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Earlier this week Microsoft revealed it was shutting down the Mixer streaming platform and partnering with Facebook Gaming instead. Could this potentially mean big things for Xbox VR support finally via a relationship with Facebook-owned Oculus?
In order to understand the significance of what this could mean for Xbox and for VR as a whole, it’s important to first look back and understand the past four years of broken promises and misleading marketing.
Microsoft’s frustrating history with Xbox VR
During the E3 2016 Microsoft presentation, Xbox boss Phil Spencer revealed Project Scorpio, which later went became the Xbox One X. In that speech, he explicitly stated the console would provide, “true 4K gaming and high-fidelity VR. True 4K visuals without sacrificing quality. Premiere VR experiences without sacrificing performance.”
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It has promises of no exclusivity deals, stable 90fps for console VR, and Microsoft’s own Mixed Reality content getting brought over to Xbox VR. In fact, Spencer went so far as to re-confirm VR support was coming to Xbox One X in June 2017 (just five months prior to the console releasing) and then did a complete 180-degree change four months later in October 2017, just a month before it launched, explaining they didn’t want to “distract” developers.
The VR promises never materialized. The slogan “hi-fidelity VR” was plastered all over the Project Scorpio website — at least, until it suddenly vanished — and since then Spencer has not stopped backpedaling.
In November 2019 Spencer went on-record as saying that VR is too isolating and that “nobody’s asking for VR” out of their consumer base. Sony’s own Shuhei Yoshida responded on Twitter in a rather coy manner, saying:
（´-`）.｡oO（we oftentimes work hard to make things that no customers are asking for them）
— Shuhei Yoshida (@yosp) November 26, 2019
Then in February, after the reveal of the Xbox Series X, Spencer explained that he hopes Xbox VR becomes a “no brainer” but that it won’t be there at launch despite the console clearly being powerful enough to support it well.
Meanwhile, in other areas of Microsoft, the Windows Mixed Reality VR platform is continuing along and the HoloLens is already on its second iteration — now shipping to anyone that wants to buy one for a few grand.
The Windows VR headsets aren’t top of the line by any means in general, but they certainly get the job done as affordable entry points into a growing ecosystem with blockbuster titles like The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners and Half-Life: Alyx (to name just two from this year so far) seemingly proving the opposite of Spencer’s argument. On top of all that you’ve got the Oculus Quest, a breakout success for standalone wireless VR, and the PSVR, Sony’s flagship immersive headset that sits as the market leader with millions of headsets sold and a stellar lineup of platform exclusives.
If “nobody’s asking for VR” as Spencer says, who is buying all of these VR headsets and VR games?
Microsoft’s partnership with Facebook Gaming
Earlier this week Microsoft announced the decision to shut down its livestreaming platform, Mixer. The service was positioned as a direct competitor to Twitch featuring livestreaming channels and internet personalities playing a wide variety of video games. Big name streamers, like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, even signed multimillion dollar exclusivity deals with Microsoft to stream on Mixer, leaving Twitch behind, very recently. That all seems to have been a waste of money.
Along with the Mixer news came the news that Microsoft will instead partner with Facebook Gaming, a hybrid brand from Facebook that encompasses not only livestreaming and traditional video games but also mobile-focused casual games you can play within Facebook Messenger with friends or in the mobile app. Microsoft plans to use this partnership to replace the absence of Mixer and to bolster Project xCloud, its cloud-based game streaming service that is positioned in opposition to Google Stadia and PS Now.
The implications this partnership could have for cloud gaming are quite large — two of the largest tech companies on the planet have entered into a partnership, which is quite surprising. But it’s far more exciting to think about what it could mean for Xbox VR.