Microsoft is gearing up for a fight.
I spent a very, very long time agonizing over picking up my latest PC. For the amount of money I spent on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, I could have purchased all the internals I needed for a truly impressive gaming machine. More on that decision another time, but lets talk about why I even considered purchasing a gaming PC in the first place: Xbox on Windows.
We’ve spent the last few years buried in Halo 5: Guardians jargon and anticipation of Quantum Break, ReCore, Scalebound and the other exclusives that Microsoft has planned. You might have missed the news about Xbox On Windows. Microsoft is giving away its Windows 10 operating system update to owners of Windows 7 and Windows 8 devices absolutely free.
The company is hoping that the modern operating system will cause more people to subscribe to Office 365 and use apps in its Windows Store. It’s also hoping that it’ll be able to turn Xbox Live into a legitimate platform on gaming PCs. If the that last bit sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft has experimented in this space so many times that it might be prudent to call a counselor at the local college health clinic that specializes in obsessive disorders.
I’ve been critical of Microsoft’s efforts in PC gaming for years. Not because I don’t think they should be there; they should. Everything they offered was always lackluster though. Valve’s Gabe Newell has been critical of the company’s PC gaming efforts since Windows 8, but that’s because he could see the writing on the wall, I suspect. For months he railed about how the operating system was terrible and that Microsoft was threatening all that PC gamers hold dear.
Turns out, Xbox on Windows is a threat to everything that Valve holds dear, really. Valve owns Steam, the world’s largest and most respected PC gaming store. With Microsoft floundering in PC gaming, Steam picked up the slack. The service has a dedicated store with amazing deals on titles from every publisher. A Steam account lets you chat with friends and stay abreast of what they’re playing. There’s achievements and leaderboards, plus a huge forum community and ways to download games. Even save syncing is built into Steam. Put a little less grandiose manner, Steam is Xbox Live to Windows PCs, Macs and Linux machines. Steam is unmatched, with no serious competition from Origin or UPlay, which are at the whims of their own publishers, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft.
In a year, Xbox on Windows has become nearly as fully featured as Steam is. Messages, voice chatting, screenshots, video recording and achievements are all baked into the Xbox on Windows app. So are friend profiles. What’s more, this isn’t some separate network that you have to manage, but the same profile, friends list and achievements from the Xbox One. Xbox accessories work on Windows PCs and this Xbox app wirelessly with the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows that we reviewed last year.
Gabe was right, about Microsoft coming for Steam at least.
Plans Microsoft have talked about already call for Xbox on Windows to get cross-platform play and purchases with some Xbox One games. The company is planning major releases for Windows too, with Halo Wars 2, Gigantic, Fable Legends, Gears of War Ultimate Edition and more all coming to Windows this year. Rise of The Tomb Raider is already in the Windows Store, complete with achievements.
One accessory line-up, one Store, one development platform and one social network. There’s enough here that Steam should be worried. Windows 10 is absolutely a Trojan horse for Xbox on Windows and the Windows Store. All Microsoft needs is the library in the Windows Store to back it all up. In the meantime, the company is happily piggy-backing off Steam’s store, letting users launch Steam games, take pictures from Steam games, record video from Steam games and chat while in Steam games, in the Xbox app. There’s some good stuff here, I think.
As for me, I’m done considering. I have a gorgeous new Dell XPS 15 with GeForce graphics card sitting on my desk and the Xbox App pinned to my Start experience. The purchases I’ve made in Steam already have counterpart links in the Xbox on Windows app. Give me the games and I’m ready.