24 Jun 19
Microsoft has claimed for years that it’s committed to PC gaming. But even as the company began putting more Xbox games on Windows, it was difficult to take the effort seriously due to a number of issues. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) industry event earlier this month, Microsoft once again made that claim. Only now, it is finally starting to back it up.
Over the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has revealed a number of new features, policies, and improvements for its contributions to PC gaming. Xbox Game Pass for PC launched into beta and is only $5 per month (or $15 bundled with Gold and Game Pass for console). The company also confirmed plans to bring games to Steam and potentially other stores. Then at E3, Microsoft unveiled games like Microsoft Flight Simulator and launched the new Xbox app into beta for Windows 10.
I haven’t had a chance to try out Flight Simulator, but I have spent some time with the Xbox app since getting home from E3. After a few days, it’s already a significantly better experience for gaming than the Microsoft Store.
You can try it, too. But you may need to update to the latest version of Windows 10 first. You can force that update by going here and getting the Xbox beta installer.
A dedicated hub
The Microsoft Store is a frustrating experience — especially for PC games. It’s difficult to find games with search, and it’s even hard to find those that you own. And may Bill Gates forgive you if you own a game on Xbox but it’s under a different Microsoft account than your Windows ID. Authentication problems were a consistent problem for people trying to start up their games.
All of those usability problems drove players back into the embrace of Steam. But Microsoft says that it has heard about the issues, and the Xbox app is supposed to deal with them.
“We’re trying to address [authentication and usability],” Xbox Live general manager Dan McCulloch told a room full of press at E3. “We’re working really close with our partners and our users. But it’s out now, and we want that feedback.”
From a user-experience standpoint, the app is a big step forward. The store is easy to navigate with it, and you don’t have all the other Windows apps mixed in to confuse things. You can also quickly bring up an entire list of games that you own. And then anything you install will show up on the left side of the app so that you launch it whenever you want.
But Microsoft’s focus with this app is obvious — it’s all about Game Pass.
Xbox Game Pass
When you open the Xbox app, the first screen is dedicated to Game Pass. You can see recently added releases, games by genre, and an option to see all 100-plus titles. My favorite feature, however, is the “Surprise Me” tool.
Big money! Big money!
This enables you to press a button to get a random suggestion for a game to play. I honestly wish Steam, Switch, and everything else had the same thing.
But Game Pass’s prominence in the app is indicative of why Microsoft is serious about PC gaming this time around. The company believes it has finally found the solution for making money from games on Windows.
The future of Xbox is the future of Windows
Windows is one of the most popular gaming platforms in the world, but unlike with consoles, Microsoft doesn’t get a slice of revenue for every game sold. Most games go through third-party apps that owe nothing to Microsoft. Steam makes up a significant portion of those sales. It is a giant. And while Epic is attempting to compete against it directly with the Fortnite-powered Epic Games Store, Microsoft has clearly given up on a head-to-head confrontation with Valve’s portal for PC gaming.
Instead, Microsoft is going to tie Windows to Xbox Game Pass for PC. And for people who want to keep buying their games to own, they can do so on Steam, Epic Games Store, or anywhere else. Microsoft is aiming for a different audience that prefers a Netflix-style subscription instead.
Microsoft isn’t trying to beat anyone. It’s using its strengths to create an alternative space where it can excel. And this is important because it could completely transform how Microsoft generates money from Windows. For example, it may soon make sense for the company to give Windows away for free to encourage gamers to subscribe to Game Pass instead.