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Will Surface Impact Gaming?

Yesterday Microsoft announced its foray into tablet hardware with a product it hopes will revolutionize the market. But how will Surface affect gaming? We take a look at a few of Surface's features and speculate on what it could mean for digital entertainment.

Bringing PC Games To Tablet:
It's no secret that the tablet market has been dominated by Apple's iPad, which affected how game studios approach and develop tablet games. Many current tablet games follow the formula of smartphone games (or are direct ports), as more complex downloadable games require considerable conversion before they can run on touchscreen devices.

We still don't know a lot about Microsoft's Surface, but current speculation is that the basic Surface, which runs Windows RT, will be comparable to the iPad and other currently available tablets. The Surface Pro, on the other hand, could pack considerably more horsepower, and will run a fully functional copy of Windows 8. That means gaming services like Steam would theoretically run on Surface, along with other downloadable PC titles and in-browser web games.

Additionally, Surface also features its own detachable keyboard (in both Touch Cover and Type Cover varieties), and a USB port, which will provide a way to connect a mouse or game controller to the tablet. The result? A tablet that can run games much closer (if not identical for some titles that don't make much use of dedicated graphics cards) to their PC counterparts, without developers having to completely rewrite their titles for inferior hardware or a lack of traditional input devices. The only potential issue that stands out right now is the lack of hard drive space (Surface Pro will come in 64 GB and 128 GB models), but it's still not as crippling as, say, owning an Xbox 360 Arcade unit.

Raising The Bar For Tablet Games:
Surface will function more like a PC than most current tablets. So what? How does it differ from a gaming laptop? Aside from the touchscreen and a sleek design, we're still not sure. But the Surface's impact on PC games is only one aspect of how the device could affect gaming as a whole. Surface could also change how tablet and mobile developers approach game design. Most tablet games have been simple experiences designed for touchscreens and short attention spans. Beefier hardware, peripheral support, and the potential influx of the kind of hardcore gamers who might be attracted to a full-fledged PC tablet will give developers new reasons to create deeper gaming experiences – which may then migrate to other tablet and mobile platforms.

The Microsoft Connection:
When it comes to gaming, the Surface's hardware may not be as important as the company that's making it. As a Microsoft-made device, Surface stands to reap the full benefits of the infrastructure the company has put in place for Xbox. This could be the closest Microsoft ever gets to creating a handheld gaming device, and like Windows Mobile 7, Surface will likely feature Xbox Live integration. Unlike Windows Mobile 7, Surface should have the power to accommodate more traditional game experiences. With the ability to connect a wired Xbox 360 controller, Surface could theoretically support the XBLA library, or even downloadable versions of current games. Similar to what Sony has done with PS3/Vita cross-compatibility, Xbox Live purchases have the potential to carry over between platforms, allowing you to play future titles on a console when you're at home, or on Surface when you're on the go. Integration with Microsoft's recently announced SmartGlass technology also seems like a no-brainer.

Waiting For Answers:
We still need a lot more information before we know how Surface will function as a gaming platform. We don't have any real hardware specs, we don't know how long the battery will last (thanks for the wattage info, Microsoft, but that tells us little), and we don't know how much it's all going to cost. The biggest question mark at this point is how big of a priority gaming on Surface will be for Microsoft. If Microsoft throws its full Xbox support behind the tablet and doesn't lock out other services, Surface could provide gamers the best of both worlds, with PC gaming options via services like Steam plus Xbox Live and XBLA integration. If the company approaches its tablet the way it did Games for Windows Live, Surface could end up just being an alternative to iPad for Apple haters.

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