Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, details Microsoft's plans for Xbox compatibility with Windows 10 at the Game Developers Conference in San Fransisco in March.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, details Microsoft’s plans for Xbox compatibility with Windows 10 at the Game Developers Conference in San Fransisco in March. Photo by Official GDC/CC BY.

With today’s release of Windows 10, Microsoft is taking another crack at a cross-platform operating system. After failing miserably in this department with Windows 8, Windows 10 will run on all Microsoft devices using its Continuum feature and universal apps in an attempt to make use across devices seamless and centralized.

One of the operating system’s defining apps is Cortana. The virtual assistant’s namesake comes from the artificial intelligence character in Halo, Xbox’s most successful video game franchise. That one of Windows 10’s most prominent characteristics originated with Xbox isn’t a coincidence. The incorporation of Microsoft’s gaming system is perhaps the most unique feature of the Windows 10 device-linking efforts, and Microsoft is the first company to link a game console and a desktop OS.

Windows 10 has the potential to bring two major groups of Microsoft consumers together — PC users and Xbox gamers. According to an NPD Group report, 68 percent of gamers prefer to use PCs over consoles or mobile devices for gaming. This statistic has worked in Microsoft’s favor, as developers have long optimized games to run on Windows rather than Mac OS or Linux. With Windows 10, Microsoft introduces the possibility of online cross-play between gamers on a PC and Xbox One. This feature was showcased at the Windows 10 reveal in January by the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, using a Windows PC to play Fable Legends with one of the game’s developers, who used an Xbox One console.

“We think enabling people to play multiplayer games on Windows 10, across Xbox One and Windows 10, will unlock the potential of Xbox Live and grow the social network that’s there today,” Spencer said, referencing Xbox’s 46 million-member online community.

“This is the first time that all of Microsoft’s efforts in gaming will show up with one unified voice, with one unified vision around what we want to do and the impact we want to have on the games industry,” Spencer continued. “Today, people are playing games on more devices than ever, and with Windows 10 we wanted to focus on those gaming scenarios across devices.”

Accompanying the gaming-system overlap is a blurring of work and entertainment devices. With Windows 10, the home or office PC is not just a place to store photos or build spreadsheets; instead, it can be a hub for gaming and media streaming.

“I don’t think it necessarily convinces somebody to buy Windows 10 or convinces somebody to buy an Xbox, but for those who have one or the other, you create a better experience,” said Tom Mainelli, vice president of devices research for IDC. “The other game console guys, they don’t have anything like that.”

Xbox is one of the top two gaming consoles used worldwide along with Sony’s PlayStation. Though the PlayStation 4 has consistently outsold the Xbox One, Xbox still boasts a large gaming community and has surpassed other milestones of accomplishment. “Yes, they are trailing the PS4,” said Michael Goodman, an analyst for Strategy Analytics, “but still, if I’m Microsoft, I’m pretty happy because the Xbox One is outselling the prior generation of 360 by about 30 percent. If you told me before the launch of these consoles that the Xbox One would outsell the Xbox 360 by 30 percent, I don’t care what Sony’s doing — it’s a success.”

This is where a symbiosis with Windows 10 can come into play. Xbox is a dominant game console, but it lags PlayStation. Likewise, Windows long has been the top enterprise OS, but is increasingly struggling in the consumer and mobile market. Couple Xbox’s gaming capabilities with Windows’ ubiquity — over 90 percent of desktops worldwide run Windows, and Windows 7 and 8.1 users can upgrade to Windows 10 for free — and consumers can better associate both brands with entertainment and practicality in a way that Google’s and Apple’s mobile operating systems cannot.

“Android and iOS have done quite well in terms of mobile devices, but the story is still to be written in terms of their impact on the living room,” said Mainelli. “I do think Xbox positions Microsoft well in the ongoing battle for the living room.”

The Xbox-Windows linkage has perks for heavy gamers. They now can stream games to multiple devices, and the Game DVR makes recording and sharing gaming moments easier than ever. But the Xbox union also is a mechanism that could introduce casual gamers or non-gamers to the console and its franchises.

“The gaming compatibility between Xbox and Windows 10 is likely to (appeal) mostly to the same kind of hardcore gamer that already owns an Xbox,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. “As such, it’s likely to replace console sales for some users who might otherwise have been in the market for an Xbox or PlayStation. I think more than anything this is a great value add for someone who’s already invested in the Windows world but never bought an Xbox and now has the potential to play games with Xbox-owning friends for the first time.”

Microsoft didn’t need to overhaul Windows — the return of the Start Menu alone could have triggered droves of customers to upgrade from 8.1 to 10. But the company’s desire to run Windows and associated products across devices means that Windows 10 had to function on tablets, desktops, phones and other devices, including Microsoft’s HoloLens and Xbox. In combination with Windows 10’s new features, incorporating Xbox into the OS and across all devices differentiates Windows 10 in a fashion that could impact both Windows’ and Xbox’s consumer foothold.