Microsoft Betting on Multitasking and Apps to Benefit Developers and Gamers

The Official Xbox Magazine spoke with Xbox’s director of development Boyd Multerer, discussing how multitasking and apps are affecting games development and the need for splitting the Xbox One’s RAM between apps and games.

In total, Xbox One has 8GB of RAM — compared to the Xbox 360s 512MB – of which, 3GB are reserved for entertainment applications, Kinect functionality and Skype.

The OXM article describes Xbox One as stacking its three virtual machines pyramid-style to get the most functionality and responsiveness out of its experience. The 3GB for apps sits left of the 8GB for games which both sit atop a hypervisor distributing the hardware resources between apps and games.

The memory set aside for gaming, which is the largest, gets the “majority of the resources,” according to Multerer. The gaming partition is non-memory intensive, allowing games to “sit right on top of the hardware,” rather than rebooting into a game-specific OS.

When games are playing, it gets 90 percent of Xbox One’s processing power, with a fixed amount of memory. But why separate the two at all? Why not throw everything into the game?

One NeoGaf commenter said:

“I think Microsoft is grossly overestimating people’s desire to run non-entertainment apps on their TV.”

According to Multerer, the divided RAM between apps and games is to the benefit of developers and consumers:

“When you’re thinking about making a triple-A game, and you’re looking at a budget that says you’ll have spent a hundred million dollars before you sell your first copy, you’ve got to think really hard about getting the maximum impact for the dollar you’re spending.”

It becomes a huge risk and developmental problem, Multerer explained, when a new API is introduced, requiring just “10 more bytes of RAM,” which could cause a game to crash. “We have to be extremely careful,” he said, “and offer up a very predictable environment to the game developers to get the best games on your console.”

Microsoft runs apps and games separately, with their own RAM allowances, for this reason. Microsoft also recognizes our multitasking nature and need for new apps to compliment game playing and television watching:

There has been an explosion of devices. There are phones, there are tablets, the whole way that people interact and that they live with devices has fundamentally changed.

I walk around with a phone all time, everybody I know walks around with phones. The expectation of the next gen gamer is that these things are just there. It’s a rapidly changing ecosystem of applications that sit on a rapidly changing ecosystem of devices – fundamentally different to the consoles of the past.

Multerer recognizes our mutltasking nature, even though it’s not his nature:

They’re sitting watching a movie and they’re texting all the time. I just didn’t do that! It’s not part of my life, right. But it’s part of theirs. They don’t even think about it, of course they’re connected to their friends. Of course they’re using services, of course they’re being social. They’re going through these large experiences and they’re constantly multitasking.

Microsoft wants to harness the functionality of the devices we use while watching TV or playing games or while online. Its RAM is setup so TV inputs never have to be switched, tablets never have to be used again while watching TV, movies and TV are activated with one button or your voice, and phones can be tethered to the Xbox One.

The Xbox One’s purpose is conducive to how we live in 2013, but as Alexander asks, “In a multitasking culture, is this the way to make the TV broadly relevant?”

…it’s funny Microsoft thinks we want to do this on a television screen. There’s Skype, they say. Has anyone ever wanted to use Skype on their TV, instead of at their office workstation, on a tablet passed around a party, on a laptop nestled in bed? Do they want to? During a… video game, during a television program?

What’s your say about this new initiative by Microsoft?