Old Habits Die Hard, Especially at Microsoft's Xbox Division

Illustration for article titled Old Habits Die Hard, Especially at Microsofts Xbox Division

Ask any Windows gamer about Microsoft’s support, and you might get a few dirty looks. Ever since Microsoft made Windows Vista a requirement for Halo 2 in 2007, it’s been a series of indignities, studio closures, and Console War friendly fire, culminating in Rise of the Tomb Raider becoming a timed exclusive on Xbox but not Windows.

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Whether it was Satya Nadella’s “One Microsoft” vision, Windows gamers’ outrage at Rise of the Tomb Raider, or both, the Xbox division finally woke up to the damage they had done to PC gaming and their own reputation.

So, of course, Microsoft plugging Rise of the Tomb Raider has come back to bite them on the arse again.

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Digital Foundry has been diving into the various enhancements Xbox One games will be receiving for Xbox One X, including RotTR. Impressively, the XB1X version will run at native 4K resolution, and DF has the comparison screenshots against PS4 Pro and PC to prove it. The difference is impressive enough for Mike Ybarra, Corporate VP for Xbox and Windows gaming, to include the screenshot above in a tweet:

Illustration for article titled Old Habits Die Hard, Especially at Microsofts Xbox Division
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This was re-tweeted by his boss, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer. Xbox marketing exec Aaron Greenberg re-tweeted the same comparison from another Twitter user.

Notice something odd about that comparison? It shows abrasions on Lara Croft’s forehead and cheek that aren’t on either the PS4 Pro or PC version. They don’t “look softer” and they aren’t a “lower-resolution texture”, they’re just not there at all.

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Would now be a good time to remind you all that Microsoft sells Rise of the Tomb Raider for Windows on the Microsoft Store?

In technical terms, there might be a simple explanation for this. It might have been an old bug that Nixxes (who’s handling the XB1X enhancements) caught and fixed. Or it’s something they’re adding for the XB1X, and it will be back-ported to PS4 Pro and PC soon. Then again, it could also be the first Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider “Definitive Edition” all over again, where the PC version was left halfway between the Xbox 360/PS3 and XB1/PS4 versions because Square Enix just didn’t feel like it. (There’s a simpler explanation for the softness in the PS4 Pro and PC shots: Depth of Field was enabled on those platforms, and an orb on a pedestal in front of Lara is the focal point of the camera.)

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But there’s a deeper issue about Microsoft’s corporate culture here. At best, they hung Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics, and Nixxes out to dry by calling out a bug. At worst, though, they reverted right back to a form they’ve been working hard to get away from, bashing Windows games to support Xbox games. Which leads the question: Why on earth would you run with this if you’re an Xbox executive? Why would you make a game for your own operating system, that you sell in your own store, look bad? You just announced Age of Empires IV, Microsoft’s first Windows-exclusive AAA game in nearly a decade, and with one tweet, you’ve threatened to undo all the goodwill that announcement built.

Perhaps a banner outside Xbox’s building on the Redmond campus that reads “WINDOWS GAMERS ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS” would be appropriate. At this point, I don’t know what else would convince them to get their heads right.

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