Microsoft’s Xbox Live Chief Steps Down After 15 Years


Microsoft is heading into a new era of Xbox gaming, but will be doing it with Dan McCulloch, who has headed Xbox Live for 15 years. In a Twitter post, McCulloch announced he will no longer be leading the online foundation of the Xbox platform.

“After 15 years at XBOX, I announced today that I would be leaving,” his tweet reads. “I made so many friends, learned so much and truly had a blast! I’m extremely excited about the next opportunity in my career and I will be announcing that very soon, you all will be pumped! 😉 Thank you!!!”

At the moment, details around the decision are vague. For example, Microsoft has not announced who will head up Xbox Live. This is an important time in the history of Xbox. Microsoft is preparing to launch the Xbox Series X in the fall and once again Xbox Live will play a vital role in the console.

Furthermore, McCulloch has not said whether he has left Microsoft or is transitioning to another division in the company. He does, however, point out he will have more details about his future very soon.

Xbox Live is the underpinning of Microsoft’s online gaming experience on Xbox. It is simply the platform that connects gamers around the world. When it launched alongside the Xbox in 2002, it was a trail-blazing introduction to online gaming in the console world. Over the years, Xbox Live has always seemed more fleshed out than Sony’s PlayStation Network.

Over 65 million people use Xbox Live. It will be interesting to see what direction a new leader takes the service in. McCulloch has done a fine job growing and steering Live over the last decade and a half.

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Does Sony’s PlayStation 5 Digital Edition Put Microsoft On the Back Foot?


Sony has unveiled the PlayStation 5, its ninth-generation console that will compete with Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Series X. One of the biggest pieces of information is that there is not one PS5, but two versions of the console. Sony surprised many be revealing there is also an all-digital version of the device.

We already know Microsoft has had plans in the all-digital realm, but Sony has largely kept its own ideas under wraps. Now we know there is a PlayStation 5 Digital Edition coming, it presents an interesting situation for the coming console generation.

Specifically, it seems consumers will be able to choose between four consoles. Two full console machines (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X) and two digital editions (PlayStation 5 Digital Edition and whatever digital console Microsoft delivers).

Just earlier this week, Microsoft was leading in terms of an all-digital console. The company’s Xbox One S All-Digital Edition was the only all-digital console. Now Microsoft is potentially facing the possibility of Sony having it’s next-gen digital console on the market before a digital Xbox Series X is released.

In fact, it remains uncertain whether Microsoft is working on an all-digital Series X. The idea of two consoles being launched this year was squashed by Microsoft. The company insisted Xbox Series X would launch alone.

The company was developing an all-digital variant under the Xbox Lockhart codename. The trail went cold for a few months but we reported this week it seems Lockhart is still part of Microsoft’s plans. However, it certainly won’t launch this year.

PS5 Details

As for the wider details of the PlayStation 5, everything is pointing to a powerful console. Sure, the design will be decisive with its faux-sci-fi looks compared to the elegant lines of the Xbox Series X. However, the aesthetic of the PS5 suggests Sony is once again going all out to target gamers and not general users. It’s a tactic that worked with the PS4.

Sony is once again bringing a 4K Blu-ray disc drive to hits flagship console. When it ships later this year, the PS5 will have an eight-core AMD Zen 2 CPU and a custom AMD RDNA 2-based GPU. That configuration will give the console 10.28 teraflops of power.

Sony has yet to announce the price of either the PlayStation 5 or PlayStation 5 Digital Edition.

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Leak: Microsoft’s Project Mercury Xbox Store Embraces Fluent Design


Microsoft is preparing to launch the Xbox Series X console at the end of this year. The device will come with a new UI that is different to the current Xbox One. Among the new-look services will be a new store. Microsoft is developing the new store under the codename Project Mercury Xbox Store.

In a leak/exclusive, Windows Central has gotten its hands on the Project Mercury Xbox Store and given a brief tour of the UI. First things first, it is clear the store is heavily centered on Microsoft’s Fluent Design.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fluent Design, it is Microsoft’s universal aesthetic that is used across services and platforms. It is an evolving UI design that will play a big role in the look of the front end on the Xbox Series X. It is also worth noting any new UI for the Series X will also roll out on the Xbox One consoles.

Because the Mercury Xbox Store is based on Fluent Design, it has the hallmarks of the aesthetic. For example, acrylic blur, a clearer font, and rounded corners. Most aspects of the interface are animated to make navigation and the user experience more dynamic.

How it Works

Of course, Microsoft has kept all the core features and functionality in the Xbox Store. So, you’ll still find the ability to search for content, and features like trailers, app info, including reviews, screenshots, and more.

Users can also tap into Microsoft Movies & TV store and the Xbox app store.

