If you were trying to sneak in a quick game on Xbox Live during your Friday afternoon lunch break and found that you can’t get online: don’t worry, you’re not alone. While still says all things are good to go (Update: Microsoft’s status page has now caught up with the outage, and says that it’s impacting sign-ins, account creations and searches), reports are pouring in of an outage keeping many users from logging in. Microsoft acknowledged the problem on Twitter, saying that they’re “looking into it now.” Update, 2:30 PM: It’s back up! The status page shows all lights as green again, and a Microsoft spokesperson says that services have been fully restored. We're aware that some users are unable to sign in currently & our teams are looking into it now. We'll update when we have more info to share. Thanks for all the reports! — Xbox Support (@XboxSupport)
Nintendo’s Switch console has now reached nearly 37 million units sold over its lifetime. (Nintendo Photo) Nintendo, the youngster of the video game console market — well, at least the youngster the current console generation — continues to grow steadily as its primary competitors struggle with the inevitable effects of old age. Sales of Nintendo’s hybrid Switch console rose to 2.13 million units in the June quarter, up more than 13 percent from the same period a year ago, Nintendo said in its . The company’s profits fell overall, but that was largely due to the effects of exchange rates rather than any fundamental issues in Nintendo’s business. With the latest results, nearly 37 million Switch consoles have been sold since the March 2017 release. That compares to 13.5 million units over the life of the company’s prior console, the Wii U; and more than 100 million units of the blockbuster Wii console. Sony’s PlayStation 4, originally released in 2013, sold another 3.2 million units in the June quarter, according to Sony’s earnings release. That pushed the PS4’s cumulative total to more than 100 million units, , according to Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Niko Partners, . This makes PlayStation 4 the fastest home console to reach 100 million unit sell in. Faster than both the PS2 and Wii which were just behind. It took PS2 a total of five years and 9 months. PS4 was just 5 years and 7 months. — Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) However, overall sales of the PS4 were flat compared to the same quarter a year ago. Sony blamed the result on the buzz surrounding This type of lull is a classic sales-and-marketing challenge for consumer electronics makers, as some of those who would otherwise buy an existing console decide to wait to buy the new one, or to buy the existing one at a cheaper price when the new one comes out. “PS4 hardware unit sales in the first quarter were slightly below our expectations primarily due to the news regarding our next generation console,” Sony said . “Taking this into account, we have decided to prioritize profitability going forward, and have revised downward our forecast for hardware unit sales by 1 million units to 15 million units.” The black line in this Sony graphic shows the declining trend in PS4 unit sales in recent years, but the console still reached 100 million units in record time. At the same time, Sony said, “The fact that we plan to sell 15 million units this fiscal year, which is the 7th year since launch, demonstrates that the PS4 platform is still garnering support from many users.” Nintendo , the Switch Lite, but that announcement was after the end of the June quarter. The company has , with numerous users reporting problems with the Switch controller. reported Tuesday that the Switch can now run Android apps, thanks to an unofficial port. Nintendo, based in Japan, has its North American headquarters in Redmond, Wash. Across town, Microsoft’s gaming segment was . This unit, including Xbox hardware, Xbox Live subscriptions and gaming revenue, declined 10 percent year-over-year to $2.05 billion in the quarter, due largely to a 48 percent decrease in Xbox hardware sales. The Xbox One also dates to 2013. Last month, , code-named Project Scarlett, to be released for the 2020 holidays. Across the industry, game console spending in the U.S. is down 20 percent so far this year, according to the NPD research firm. Hardware spending in June dipped 33 percent year-over-year to $235 million, NPD reported.
