Could Microsoft Develop Its First Portable Xbox Game Console? Many rumors have been going in this direction for several years, but the cause and reality of the strategy that Xbox has put in place does not necessarily go in this direction. We have considered the possibilities.
Burned by the success of the Nintendo Switch and the advent of cloud gaming, the fantasy of a portable Xbox console developed by Microsoft has sprouted in many minds and been the subject of corridor noise since the launch of Generation 9 in 2020.
The most attentive fans of the brand may have noticed the flashes sent by certain well-known Microsoft journalists. We can now say that the company’s teams are thinking of a portable device that goes in this direction. But between thinking of a product, advertising it and marketing it, there are obviously big steps to take. In other words, it is a device that may never see the light of day in the end.
While we wait for possible leaks that will allow us to better understand this project, let’s think about the different paths that Microsoft could pursue. One might also wonder if such a device would really make sense in Xbox’s current strategy.
Native games or cloud games?
Before looking at the various hypotheses, one last explanation to clarify. Today, there are two main ways of thinking about a portable device that is capable of offering video games to the consumers. You can either create a device that is capable of running games built-in, and it requires compelling game developers to tailor their titles to your machine specifically, often with significant limitations to the game’s performance or graphics quality. This is the path Nintendo has taken to Switch or Valve with Steam Deck.
The other way is cloud games. This makes it possible to deport the need for computing power to the service provider’s servers, and therefore to significantly facilitate the mobile device, which then simply reads a video stream and sends commands from the joystick. In principle, this greatly facilitates the catalog of games available on the device. The downside is that it requires an excellent connection, wireless in addition. Another problem: As soon as you leave your home, you absolutely need a 4G or 5G connection to continue playing.
Note that nothing prevents a console in the first hypothesis from also accessing cloud games. More games available on Nintendo Switch are available thanks to cloud games (Kingdom hearts and control e.g, A Plague Tale: Requiem soon), often at the expense of a very degraded user experience.
We know the Xbox’s appetite for cloud games, so it’s a crucial question when imagining a portable console developed by Microsoft.
Hypothesis 1: a portable Xbox Series S
Despite months and months of Xbox Series S leaksLockhart“The arrival of the small Microsoft console next to the Xbox Series X was a nice surprise. This extremely compact console for a new generation of product impressed us during our test. To the point of imagining a portable version of this console?
The idea is not stupid. That would allow Microsoft to guarantee that all Xbox Series S games we know today will be compatible with this possible portable version. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to achieve in the state. In fact, the Xbox Series S uses 80 to 85 watts and is equipped with a 165 watt power supply. We are far from the 20 watts used by Steam Deck with the same type of architecture.
To reduce this consumption, it would be necessary to rely on the next generation of AMD components, but in this case, the architecture of the machine changes and the compatibility of the games is no longer guaranteed as simple. The same if we decide to reduce the screen definition while the Xbox Series S is designed to go from 1080p to 4K.
Hypothesis 2: a dedicated portable console
Microsoft could also choose to develop a brand new game console that is not related to the features of the Xbox Series S and X. This choice has the advantage that Microsoft can design a bespoke product like Steam Deck. from Valve, with controlled consumption and computing power limited to display games at 720p (or approaching). There, we can even imagine Microsoft using the next AMD Zen 4 and RDNA 3 architectures to improve efficiency and offer something very compelling towards Nintendo and Valve. Proximity restrictions with Xbox Series S and X are no longer relevant in this scenario.
But the downside of this assumption lies in the limitations of video game creators. The number of versions to be implemented by a game has multiplied over the last generation. Games across platforms can now be released on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam), Steam Deck, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Google Stadiums, Epic Games Store, Android, iOS. For each of these versions, the developers have to make adjustments to the game. The launch of a new Xbox console in this hypothesis would imply a whole new performance profile for the game.
It’s so necessary to create a good circle: In order to be followed by the developers, Microsoft should succeed in selling enough portable Xbox consoles. Otherwise, the developers could simply decide to ignore this machine, as was partly the case for the Wii U or PS Vita in their time.
Hypothesis 3: a console dedicated to cloud games
The idea that may immediately come to mind for many gamers when considering a portable Xbox would be a console designed for cloud gaming. We then remove the restrictions both on performance, as the games do not run built-in on the machine, and on customization of game developers.
As explained above, the problem with this hypothesis is the limitations of such a machine. If it is not 4G or 5G compatible, you can not play as soon as you leave your house. This also includes a mandatory Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to use the device.
Hypothesis 4: a gaming laptop
This is a scenario that we think less about, Microsoft offers a number of PCs with its Surface family, and we know that the same engineers are responsible for creating the Xbox. One could imagine a Surface product for the first time really aimed at an audience of gamers. Several Surface devices have previously integrated the Xbox Wireless protocol to easily connect an Xbox controller without the use of Bluetooth.
In this scenario, Microsoft would have the opportunity to use the architecture of the Xbox Series S to create an ideal laptop for video games without creating a machine that is too bulky. Cost rationalization with Series S would limit the selling price. On the other hand, in this case we will be talking about a Windows PC that no longer has much in common with the idea of a portable console.
Are such ideas really part of the Xbox Everywhere strategy?
The Xbox Everywhere strategy that Microsoft has introduced is pretty simple to understand. It’s about offering Xbox games on as many screens as possible, around the world and with as many players as possible. If we take the definition of strategy, it’s even a matter of offering the games on “devices you already own“.
This is where we can talk about the elephant in space. Does Microsoft really need to market a portable console when any smartphone can already become a console with cloud games and a simple controller? Of course, the company can always add a string to its bow with such a new product, but that would not allow it to seek out a new audience. It’s much smarter to offer Xbox Cloud Gaming on Steam Deck and still negotiate with Nintendo for a day to land it on Switch.
It’s natural that this kind of device is under study in Microsoft, and perhaps the company will be able to solve this equation to offer an interesting device. In our opinion, among the hypotheses we have proposed, scenarios 2 and 4 hold our attention, but we do not imagine that Microsoft will embark on this generation of consoles. Nintendo Switch has created emulators, but by offering Xbox games on consoles, PCs, mobiles and even live on television, Microsoft does not really need to offer a dedicated portable console like Switch.
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