It is worth noting Microsoft has not confirmed when Project Mercury will be ready. However, it seems likely that the new experience will be ready by the time the Xbox Series X launches during the year-end holiday season.

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Microsoft Thrives in A COVID-19 World: Redmond Announces Bumper $35 Billion Third Quarter


In February, Microsoft said it expected to see a decline in Windows revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, CEO Satya Nadella suggested despite that prediction, the company would emerge “pretty strong” from the virus outbreak. It seems Nadella was correct, and Microsoft continues to thrive in a COVID-19 world.

For its third quarter earnings, Microsoft announced revenue of $35 billion and income of $10.8 billion. Revenue jumped 15% year-on-year and once again bested Wall Street predictions, which pointed to $33.66 billion in revenue.

It is worth noting the results are until March 30, so how Microsoft does in its fiscal fourth quarter may provide a better understanding of how the company manages during COVID-19. However, it seems Nadella’s prediction Microsoft was well placed to ride out the virus seems true.

Commercial cloud was the big winner again, but Xbox has also enjoyed substantial growth. Microsoft’s position as a services provider on the cloud has allowed it to maintain customers and gain new users during the pandemic. Nadella pointed this out in the earnings call.

He said Microsoft has “seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” and admitted the affects of COVID-19 “may not be fully reflected in the financial results until future periods.”

“As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen 2 years’ worth of digital transformation in 2 months. From remote teamwork and to sales and customer service to critical cloud infrastructure and security, we are working alongside customers every day to help them stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”

Commercial Cloud Growth

Looking at commercial cloud, Microsoft saw a 39% increase from last year, adding up to $13.3 billion revenue. Nadella gave an update on Microsoft Teams continued growth. In early March, the service saw its user base increase from around 20 million daily users to 44 million. Now, Microsoft Teams has 75 million active daily users and the needle continues to point upwards.

Office 365 is seeing a similar growth in adoption. Nadella pointed to 258 million paid seats. Furthermore, Microsoft saw a three-fold gain in Windows virtual desktop use during the last quarter.

Product Line Results

  • Microsoft Dynamics grew 17% YoY and the Product and Business Processes division increased 15% with revenue of $11.7 billion.
  • Azure revenue jumped 59% as part of the wider Intelligent Cloud division’s $12.3 billion revenue (+27%)
  • The increase in Office 365 use allows revenue to grow 25%.
  • More Personal Computing, which include Windows, was up 35% with $11 billion revenue.
  • Microsoft’s Surface division was a mixed bag. The company says demand was strong, but Chinese supply contstraints in the COVID-19 lockdown limited growth to 1%.

Xbox Success

Microsoft’s Xbox division has been one of the big winners for the company during the COVID-19 pandemic. So-much-so, Microsoft broke a recent tradition of not offering a detailed breakdown of the division to discuss its success last quarter.

Nadella confirmed Xbox Live subscriptions grew to almost 90 million during Q3. It seems COVID-19 has allowed more people to sign up for the service. Back in FY19 Q4, it was predicted Xbox Live had 65 million users. If true, the service has added 25 million users in 9 months. It would seem a majority of those new users joined in the last 2 months.

Of course, the Xbox One generation is coming to an end and the Xbox Series X will launch this year. With that in mind, hardware console sales are not growing, and the Xbox division is being propped up by services.

For example, Xbox Game Pass now has over 10 million subscribers. This is the first confirmation Microsoft has offered on Game Pass users, suggesting growth has surged in recent weeks. Despite the lack of console sales, it seems the Xbox content and services division increased 2% in the last quarter.

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Microsoft Launches Bleeding Edge on Xbox Play Anywhere and Steam


Microsoft has released a new game called Bleeding Edge. Billed a team brawler, the title is now available on Xbox One, Windows 10, Xbox Game Pass, and Steam.

Announced by Major Nelson on his official blog, Bleeding Edge is an Xbox Game Studios exclusive. Like other titles under the umbrella, the studio services as the publisher of the game. In terms of Bleeding Edge, the game is developed by Ninja Theory.

You may recognize the name as the company behind Devil May Cry and Hell blade II. This marks the first time the developer has released a game under Xbox Game Studios.

Major Nelson says Bleeding Edge is a 4 vs. 4 brawler, with an online multiplayer element where players compete in a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). Players can choose different classes, such as Tanks, Fighters and Support.


Because Bleeding Edge is an Xbox Play Anywhere game, it is a one-time purchase. Xbox Play Anywhere allows gamers to have one copy of a game and play it across Windows 10 PC and Xbox. This play anywhere ability extends to in-game progress, DLC, add-ones, achievements, and unlocks across devices.