has been leaning into accessibility in gaming lately, most visibly with its amazing , and a new patent suggests another way the company may be accommodating disabled gamers: an Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display. As you might expect, it’s already quite hard for a visually-impaired gamer to play some games, and although that difficulty can’t be entirely alleviated, there are definitely things worth doing. For instance: the text on screen that sighted people take for granted, documenting player status, items, onscreen dialogue or directions — how could these be read by a low-vision gamer who might be able to otherwise navigate the game world? In many circumstances a screen reader is what a visually-impaired person would use to interact with this kind of data, but often that text is relayed to them in audio form, which is far less appealing an option when you’re in-game. Who wants to have a computer voice reading off your armor levels and inventory burden while you’re trying to take in the ambient environment? There are already some Braille display accessories for this kind of thing, but there’s nothing like having support direct from your console’s designer, and that’s what Microsoft has demonstrated with its patent for a Braille-enabled controller. The patent was filed last year and just recently became public, and was soon ; there have been no official announcements, though the timing is favorable for an E3 reveal. That said patents don’t necessarily represent real products in development, though in this case I think it’s worth highlighting regardless. The Braille Controller, as it’s referred to in the patent, is very much like an ordinary Xbox One gamepad, except on the back there appears to be a sort of robotic insect sticking out of it. This is the Braille display, consisting of both a dot matrix that mechanically reproduces the bumps which players can run their fingers over, and a set of swappable paddles allowing for both input and output. The six paddles correspond to the six dot positions on a Braille-coded character, and a user may use them to chord or input text that way, or to receive text communications without moving their fingers off the paddles. Of course the mechanisms could also be used to send haptic feedback of other types, like directional indicators or environmental effects like screen shake. I wouldn’t mind having something like this on my controller, in fact. Naturally this means games will need (and increasingly are including) a metadata layer for this kind of conversion of visual cue to auditory one, and vice versa, among many other considerations for gamers with disabilities. It’s on everyone’s minds but Microsoft and Xbox seem to be taking more concrete steps than the rest, so kudos to them for that. Hopefully their leadership in this space will help convince other developers and manufacturers to join up. We’ll be sure to ask the Xbox team about their plans for this controller design and other accessibility improvements when we talk with them at E3 in June.
VA recreation therapist Jamie Kaplan, left, and U.S. Army veteran Mike Monthervil. (Jeff Young Photo) Microsoft is making gaming more accessible for patients at 22 Veterans Affairs rehab centers by supplying them with its Xbox Adaptive Controllers for players with disabilities. The goal is to allow wounded veterans a social outlet that is also therapeutic and can help with rehabilitation. The $100 controller, which launched last year, looks like an oversized version of a regular Xbox controller in a big box, with two huge programmable buttons. It allows gamers to build out their own custom setups and add devices like buttons and joysticks to suit their needs. The setup works with Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games. “Gaming is now everywhere in the world, and while people tend to think of it as isolating, we’re finding that it actually has the opposite effect and can increase interactions with other veterans and folks who are non-veterans,” Dr. Leif Nelson, director of national veterans sports programs and special events for the VA, said in an . Microsoft is also using the partnership as a way to gather data and improve the device going forward. The accessible device was made by , a nonprofit focused on helping wounded military veterans recover through gaming. In 2015, a group of Microsoft employees created a solution for Warfighter Engaged at an accessibility hackathon to make it easier to outfit vets with gaming devices. The controller made its official debut last year, and Microsoft later put it at the center of a this year that starred a 9-year-old gamer. Microsoft has a long history of creating solutions both for people with disabilities and the U.S. military. The company has over five years to develop artificial intelligence-powered technologies to help people with disabilities. One of Microsoft’s efforts, , is an application that uses artificial intelligence to see and narrate the world for low-vision users. On some Navy submarines, Microsoft game-console controllers are being used . Microsoft is also currently battling Amazon Web Services for the Pentagon’s . But Microsoft’s military work has not always been welcome. Earlier this year, a group of Microsoft employees called on the company to to outfit the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens “mixed reality” headsets. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the employees wrote in a letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.
Discs! What are they good for? Well, they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time. Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front. The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right) The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox. “We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.” The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc. It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice-looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.) At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid and Minecraft is of course Minecraft. You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started.) You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.
