Microsoft's Xbox Chief Envisions Killing Non-Upgradable Consoles Making Us All Part Of The PC Master Race

When it comes to “modern” gaming consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it almost seems like we’re often stuck in the past. Sony and Microsoft released these fixed-hardware platforms, and we’re stuck with them for 7 to 8 years until the next generation comes around, and then the process repeats itself. Compared to what’s happening with smartphones and PCs, the console industry is definitely behind the times.

Xbox Chief Phil Spencer wants to change this with future consoles, making hardware upgrades easier. "When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we've ever seen,” said Spencer. “You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform."

Rather than rigidly locking the hardware in for years, the Xbox One could effectively become an expansible platform that evolves to become more capable and faster over time. Instead of a predictable, fixed target, the Xbox One would become a quickly moving target that allows consoles gamers to take advantage of the latest hardware advances. Since games would be developed to operate cross platform, Xbox One users would be able to take advantage of graphics improvements that come with incorporating a more powerful video card; something that PC gamers have enjoyed for years.

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“We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs,” Spencer adds. “We’ll see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation and allow the same games to run backwards and forward compatible because we have UWAs running on top of UWP. It allows us to focus on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform.”

While all of this definitely sounds good on paper for console gamers, the implementation is still a mystery. Microsoft would have to introduce a new class of Xbox One consoles that support upgradeable components, effectively leaving those that are already bought Xbox Ones to gaze in wonderment. Speaking of upgrades, how would exactly would that work on a gaming console? Consoles are notable for their relative simplicity and you don’t have to worry about cracking the case open to ensure that you have enough juice to run the newest game release. Microsoft could still enable Xbox One upgrades, while making it so easy that a caveman could do it by going the modular route – something that we saw in patent drawings for a future all-in-one Surface device.

There’s also the ever-important question of cost -- how would these new Xbox One consoles be priced, and what kind of premium could we expect to pay for upgraded hardware components? If the prices for either the console or the hardware upgrades is too outrageous, what would be the benefit of going with an upgradeable Xbox One over a more traditional gaming PC?

These are all questions that we’d like to see answered, but Microsoft is clamming up and isn’t providing any further clarification to Spencer’s remarks earlier today.