PC gamers love that Microsoft bring their Xbox exclusive titles to PC. Unfortunately, the Microsoft Store is far from an ideal retailer. As such, it’s welcome news that Microsoft intends to bring more of their games to Steam and other competing platforms. It’s a move steeped in Microsoft’s intent to let players dictate where they get their games from.
“Our intent is to make our Xbox Game Studios PC games available in multiple stores, including our own Microsoft Store on Windows, at their launch. We believe you should have choice in where you buy your PC games,” said Xbox head Phil Spencer in a new post.
There are definitely a lot of positives to this move by Microsoft. One serious drawback of games on the Microsoft Store is their existence as Universal Windows Apps. The UWA format is currently closed off to features popular on the PC platform. UWAs aren’t open to any kinds of mods, including overlays, alternate game modes, cheats and visual improvement tools like ReShade. Introducing these games to Steam frees up these options.
The first games coming to Steam will be Age of Empires 1-3 Definitive Editions and Gears 5, according to today’s announcement. There has been no mention of current Microsoft exclusives such as Sea of Thieves, or any Forza Horizon games. However, if Xbox head Phil Spencer’s words are to be taken at face value, this seems like it will simply be a matter of time.
“Building communities across all of those players, regardless of the store or platform they’ve chosen (console or PC), is also vitally important because it helps bring players together, allows games to find their largest audience and allows gaming to deliver its true potential of uniting people around the power of play.”
There remain big question marks as to the possible future of Windows games reaching new stores. Possibilities regarding cross-platform multiplayer and questions regarding how friends and matchmaking will work in a future of Windows games on Steam. It’s also possible we may see Windows Games in other storefronts like GOG and the Epic Store in the near future.
The other side of this coin is that in making Windows games available on other stores, it’s also leading to more freedom on the Windows Store itself. Steam games don’t use the UWA format, they run Win32, a format much more open to modding. The good news here is the Windows Store will be more open to the standard Win32 format, bringing with it all its advantages. The good news extends to developers, who won’t have to make games in this format. It’ll save time and effort. Only games that run on DirectX 11.1 and 12 can be converted into UWA. Abandoning this format means the door is open to more formats for games sold on the Windows storefront. In the end, these changes won’t make the store instantly popular, but they are steps in the right direction.
Microsoft, despite being regarded as having “lost” the exclusivity wars, continues to do more and more to demonstrate their merits. Innovations like the adaptive controller have demonstrated Microsoft’s desire to make gaming more available and accessible to more consumers. This is just the latest demonstration of how important choice is to consumers. In the words of Spencer: “It’s critical that we make decisions that reinforce the open nature of the PC, focusing on how best to unite players on all devices around the games they love, that philosophy will guide us as we introduce new ways to discover and play games on Windows.”