The new Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. (Microsoft Photo) Microsoft today unveiled the new Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, confirming rumors of the . The $250 console — $50 less than other Xbox One S models — is geared toward gamers who prefer to download games digitally rather than buy physical discs. The new console is another example of Microsoft shifting’s gaming strategy to focus on reaching more gamers on a variety of devices and a greater emphasis on cloud-based gaming. Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will go on sale starting May 7 and come bundled with , and . Microsoft is painting the new device as the most affordable way to play Xbox games and guaranteed that it will remain less expensive than other consoles even as prices fluctuate. Microsoft today also announced plans to , the company’s rotating catalog of 100 games that users can download. The $15 per month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will roll out later this year. Microsoft might have another new console up its sleeve. A second rumored Microsoft project, “” is designed to work with Microsoft’s planned game streaming service. There’s a chance it could be unveiled at the big E3 gaming conference, where Microsoft promised its . The all-digital console feels like a bridge to the company’s grander vision where users can play Xbox games on any number of devices. It has taken other steps to get there, including to Android and iOS devices. The shift will really kick into high gear later this year when the ambitious Project xCloud begins public trials later this year. Microsoft will look to leverage its cloud presence by making it possible for people to play high-powered Xbox games on smartphones. The news of the new Xbox console comes as rival Sony on plans for its next-generation console. The new model won’t arrive this year, and it will feature capability that provides a greater degree of visual realism and ship with a solid-state drive to make it easier to seamlessly load big-budget, open-world games.
is about to launch an even cheaper Xbox One S. In order to cut costs, the company is removing the BluRay disc drive altogether. According to leaked marketing images spotted by (via ), the console could launch on May 7th for €229 in Germany. Given that the launch is just a few weeks away and that those marketing images line up perfectly with , chances are this is the real deal. As you can see on WinFuture’s images, it looks exactly like an Xbox One S without the disc slot. The console is called Xbox One S All Digital and comes with a 1TB hard drive — most standard Xbox One S consoles currently also feature a 1TB hard drive. Microsoft states clearly that this console is only for digital games. If you already have physical Xbox One games, you won’t be able to insert them in the console. Customers get three days fore free with the console through download codes — Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. You can then buy more games in the online store or subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass to access a library of games. This model should cost €229 in Germany, but you might be able to buy it for less. For instance, an Xbox One S officially costs €299 , but you can easily buy it for €200 on Amazon and through other retailers. Microsoft usually uses the same price points in USD. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox One S All Digital officially costs $229 in the U.S. It’s clear that Microsoft is testing the market with this console. The company has been pivoting to a subscription model. The Xbox brand is evolving from a gaming console brand to a service brand. This should be a key differentiating factor of Microsoft’s strategy with the next generation of consoles.
Microsoft today a new initiative that combines under a single umbrella all of the company’s gaming-related products for developers like Xbox Live, Azure PlayFab, Direct X, Mixer, Virtual Studio, Simplygon and Azure. That umbrella, , is meant to give game developers, no matter whether they are at a AAA studio or working solo, all the tools they need to develop and then operate their games across devices and platforms. “Game Stack brings together our game development platforms, tools and services like Direct X and Visual Studio, Azure and Playfab into a robust ecosystem that any game developer can use,” said Kareem Choudhry, the corporate vice president for the Microsoft Gaming Cloud. “We view this as a journey that we are just beginning.” It’s worth noting that developers can pick and choose which of the services they want to use. While Azure is part of Game Stack, for example, the overall stack is cloud and device agnostic. Undoubtedly, though, Microsoft hopes that developers will adopt Azure as their preferred cloud. These days, after all, most games feature some online component, even if they aren’t multiplayer games, and developers need a place to store player credentials, telemetry data and other info. One of the core components of Game Stack is , a backend service for building cloud-connected games, which now falls under the Azure family. Microsoft the service early last year and it’s worth noting that it supports all major gaming platforms, ranging from the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch to iOS, Android, PC and web. With today’s announcement, Microsoft is launching a number of new PlayFab services, too. These include PlayFab Matchmaking, a matchmaking service the company adapted from Xbox Live matchmaking, but that’s now available to all developers and on all devices. This service is now in public preview. In private preview are PlayFab Party, a voice and chat service (also modeled after Xbox Party Chat), PlayFab Game insights for real-time game telemetry, PlayFab Pub Sub for pushing content updates, notifications and more to the game client, and PlayFab User Generated Content for allowing players to safely share content with each other. So while Game Stack may feel more like a branding exercise, it’s clear that PlayFab is where Microsoft is really putting its money as it’s competing with and , both of which have recently put a lot of emphasis on game developers, too. In addition to these announcements, Microsoft also today said that it is bringing an SDK for Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices so developers can integrate that service’s identity and community services into their games on those platforms, too.
