It’s time for Microsoft to build an Xbox Steam Deck

The Nintendo Switch is on track to become the best-selling gaming console of all time. Sony’s PS5 will likely surpass the Xbox One’s entire lifetime sales later this year. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s newer Xbox Series

Microsoft has no intention of putting this aside. It’s one of the largest video game companies in the world now that it owns Activision Blizzard, and it will action. This Thursday, we expect the company to unveil a seismic shift in strategy, one where it could bring Xbox exclusives like HiFi rush, Starfieldeven Indiana Jones to PlayStation and/or Switch.

To Xbox diehards, that may sound a lot like giving up! What’s the point of buying that one box? not have exclusive games? But there’s another way Microsoft could demonstrate leadership in hardware, build a console worth buying, and realize its play-anywhere ambitions. Microsoft could leverage Windows’ incredible flexibility to build the best Nintendo Switch competitor yet.

Microsoft could follow the Steam Deck playbook and put the power of a mini Xbox in your hands.

Right now it feels like handheld gaming (not cloud!) is the future, and the world has been waiting for Microsoft to make its move. We’ve tried phones with connected gamepads and portable cloud devices, but nothing has lit a spark like the dedicated Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck. Portable PC makers are clamoring for a piece of the action, throwing cumbersome layers on top of a bloated Windows operating system for lack of anything better. Microsoft could beat them, or join them, if it is willing to take control.

Imagine if the next Xbox looked like a Steam Deck according to Microsoft’s design teams: comfortable And tight at the same time. Imagine an Xbox interface where Microsoft’s PC games, console games, and cloud games coexist. Imagine if you could simply ‘Play Halo’ wherever you are in the world, with your handheld delivering the best possible version – whether downloaded locally, streamed from your home Xbox, streamed from the cloud, or possibly more than one at a time. Imagine picking up where you left off on your TV or vice versa, playing with your friends on both Xbox and PC.

We have the technology. Microsoft in particular has the technology. It’s just a bit fragmented, waiting for executives and engineers to fit the pieces into a single, seamless experience.

If you’re an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriber, you can already download a copy of Halo Infinity to your PC or Xbox, or stream it from xCloud. The downloaded Xbox copy can also already be streamed to a Windows PC via your home network. Whichever way you play, your saved games and your friends can usually come along.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Back in 2013, I told you how console gaming and PC gaming were starting to merge in earnest. That’s when Sony and Microsoft started using AMD processors running on the x86 instruction set to power their hardware. It made it easier than ever for developers to build one game for PlayStation, Xbox and PC – and both Microsoft and Sony saw additional opportunities. They also started releasing their biggest games on Windows PCs. You no longer need a console to play Halo or God of warand it seemed that Microsoft preferred that.

But when Valve released the Steam Deck, it was Sony, not Microsoft, with a capital letter. We wrote about how the Steam Deck made PlayStation’s biggest games portable, and how the Steam Deck made us buy games we would otherwise have bought for Nintendo Switch. But that meant we bought our games through Steam instead of paying Microsoft.

Of course, there was a 14-step process to get Xbox Cloud Gaming working on the Steam Deck, you could install a half-baked version of Windows at your own risk, and ultimately Microsoft helped Valve get games like Forza Horizon 5 And Halo Infinity works well enough on Valve’s handheld to warrant a purchase. But it wasn’t the whole package.

I’ve also spent a lot of time with both the Asus ROG Ally and the Lenovo Legion Go, and I can’t recommend either Windows-powered Steam Deck without serious reservations. I think it’s astonishing – and a bit embarrassingly – how many more accessible Windows games are on the Linux-based Steam Deck than on a native Windows machine. And at the end of the day, they still support Valve’s Steam game store more than Microsoft’s PC Game Pass.

But while that’s partly Microsoft’s fault, it’s also an opportunity for Microsoft, and I bet it can rise to the occasion.

To really succeed, Microsoft needs more than a Windows handheld with an Xbox app on top. It should play all the Xbox games, not just the PC games. Just like the Steam Deck does with Windows games on top of Linux, it should have a compatibility layer (or perhaps a virtual machine) so your Xbox series games just work – optimally on a custom chip that gives it better battery life then lists the current Windows handhelds.

This should all be at your fingertips. Microsoft is the company that pulled a rabbit out of the hat to make the x86-based Xbox One backwards compatible with a ton of Xbox 360 games designed to run on PowerPC chips. It’s the company that once spent $100 million refining its Xbox gamepad. It’s a company that has repeatedly deployed semi-custom processors for its Xbox consoles. Does anyone think AMD would turn down the possibility of making a custom part for an Xbox handheld? Would Intel or Nvidia for that matter?

Such a chip should match the graphics performance of an Xbox Series S, if not an Xbox Series ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go already offer more raw teraflops than a Series S when plugged into the wall. If they targeted a 720p or 800p battery like the Steam Deck, a new chip should be more than capable of playing current Xbox fare.

Such a handheld could even play next generation Xbox games when Microsoft’s dreams come true – by letting the cloud pick up the slack. Hideo Kojimas O.D is built on Microsoft’s Xbox cloud and the company had an internal vision for hybrid cloud gaming by 2028.

Either way, I don’t think Microsoft can afford to miss this coming moment unless it leaves Xbox hardware behind for good. With “several million” copies sold, the Steam Deck is not yet a major threat. But if the Nintendo Switch 2 is a success and Sony decides to make it a truly portable PlayStation, Microsoft wouldn’t want to be the only one betting on a box.

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