pretty stoked about that.

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              December 13, 2016 7:19 PM

              Dark Souls 3 on a fucking cartridge

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              December 13, 2016 7:23 PM

              Yep I'm totally onboard with carts, funny that we've come full circle from the optical media era. Instead of worrying about accidentally scratching a game beyond repair you get to worry about losing it.

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              December 13, 2016 7:32 PM

              wish my iPad had them

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