In terms of Bleeding Edge, customers pay $29.99 for the game and receive a download to play on Xbox One and Windows 10. Xbox Game Pass subscribers will see the game in the catalog on the service. Game Pass costs $9.99 per months and gives users access to hundreds of games, including all Microsoft exclusives.

The Play Anywhere service does not extend to Steam, where the game also costs $29.99.

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Microsoft Project Acoustics Details Point to New Era of Audio on Xbox Series X


Last month, Microsoft discussed its audio ray-tracing solution for the Xbox Series X. Called Project Acoustics, the software “models wave effects like occlusion, obstruction, portaling and reverberation effects in complex scenes without requiring manual zone markup or CPU intensive raytracing.”

In a blog post last year, Microsoft said the solution is similar to static lighting meshes that are integrated, allowing shadows and light sources to be calculated beforehand. Now, the solution is available in the Unity engine for developers to access.

“Ray-based acoustics methods can check for occlusion using a single source-to-listener ray cast, or drive reverb by estimating local scene volume with a few rays. But these techniques can be unreliable because a pebble occludes as much as a boulder. Rays don’t account for the way sound bends around objects, a phenomenon known as diffraction. Project Acoustics’ simulation captures these effects using a wave-based simulation. The acoustics are more predictable, accurate and seamless.”
Last month, Microsoft confirmed some core specs of its upcoming Xbox Series X console. During the announcement, the company said audio raytracing delivered by Project Acoustics was already part of the Unity game engine.

It is available on Unity as a drag-and-drop middleware. Developers can leverage the software into Unity’s audio source audio through a C# controls component on each audio object.


On its page, Microsoft details the workflow for Project Acoustics:

Pre-bake: Start with setting up the bake by selecting which geometry responds to acoustics, by, for example, ignoring light shafts. Then edit automatic material assignments and selecting navigation areas to guide listener sampling. There’s no manual markup for reverb/portal/room zones.

Bake: An analysis step is run locally, which does voxelization and other geometric analysis on the scene based on selections above. Results are visualized in editor to verify scene setup. On bake submission, voxel data is sent off to Azure and you get back an acoustics game asset.

Runtime: Load the asset into your level, and you’re ready to listen to acoustics in your level. Design the acoustics live in editor using granular per-source controls. The controls can also be driven from level scripting.”

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Microsoft Xbox Game Pass to Lose Five Games in March


Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is a fantastic service that allows players to access games on subscription. While Microsoft Studios titles are always available, the service is a revolving door for third-party games. As such, Microsoft has announced it has removed five games from the Game Pass library.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Shenmue I, Shenmue II, Thimbleweed Park, and Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition are all being removed. Microsoft says all those titles will be taken of Xbox Game Pass by the end of this month.

If you are unfamiliar with Game Pass, it is available on Xbox One consoles as Xbox Game Pass. The service allows users to pay a monthly subscription ($9.99) to have access to hundreds of games that are available digitally and on demand.
For users who want those games, once they leave Game Pass you will have to buy them. Now is the best time to do that because Game Pass members receive a 20% discount on the titles. Once they leave the service the discount will be removed.
Changing Catalog
Microsoft puts new titles on Game Pass more than it takes them away, which is why this removal is worthy of mention.
During this month, Microsoft has announced several new titles coming to the service. The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, Mother Russian Bleeds, Train Sim World 2020, NBA 2K20, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Pikuniku are all arriving in the coming weeks.
Critics of the Game Pass model believe the catalog should only grow and not have games removed. It is unclear how Microsoft handled licensing, but it seems similar to streaming services such as Netflix. In other words, licenses end, and content is removed sporadically.
If you are interested in signing up for Xbox Game Pass, it is worth checking what games are available at the official site here.

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Microsoft Announces Two New Xbox Wireless Controller Special Editions


Microsoft has today announced two new Xbox Wireless Controllers. Namely, the company introduced the Special Edition Xbox Wireless Controller Phantom Magenta and the Xbox Wireless Controller Arctic Camo.

Microsoft is promoting the pair of peripherals as ideal for Xbox One users who collect Xbox Wireless Controllers. I never personally knew that was a thing, but Microsoft says that it most definitely is.

Either way, let’s take a look at the new controllers.
The new Xbox Wireless Controller Phantom Magenta Special Edition is the third controller in the Phantom Series. It has a clear sci-fi inspired design which Redmond says is similar to “Ghost in Shell” and “Ex-Machina”.
“Highlighted by an ultra-saturated magenta color effect transitioning to translucent, the Xbox Wireless Controller – Phantom Magenta Special Edition joins the Phantom Series in a bold way.”
Microsoft’s Phantom Magenta controller is launching March 17 and coasts $69.99. It is open for pre-orders from today from the Microsoft Store.