(Microsoft Photo) Microsoft is adding Minecraft to the subscription service in the latest example of . Minecraft, the popular game with 91 million players that Microsoft acquired for $2.5 billion in 2014, will be available on Xbox Game Pass on April 4. Microsoft first launched Xbox Game Pass this past June, charging gamers $9.99 per month ($1 for the first month) in exchange for access to download more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. In January it expanded the program to include first-party Xbox-exclusive titles like Halo, Forza, Gears of War, and others. Sony has its own similar program called , which streams more than 750 PS4 and PS3 games, including exclusive titles, to users for $100 per year. to learn more about the future of Microsoft’s gaming arm. The company is plowing resources into developing a streaming service powered by its cloud computing technology. Microsoft aims to let people play its games not just on Xbox devices and Windows PCs, but also smartphones and tablets, and eventually, rival consoles. Microsoft also today that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is coming to PC and Halo: Reach will be added to the collection. Microsoft is working on the newest Halo game, called Halo Infinite, but does not have a release date. Microsoft is also .
(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Credible rumors that Microsoft was working on a new, digital-media-only edition of its Xbox One video game console, without a disc drive. This past week, that the project, code-named Maverick, may be in stores as soon as this coming May, as the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. The new Xbox would be entirely reliant upon Internet access and digital licenses for its software, which would further incentivize customers to subscribe to Microsoft services such as its Game Pass. This is in addition to the second rumored Microsoft project, “,” which is designed to work with Microsoft’s planned game streaming service. This marks another step towards Microsoft’s continued embrace of the concept of its video game division as a service provider, alongside subscription services such as . That, in turn, seems to paint a picture of Microsoft’s current console strategy as working to disrupt the market entirely. Rather than focus on the more traditional route — focusing heavily on must-have games that are exclusive to their platform, thus giving a consumer several specific reasons to own an Xbox over a Switch or PlayStation 4 — Microsoft has been steadily chipping away at several of the accepted pretexts of what a video game console actually is. This has the potential to trigger a lot of knock-on effects. Between the current age of individual games becoming service platforms all by themselves, such as Fortnite or Warframe, and the continuing rise in popularity of digital media across all platforms, physical media has consistently made up less of a share of gaming revenue over the last couple of years. (Reliable market statistics for video game sales are notoriously hard to come by, since companies rarely divulge their internal data, but when they do, there’s towards digital sales matching or exceeding physical media.) While overall revenues , major brick-and-mortar retailers like GameStop are . The original start of the movement towards downloadable content (DLC) in the console market was due to companies like GameStop in the first place, who realized record profits in the 1990s and 2000s by capitalizing on the used-games market. Since DLC can’t be traded in for store credit or lent to a friend, it became standard industry practice to include at least some cosmetic extras as a digital bonus for a physical disc, because that way, a company is at least making some money off of the sale of a used game. With a digital-only Xbox, which is rumored to be shipping at a significantly cheaper retail price than the current Xbox One S, Microsoft is moving towards bringing in a brand-new audience, all of which is paying Microsoft directly. It also puts Microsoft in a role more akin to Netflix or Hulu than a traditional video game manufacturer, complete with a rotating month-by-month lineup via its Game Pass. At this point, it’s too early to say whether this will end up as an optional quirk that’s unique to the Xbox line or a genuinely disruptive influence in the market. As of right now, Microsoft’s primary competitors in the console space, Sony and Nintendo, are doing fine with their adherence to the current model. Sony in particular rode the sales of last year’s PS4 exclusive Spider-Man to a new milestone, marking nearly as of January of 2019. That’s roughly , although Microsoft’s recent decision to does a lot to change that math. There are also a lot of intangibles that may prevent this move from being successful. In the American market, the evolving debate over net neutrality could play a role, as many modern video games clock in at a few dozen gigabytes of data, and rural customers who already won’t find anything exciting about a digital-only Xbox. As the market continues to evolve towards a greater acceptance of games as a service, however, it may be a solid bet to have a console platform that’s pre-positioned as a cheap method of entry for those services.