Is The Xbox App More Of What Microsoft Should Be Doing?

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Maybe I’m really late on this one, but I haven’t really seen anybody talk much about the Xbox app in Windows 10. I only recently started using it a lot, and to be honest I’ve started booting up all my games through it more often than through the Steam client.

Most of the PC games I’m playing are still games I bought, redeemed, and installed through Steam, but I’ve messed with booting them up through the Xbox app. If you don’t know what that is, Windows 10 has an app that connects you to the Xbox Live community but can also be used to boot up PC games. I actually think it’s pretty well put-together and pretty useful depending on your circumstances.

Basically, I think the front-end of the Xbox app might be better organized than Steam. I’ve heard people say for years that the Steam client is long overdue for a visual overhaul. I’ve personally never had big problems with it but I’m not some kind of software design connoisseur. What I do know is that the Xbox app has managed to pack more essential functions into a smaller space.

Steam still devotes a whole window to each section of the client: the store, your game library, the community, and the activity feed. The Xbox app manages to jam immediately clickable icons for the last five games you played, a column for your Xbox Live friends, an activity feed, and even a little space for featured games on the store, all into one window. All those things still have bigger individual tabs, but I like how the Xbox app opens with a sort of “comprehensive window.” Maybe that’s what people are asking for Valve to add to Steam.

I’ll admit most of what’s in the Xbox app outside launching games only matters to users who actually have Xbox Live accounts or care about what’s going on in the Xbox ecosystem. If you don’t, I still think it’s interesting to think about what such a client would be if it were showing users the Steam ecosystem.

Maybe Microsoft should have included an actual game store in the Xbox app instead of forcing customers to sift through all the mobile apps in the Windows Store. The Xbox app does however have pages for games that link straight to either the Windows Store or pages to buy them for Xbox, which is almost as good. The app is obviously built for a mouse and keyboard, but is very navigable with an Xbox controller. I just wish Microsoft went ahead and made a way for users to navigate the Windows 10 desktop and get to the Xbox app with a controller.

In my last post about Steam I said I was starting to experience Steam more as a back end that installs and manages all my games, but I mostly play them without really seeing Steam. The Xbox app doesn’t make for a bad front end in this situation. Maybe people just don’t talk about it much because it hasn’t seen any huge updates in a while.

I remember Microsoft showing it off at one of its early public demonstrations of Windows 10, before the company made public its ambitious intentions with the much maligned Windows Store ecosystem. I remember whatever Microsoft spokesperson was there that day (I think it was Xbox head Phil Spencer) distinctly saying “We don’t want to compete with Steam,” as they demonstrated the Xbox app by using it to boot up a Steam game. Looking back the contrast with how actual Windows Store games work is apparent: the Windows Store is trying to supplant the way people already play PC games with something more restrictive and under Microsoft’s control, but the Xbox App simply works like a compliment to the current PC gaming experience. That’s all PC gamers really want from Microsoft, for the company that runs Windows to facilitate PC gaming, not try to control it so much.

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