Xbox Play Anywhere could be the biggest news of E3

Buy an Xbox game, get it for Windows 10 -- or vice versa. Play multiplayer across console and PC. But some conditions apply.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
Watch this: Xbox Play Anywhere: Buy once, get two versions of a game

Here's what Microsoft envisions Play Anywhere might be like.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

In March, we learned that you wouldn't need an Xbox to play Microsoft's next generation of games -- they'd work on Windows 10 computers as well. What we didn't know: Microsoft's new Play Anywhere initiative, announced at E3 2016, will give you both the Windows and Xbox copies of a game when you buy either one.

You'd be forgiven for missing the news during Microsoft's press conference -- it was sandwiched between not one, but two new Xbox console announcements and a host of exciting, high-profile video game trailers.

But it could easily be the biggest news of the show.

Start playing a game on Xbox, then pick up on your PC right where you left off with your save game intact. You can play with Xbox friends who don't have a PC, or PC friends who don't have an Xbox. (Downloadable content, achievements and Gamerscore come along for the ride, too.)

There are caveats, of course, with the biggest one being that games need to be designed this way. While a Microsoft representative says they don't technically need to be built as universal apps that run across both Xbox and Windows 10 PCs, they will need to opt into the program and use Microsoft's tools to share their data across platforms.

Update, July 13: Microsoft isn't committing to Play Anywhere as strongly as it did originally, and I'm no longer sure it's the biggest news of E3.

Watch this: Microsoft debuts new hardware, teases the future at E3 2016

Still, there's a sizable number of upcoming titles confirmed as Xbox Play Anywhere so far, including heavy hitters such as Gears of War 4, which was just announced at E3. Here's the full list as of today:

  • Ark: Survival Evolved
  • Crackdown 3
  • Cuphead
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Gears of War 4
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Killer Instinct: Season 3
  • Phantom Dust
  • ReCore
  • Scalebound
  • Sea of Thieves
  • State of Decay 2
  • We Happy Few

Another important gotcha: discs won't work. To get a copy that works across Xbox and Windows 10, you'll need to buy the digital version of the game.

The last thing you might want to be aware of is that Microsoft's recent push to bring Xbox games to Windows 10 hasn't gone terribly smoothly, with PC versions of titles such as Quantum Break and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition riddled with bugs at launch.

If you've got both an Xbox and a gaming PC, though, Microsoft's new Play Anywhere initiative makes pre-ordering these games a little less risky: even if one version has bugs, the other might work smoothly.

You should expect to see a lot more Play Anywhere games in the future, too: a Microsoft representative tells me that all new first-party games (i.e. games developed by Microsoft's studios) will be part of the Play Anywhere initiative. Yes: That means you should be able to play the next Halo across Xbox and Windows 10.

Correction, June 14 at 1:15p.m. PT: A Microsoft representative clarified that Dead Rising 4 will not be an Xbox Play Anywhere title, and that games don't technically need to be universal apps built using Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform tools to qualify for the initative.