Scorpio And The Windows User

win

Last time I talked about what Scorpio may and may not do for Xbox, talking about Microsoft’s strategy being oriented around creating a better gaming service. Scorpio might not affect me personally all that much though because I do most of my gaming on a pretty decent gaming PC. From my perspective what matters most is what Microsoft does with Windows.

I guess Microsoft bringing Windows into its service strategy has been beneficial in some ways. I like how the Xbox app integrates my PC games into the Xbox Live community. Finally having games like Gears of War and Forza on PC is great too, and I would certainly buy the new Halo shooters if they showed up on Windows. But Good God is there room for improvement.

That’s really the big irony here, at least from the perspective of a PC user: For everything Microsoft has done in the name of a console gaming service, Valve with Steam has been constantly doing better on PC. Steam has been a moving target leagues ahead of Microsoft for probably 10 years, and the Windows Store is probably the worst PC game distribution tool Microsoft has ever devised. I don’t even mind Origin and UPlay in comparison.

So what could Microsoft do to make Xbox, or really just its gaming products, more attractive to the PC user?

Either Improve The Windows Store Or Give Up On It

Obviously the Windows Store needs to be better, and I’ve been over this before. It needs to stop eating up my hard drive by duplicating entire games (like the 101GB Gears 4) when patching them. Games need to install without errors causing downloads of dozens of gigs to completely restart. Refunds are a good decision on Microsoft’s part to start. That’s not even getting into how much some people hate Microsoft’s new UWP software system.

But some have suggested Microsoft just break down and release Gears and Forza on Steam like Remedy released Quantum Break on Steam. Steam has done so much more for Windows gaming than Microsoft in the last decade it’s ridiculous, so why not just put the Windows games on the better Windows gaming service? People already have to own Windows to play the games. The only real reason is Microsoft doesn’t want to give up that 30 percent revenue cut. Maybe Halo Wars is a start though. From there maybe I could see Microsoft putting some legacy games on Steam like Halo: Combat Evolved or the original Gears of War.

I’ve also heard suggestions that Microsoft should distribute its larger games or “Xbox” games like Gears through some separate channel, perhaps as part of the Xbox app. The main problem with the Windows Store is it’s built for mobile apps, not 50GB PC games. Doing that though would lead Microsoft right back to its failed Games For Windows service.

Acknowledge The TV PC Experience

Right now Microsoft’s plan with Play Anywhere is for Xbox to be the TV experience and for Windows to be the desktop experience. The problem with that is my Windows 10 PC is connected to a TV. I went over this too. Microsoft just needs to give up on bifurcating the two and accept that some people just won’t need an Xbox. Microsoft executive Phil Spencer has indicated that they’re fine if someone buys Gears 4 and chooses to just play it on PC. They just need to realize that doesn’t only mean playing it at a desk.

All I really want is for Microsoft to do something like Steam’s Big Picture Mode (see I’m comparing it to Steam again). Just put some kind of launcher at the heart of Windows 10 that’s optimized around the Xbox controller. Make it identical to the Xbox dashboard for all I care. I think Microsoft is just afraid that for some people, their PC pretty much is their Xbox.

Xbox Backwards Compatibility On Windows

This is an obvious one that I think has been rumored since the days of Windows 8. I get that it would be much harder to get that Xbox 360 emulator working on PC but I imagine it’s not impossible. Aside from that I guess Microsoft views it as a double-edged sword.

On one hand, a main reason for Xbox 360 backwards compatibility in the first place is to get 360 owners to upgrade to Xbox One. Microsoft might be afraid those users would just play the 360 games on PC if they could. I imagine a huge chunk of the backwards compatible games are multiplatform games from that era that you can already get on Steam anyway (like Bayonetta).

On the other hand, bringing 360 games to Windows would open them up to a potentially bigger audience of PC users who don’t need an Xbox One anyway. It’s essentially the same conundrum you have with Xbox One exclusives like Gears 4 and Forza, but with earlier games like Gears 3 and Red Dead Redemption.

A Portable Form Factor (Just Dreaming Here)

Microsoft wants Xbox and Windows to cover the couch and desk respectively (even though some people use Windows on the couch), but I think having some kind of on-the-go option would be a great and unique avenue for the platform, even if something like this is unlikely to come from Microsoft. Indeed, good portable gaming is one area Windows or PC haven’t really entered. I guess Windows Mobile was supposed to do this and Surface tablets fill this role a bit, but not to the extent of a 3DS or even the Nintendo Switch.

A long while back I did a post on how surprisingly within reach real portable PC gaming is. Surface tablets have pretty decent game-playing capability — not the latest Blockbuster games, but there’s a sea of good content they and similar devices can run, whether it’s modern low-end indie games or basically any PC game made before around 2012. The GPD Win is already trying to break into this, offering workable PC gaming on a device the size of a 3DSXL.

If Microsoft was feeling really risky it could shrink the Surface down to a similar size and put Xbox buttons on it. Even if such a device were restricted to the Windows Store’s UWP games there’s a lot it would run, and developers supporting Xbox would be encouraged to optimize for this thing. It would basically be Sony’s Vita except the cross-buy would feel more universal. It would kind of be a Scorpio but in the opposite direction, and it would make more sense for some people to own one in addition to an Xbox One. The true potential though would come out if the device supported Win32 — Windows applications outside UWP. The Surface already does so Microsoft shouldn’t be afraid.

This last part is just spit-balling though. I’d probably buy such a piece of hardware from Microsoft, but only because I’m part of a minority of people in the west who still care about handheld gaming outside of phones. For now I’ll be content with my laptop and eventually investigate the GPD Win. I could maybe see Microsoft considering such an idea though if the Nintendo Switch blew up and proved cross-compatible handheld-TV gaming had viability.

Conclusion

Basically, if Microsoft really wants to improve its overall gaming platform, incorporating more hardware and form factors into it is a great path. Scorpio — a higher-end Xbox, should just be the beginning. Microsoft should be really serious about including Windows into its plans, whether that means making the Windows Store match up with Xbox, or giving up on it and bringing its software to where PC gamers already are. And a more portable path to Xbox/Windows gaming, however unlikely, would be a really nice new avenue to crack.

BULLETS:

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