Arctic Camo Special Edition
The Xbox Wireless Controller Arctic Camp Special Edition is the second in Microsoft’s Camo series of controllers. It has a Winter Camo design colored in white and grey.
“By using frosted transparent resin in the camo pattern, the controller camouflages itself from the inside-out. The diamond-texture on its triggers helps maintain a level of extra technical precision in this series.”
Microsoft will launch the Arctic Camp controlled in May. Again, pre-orders are open today across the globe from Microsoft Stores and retail partners.
There is also separate charging stands available for the controllers coming to customers in North America for $49.99.

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Analysts Say the Xbox Series X and PS5 Could Be Delayed Due to Coronavirus


So far, gamers outside of Asia have been largely unaffected by Coronavirus, but that could soon change. According to analysts at the Jeffries Group, potential shutdowns at factories could delay the Xbox Series X and PS5 releases or significantly hamper supply.

“The video game sector is currently manufacturing, or beginning to, a once-in-several-years’ product generation change for the 2020 holiday season,” said Jefferies Group. “If [company] shutdowns exceed a month or so, game schedules will be delayed. New consoles may likewise suffer supply issues from a prolonged disruption, ahead of their Fall 2020 planned launches.”

Basically all of the parts for consoles are made in China, meaning factory shutdowns could have a big impact. A delay beyond the holiday season would be disastrous for either company, with an early 2021 launch likely to reduce sales significantly.
The titles that launch on the consoles could also experience issues. While most AAA titles we play in the west are created here, many studios outsource artwork to Chinese firms – to the tune of 30-50% of art creation.
An estimated 638 people have died from Coronavirus so far. The infection count is thought to be at least 31,000, 15% of whom are in critical condition. The virus’s 2-14 day incubation period is particularly difficult, as patients can spread it to others long before presenting symptoms. Once issues are presented, they have to be quarantined, which means long stretches off work.
Those who passed away as a result of the virus were, for the most part, over the age of 60 or had pre-existing health conditions. Even so, limiting the spread of the outbreak must take precedence over shipping the devices on time.

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Microsoft’s Game Stack Chief: We’ll Never Reach Over 100 Million Gamers with Xbox Alone


In a rare case of casual candor, Microsoft Game Stack chief James Gwertzman invited press to dinner to chat about the next generation of game development. The executive is the co-founder of PlayFab, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2018 and is now part of its Microsoft Game Stack offering, which helps devs build cloud gaming services.

The chat was wide-ranging, from Xbox’s competition to exclusives and the changing role of gaming in user’s lives. However, perhaps the most stand-out quote from Gwertzman concerned Phil Spencer’s dogged mission to reach the world’s 2.8 billion gamers.

“Phil says, over and over again, that we in the gaming division need to find a way to reach the 2.8 billion gamers in the world that we believe there are. That’s a number that you hear over and over again in internal meetings. 2.8 billion gamers in the world, and we need to reach them all,” he said, according to a summary by VentureBeat. “We acknowledge that we will never reach more than 100 million of them by selling them an Xbox. The only way to reach the remaining 2.7 billion is something else, whether it’s xCloud or things like Playfab.”
Indeed, Statistica estimates Xbox One unit sales at almost 46 million as of December. However, Microsoft projects that Windows 10 will reach 1 billion devices in 2020. It’s a goal that’s been postponed several times, but at 900 million devices as of September 2019, it’s a good bet.
Reaching the World Through Tools, Not Consoles
Clearly, though, Gretzman does not define reach as having gamers on Microsoft’s front-end software. Through the use of PlayFab and other supporting services, the company can aid developers to have influence in player’s lives that they don’t even know about. It’s a bold ambition, but one that would ultimately be more profitable.
Speaking of GamePass, though, another interesting tidbit surfaced about its PC counterpart. Gretzman says one of Microsoft’s biggest challenges has developer’s current reliance on Steam and Steamworks.

“There’s a bunch of entrenched technology there. One of the biggest requests I got at GDC last year from developers was about helping them get off of Steamworks,” he said. “They want to be on the Epic store. They want to be on the Discord store. They want to be on Game Pass. But they have a hard dependency on Steamworks. They need an alternative open platform version that will work across all of the above. I started hearing that about a year ago at GDC.”
When it comes to next-generation consoles specifically, Gwertzman sees some future in the use of AI development. According to the executive, a studio inside Microsoft has been using machine learning models to generate assets with great success. So much so, that the company is considering shipping low-res textures with Xbox titles and using machine learning models to upscale them in real-time.
Clearly, game development is poised to get more and more complex. That could eventually create a barrier for smaller developers without the resources of AAA studios, but Microsoft thinks it could play a roll in simplifying tools and doing much of the heavy lifting to democratize such technology.

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