Rumour: Windows 8 to bring Xbox 360 game support

Evidence is mounting that - as unlikely as it may seem - Windows 8 will bring with it the ability to play Xbox 360 console games on your PC, ending the often long wait for timed console exclusives like BioWare's Mass Effect to make their way to the PC.

The rumour has been around for a while, and has been thoroughly dismissed by most. Making PCs capable of playing Xbox 360 games would harm sales of Microsoft's console, and do nothing to dispel the opinion that Microsoft is pushing for the 'consolification' of PC gaming.

It's the latter that would have hardcore gamers up in arms: many developers stand accused of creating ports of console games for the PC, made obvious by a lack of customisation and often bizarre control arrangements clearly suited to a control pad rather than a keyboard and mouse. It's something which angers true PC gamers, and anything that would cause developers to abandon even the small tweaks they make to a PC release would cause major heartache for the company.

There are also technical considerations to take into account. While the Xbox 360 uses standard DVDs for its games - unlike the rival PlayStation 3, which users Blu-ray discs for which few people have a reader in their PC - the processor inside the console is based on IBM's PowerPC architecture, rather than x86. As a result, code written for the Xbox 360 won't run on a standard PC, suggesting that the rumours are bunkum.

That's not necessarily a deal-breaker, however. Back in 2006, Apple made the move from PowerPC-based chips to Intel's x86 products, breaking backwards compatibility with its previous products. To get around this, Apple developed a stop-gap while it waited for developers to re-code for x86: a compatibility layer that allowed PowerPC code to execute successfully on x86 chips.

With a similar compatibility layer, Microsoft could - potentially - create a software overlay that allows a PC to pretend to be an Xbox 360. While there would be other issues to contend with - such as the performance loss that such a compatibility layer introduces, which could be a killer for games - it at least demonstrates that the possibility is there.

So far, we've only looked at conjecture. Now for some meat.

Insideris, a site specialising in 'insider information you can trust,' claims to have sources close to the project which have confirmed that Windows 8 will include the ability to play Xbox 360 games. Like the console, a subscription fee to Xbox Live will apply for on-line play which will be segregated with PC gamers unable to play against console gamers, the site claims.

With the sources going unnamed, it would be easy to dismiss the claims of Insideris. At least, it would if it were the only source suggesting that Windows 8 will have Xbox compatibility. Thankfully for those who would welcome such a move, that's not the case.

Windows 8 Italia has published extracts from a leaked copy of the Windows 8 kernel which make clear reference to Xbox 360 functions. Error codes contained within the kernel itself reference "XBOX_360_SYSTEM_CRASH" and "XBOX_360_SYSTEM_CRASH_RESERVED," clearly pointing towards some kind of crossover between the Windows 8 code and that running on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft itself has been fuelling the rumours, recently announcing the combining of Xbox Live and its Games for Windows service. In the future, all Games for Windows Live titles will operate under the Xbox.com domain used for Xbox Live titles. That's a move which is hard to explain unless a further amalgamation of the two gaming platforms is planned.

Looking at the rumours from a profit perspective, they also add up: the profit is in the sale of games, rather than in the hardware, as Microsoft charges a licensing fee for every title published on the Xbox 360 platform. By adding support for these games on the PC, Microsoft would expand its potential audience without having to produce more hardware.

So far, Microsoft has been remaining tight-lipped on the matter. The company hasn't responded to our - or anyone else's - requests for comment, and leaked copies of Windows 8 developer code show no signs of Xbox 360 support beyond vague kernel references. With Windows 8 expected to be on track for release late next year, we could be waiting a while for confirmation or cancellation of this particular rumour.

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