Xbox Play Anywhere: All devs need to know

Xbox Play Anywhere: All devs need to know
Matthew Jarvis

By Matthew Jarvis

July 25th 2016 at 12:18PM

Playground Games creative director Ralph Fulton and director of program management for Xbox Mike Ybarra answer the big questions about how devs can get their games running across Xbox One and PC

How easy is it for developers to incorporate Play Anywhere/cross-play?

Ralph Fulton, creative director, Playground Games: It’s actually very easy. UWP is a great help with this.  Because we’re using a single service – Xbox Live – and a single API, the code is almost identical between Xbox and Windows 10 versions. This makes it much cleaner and easier to write the code in the first place, and it’s then easier to maintain.

What must devs bear in mind when developing games for both Xbox One and PC?

Fulton: Variable frame rate is something to bear in mind – PCs don’t always run at a consistent frame rate and it often differs a lot from the console frame rate. So a lot of testing is required to make sure everything behaves well together. 

Specifically, what can devs do to account for the difference in control schemes (mouse and keyboard versus controller) between the two platforms?

Fulton: In Forza Horizon 3 (pictured) we support controllers and racing wheels on both Xbox One and Windows 10, so the only unique control scheme is mouse and keyboard on PC. We support keyboard controls for driving if the player wishes to play that way, but the biggest consideration was how our UI would work with mouse and keyboard, as well as with controller.

We’ve implemented a system where the UI automatically reconfigures itself depending on the control device you’re using. We’ve made sure that every screen in the UI does not rely on using up/down on the sticks, and allows for the different properties of mouse control. For instance, we’ve added rollover states to some UI elements where they aren’t required by controllers.

How has Xbox supported your incorporation of this feature?

Fulton: The platform APIs have been very helpful to make sure the runtime is consistent between platforms.  Microsoft have made a great decision to create their API from the API that is used for games on console, which has really paid off. 

Is there any concern the need to maintain parity of performance on both platforms could hold back graphical fidelity on PC?

Fulton: There are plenty of ways that graphical fidelity can be tuned to suit all platforms while maintaining good performance on each. We’re able to generate assets that automatically scale to cater for high end PC settings; for example, higher-res textures, better quality materials and increased draw distances. We have managed to do this whilst making sure the gameplay features and physical layout of our open world is identical across all platforms, so the experience will be not be compromised for anyone.

"A lot of testing is required to make sure everything behaves well together."

Ralph Fulton, Playground Games

What are the future plans for Play Anywhere and cross-play?

Mike Ybarra, director of program management for Xbox, Microsoft: Xbox Play Anywhere and cross-play are two distinct features with different, yet very valuable benefits for Xbox gamers.

Xbox Play Anywhere will deliver greater value to gamers who will now be able to enjoy their favorite games no matter where they are because Xbox Play Anywhere titles give game owners the digital copy of their game on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. This also comes with cloud saves, shared progress and shared achievements – all made possible by Xbox Live. For developers, we believe this will challenge them to create better game experiences and encourage new gameplay features for both Windows 10 and Xbox One platforms.

Cross-play is a unique benefit that is not part of Xbox Play Anywhere; it can be applied to any game and is the ability for gamers to play together in the same game across devices – enabled by Xbox Live. For example, now Minecraft players on iOS, Android, Windows 10 phone and Windows 10 devices can all join together in cross-device multiplayer fun. What’s more, Minecraft players also have access to their own persistent world multiplayer servers through the Realms subscription service.

Many Xbox Play Anywhere games will also support cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 – including Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Sea of Thieves and Scalebound – thereby expanding the community of gamers to play with.

What types of game are most suitable for Play Anywhere and cross-play? Is it worth every game including the features?

Ybarra: Our goal is to make as many titles as possible Xbox Play Anywhere. There’s not a set formula for what makes a game suitable for Xbox Play Anywhere – for us it’s all about giving developers and studios choice in how they publish their games, and that gives gamers choice in where and how they play their games.

Like music, movies and TV have done for years, we believe you should have the freedom to buy a game and play it on the device you choose, wherever you are. Cross-play is a different proposition with different benefits. It’s a feature-add for games that use online multiplayer and we’re excited to see more developers cross-play for their games. The result is more people to play together and have fun online.

How many developers are already adding these features?

Ybarra: Our goal is to make as many Xbox titles as possible Xbox Play Anywhere as we believe it will provide developers with the choice to open up new gameplay features for their customers. We’re working closely with our developers and partners, and will have more to share in the future.

How are you reaching out to new devs to get more using these features?

Ybarra: With Xbox Play Anywhere, we believe that by expanding the Xbox ecosystem to include Windows 10 devices, it will create a bigger community of gamers to play with on Xbox Live, which in turn attracts more developers who create even more great games.

We’re talking to a lot of developers and are energized by the responses we’ve seen to date, including a number of ID@Xbox titles who plan to participate once their games are available on both Xbox One and in the Windows Store, including Ark: Survival Evolved, Cuphead, We Happy Few and more.

We’re continuing to work with developers to make as many Xbox titles as possible Xbox Play Anywhere. We’re also discussing with more devs cross-play and are excited about more games adding the feature.