In our rush to praise or lambaste something in entertainment we can often get it wrong. I know a lot of people who are fans of delivering software as a service. They often abbreviate it in conversation as SaaS, but the underlying idea is the same. You ship a piece of software that delivers on some basic features. You then improve on it quickly, adding other needed things as they’re done.
If SaaS sounds familiar to you, it’s because we’re seeing it a lot of it in gaming lately. Planet Coaster is being developed out in the open this year using the technique. Halo 5: Guardians should be in a software development textbook next to an explanation of the term. Microsoft is a big believer in shipping things today and slowly improving on them with updates later. It’s a philosophy that’s worked out for them with the Xbox One’s software.
It is not a strategy that they’ll want to continue to use with their latest venture, Xbox on Windows. In fact, if they don’t stop, they may find themselves killing the up-start platform before it’s had a chance to blossom.
Microsoft is in the midst of creating a new home for Xbox Live users. The company still wants to sell video game consoles, but it’s moved beyond selling Windows, for the most part. Instead of charging users for a new copy of Windows 10 it’s focusing on content strategies. Microsoft gives the operating system upgrade for free. The company’s plan is to make money on the things that users do with their device. Gaming is about as lucrative an activity as you can find on a Windows PC. Windows PCs are the home of PC gaming. Microsoft has a virtual lock on it.
People are gaming on Windows, but they’re not necessarily gaming on Windows using Xbox Live. Microsoft never made that an option before Windows 10, basically handing the actual content purchases and control of the market to Valve’s Steam. Now it’s trying to wrestle that control back.
It’s that battle that makes SaaS such a ridiculously bad idea for Xbox on Windows.
It’s that battle that makes SaaS such a ridiculously bad idea for Xbox on Windows. Windows gamers have had to put up with more than a few false starts from Microsoft. They turned to Steam when they realized Microsoft wasn’t serious about the space.
What’s Going Wrong?
Suffice to say, SaaS as a service doesn’t help your company when you’ve earned a horrible reputation for over-promising and under-delivering. It’s also a very, very bad strategy to use when you’re up against an entrenched competitor with no qualms about using the attitudes of PC gamers to throw a wrench in your plans.
Xbox on Windows may have a perfectly decent client itself, but it relies on the Windows Store to deliver the actual game and facilitate the purchase. Right now, the only feature that the Windows Store even offers that’s game specific is ratings from the Electronics Safety and Ratings Board.
You can’t pre-order a video game. You also can’t purchase a video game and have it download before release. The Windows Store refers to DLC as “In-app purchases.” It has no concept of video game trailers and there’s no way to get information from developers in real-time beyond pouring over patch notes. You actually have to hope that the game you’re purchasing supports the Xbox One controller in serious way. It’s not clearly listed in a consistent place. (Luckily, all of them do.)
A software bug sometimes makes people think that their downloads have stopped, even when they haven’t. You can’t limit how much of your PC’s bandwidth is going towards downloading the update either, like you can with Steam.
The Train Could Easily Go Off the Tracks
We knew all of these would be major issues after the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Still, Microsoft pushed forward with other new releases, letting this poor buying experience be the first and lasting interaction that gamers have with Xbox on Windows and the Windows Store. The launches of Quantum Break and Gears of War Ultimate Edition garnered the same complaints.
PC gamers, by their very nature, are not oblivious to platform issues.
If this kind of thing continues, Microsoft could have problem on its hands. PC gamers, by their very nature, are not oblivious to platform issues. They know – or think they know – when they’re being sold a bill of goods. They’ll remember every issue that they have with your platform, even years after you’ve fixed it.
Microsoft has to stop promoting the Windows Store within the gaming community until it can deliver an experience that the Xbox Team can be proud of. That means no giving away special codes to unlock Windows 10 versions with an Xbox One purchase. That means toning down the rhetoric on cross-platform play.
Fix this stuff, then launch blockbusters. You wouldn’t offer to sell someone a car if you weren’t planning to add a wheel to it for months. Why would you keep pimping Xbox on Windows so loudly, when just downloading a game can be a hassle?
Take some time and ship the next major version of the Windows Store. Then tell me how futuristic it all is. I’ll wait for you; I promise.