A massive leak from the FTC v. Microsoft court battle showed Microsoft’s plans for a mid-generation Xbox Series X console, but that wasn’t the only news. The same document also revealed Microsoft’s tentative plans for the next-generation Xbox — what it calls a “hybrid game platform.” The system would combine local hardware and cloud computing to create an “immersive game & app platform” arriving around 2028, according to a leaked May 2022 presentation hidden inside another PDF.
“Our vision: Develop a next generation hybrid game platform capable of leveraging the combined power of the client and cloud to deliver deeper immersion and entirely new classes of game experiences,” one of the slides reads. “Optimized for real time game play and creators, we will enable new levels of performance beyond the capabilities of the client hardware alone.”
On the hardware side, Microsoft foresees things like next-gen DirectX raytracing, dynamic global illumination, ML based super resolution, micropolygon rendering optimization and more. The system could allow for different types of devices, ranging from relatively powerful consoles to “Thin OS… $99 consumer or handheld devices” that rely on xCloud computing.
“Hybrid compute” would presumably differ from regular cloud gaming by using hardware and cloud computing to display in-game elements simultaneously. For instance, primary characters would run on your local GPU, while NPCs, background elements and more would be generated remotely.
Microsoft also sees heavy use of AI and machine learning (ML) in next-gen gaming. From a performance vantage, neural networks would power super resolution, frame rate interpretation and latency compensation, for instance. They would improve game experiences (AI agents, codex, matchmaking, player ranking) and player services (safety & toxicity, personalization & discovery, support services). It would also aid on the creator side via AI game testing, procedural content, physics, NLP dialogue) and live ops (engagement & retention management, monetization, cloud resource optimization).
One slide suggested Microsoft needed to forge deals with AMD for Navi 5 graphics and Zen 6 CPU cores, but another stated that the company needs to make an “Arm64 decision.” In any case, it may have already begun its plans. Another slide titled “The journey has already started” shows a full roadmap: hardware design and hybrid game design starting fiscal year 2024, dev kits available by 2027 and shipping by 2028.
The slide appears to be part of a conversation, and not a fixed roadmap by any means. Preceding the slideshow are documents showing a conversation between CEO Satya Nadella, Xbox’s Phil Spencer, and others. Saying that the company is working on four types of computers (cloud everything, a hybrid Xbox, hybrid Windows, and hybrid HoloLens), Nadella notes that “we need to bring the company’s systems talent together to align on a unified vision,” adding that “we can’t go from big idea to big idea. We need to bring the company’s systems talent together to align on a unified vision.”
Other ideas revolve around a “mobile controller,” whereby the “controller becomes the hero.” That makes it seem that Microsoft was still working out its vision for next-gen Xbox at the time of the presentation — so it may have changed course completely since then.