Microsoft has been working on revolutionizing its Xbox One console for a while now. A key aspect of this is the merging of the Xbox and Windows 10 platforms through the use of its Universal Windows Platform. Not only will this enable cross-save and cross-buy for supported games on either system, but it may also open up cross-platform play between the two platforms and possibly others (like the PlayStation 4) as well.
At the company's 2016 Build Developers Conference, even more features of the unified platform were announced. One of the big ones is that anyone with an Xbox One console will be able to convert it to a dev kit, potentially opening up the platform for independent and lower-budget developers.
Speaking to developers in attendance, Xbox head Phil Spencer provided details about Xbox Dev Mode and how it will let any retail Xbox One be used as a dev kit for building and testing new apps and games. A preview of the new mode was made available the same day, with the full Dev Mode option set for inclusion in the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update that's planned for this summer. Spencer warned that since Dev Mode was currently in preview, it was only recommended for experienced developers until the final version rolls out with the Anniversary Update. Installing the preview mode not only changes the way that a console works, but also removes any downloaded content from the console (including games and DLC.)
He also explained that the Anniversary Update would include several other features of interest to game developers as well. It will see the official convergence of the Windows and Xbox stores, giving developers more options for their software and enabling options such as bundles, season passes, preorders, and more across both platforms. Cortana will come to the Xbox One as part of the update, as will a background music feature that lets music from apps such as Spotify continue playing when users switch to another app.
For those who are interested in the Dev Mode preview, instructions on how to install and activate the preview were provided by Microsoft. It's worth noting that a Windows 10 PC is required for the process, and a developer account (which costs $19) is also required.
- You cannot join the Xbox Dev Mode developer preview if you are currently enrolled in any other Xbox One preview group, this includes the Xbox One System Update Preview Program. You can opt-out of the System Update Preview Program through the Xbox Preview Dashboard app.
- You must first join the Windows Insider Program and download the latest Windows Insider SDK Preview release on a Windows 10 PC.
- You must download and install Visual Studio 2015 Update 2 on your Windows 10 PC.
- Download and run the Dev Mode Activation app from the Xbox store on your console to gain access to the Dev Mode software that will be made available to you as a member of the Dev Preview Group.
- When you run the app you will receive an activation code.
- Create a Windows Developer Center account through a PC web browser at http://dev.windows.com. This requires a one-time cost of $19 USD for a personal account. Accept the terms and conditions, and enter that activation code; this gives your Xbox One the entitlement to join the Dev Preview Group.
- Your console will download a system update and may reboot during installation.
- Once downloaded, go back to the Dev Mode Activation app to finish activating Dev Mode on your retail Xbox One, transforming it into a dev kit; your console will reboot again and the process will be complete.
- While your retail console is in Dev Mode, you will not be able to run your existing Xbox One games or apps. To play your games or apps again, disable Dev Mode to return the console into Retail Mode and play again.
One concern that some fans (and developers) have had is that it sounds like Microsoft is trying to usher everyone into a more closed-development environment with Universal Windows Platform. Spencer clarified this wasn't the case; developers will be able to use the platform with both UWP-developed apps and traditionally developed Win32 applications. They'll also have the option to distribute UWP games and apps to any online store with any deployment option that they please, so they're not just tied in to using the Windows 10/Xbox ecosystem for distribution or installation. He claimed that UWP would have benefits to developers as well, providing "more predictable performance for features such as modding, overlays, multiple GPUs, and more."
Of course, it remains to be seen how these promised features will work out in practice once the Anniversary Update arrives. Microsoft seems to have lofty goals for its unified platform, but some gamers are wary because they still remember the headaches associated with Games for Windows Live. It seems like Microsoft may be making steps toward its revolution in gaming, but it'll still be a little while before we know how Microsoft's UWP is going to work.