Microsoft's offering on PC is in a strange, transitionary place. I've been hearing for years at this point how internal politics between the upper echelons of Xbox and Windows actively prevented Microsoft from improving basic gaming features on PC, like the Windows 10 Microsoft Store. The internal push towards the immature Universal Windows Platform (UWP) ultimately led to an app store that wasn't ready for the prime time when it came to delivering big AAA games, although it is far better now, the catalogue and discoverability aspects leave a lot to be desired.
Beyond the Microsoft Store, the Xbox app for Windows 10 also managed to disappoint. Although Microsoft was early to the game when it comes to creating online gaming communities, even going as far back as MSN Game Zone in the late 90s, Redmond has been unable to stop the meteoric rise of Discord, despite owning Skype, and Xbox Live. The Xbox app for Windows 10 does support community creation, messaging, and voice, but it's all so slow and clunky, lacking basic features, that Discord's ascent was all but inevitable. The new Windows 10 Game Bar is a the first real sign that Microsoft is taking this aspect of its gaming network a little more seriously.
Game Bar in name only
The new Windows 10 Game Bar is quite honestly more like a dashboard than a "Game Bar," fully overlaid on top of Windows 10 at a system level, rather than tied to specific windows as was the case with its previous incarnation. Hitting Windows Key + G summons the overlay from anywhere within Windows, granting you access to its wide array of features.
Using the new Windows 10 Game Bar, you can do all the same things you were able to do previously, such as streaming directly to Mixer, and capturing game clips and screenshots, but there are a range of new features on top. You can now control and browse Spotify media without leaving your game, send messages and voice chat on Xbox Live far faster than the existing Xbox app, and check handy performance monitors and a sound mixer for good measure.
Crucially, it's speedy and lightweight, taking up minimum system resources. Although results will vary depending on your usage, when simply idle, the Windows 10 Game Bar takes up just ~50MB of RAM, versus Discord's ~250MB and Steam's ~200MB. Even setting the Game Bar to record footage only increases its RAM usage to ~67MB, with negligible impact on the CPU. The Game DVR service for clipping the previous 30 seconds of footage reserves around 250MB of RAM, but it can be disabled easily in the settings if you so fancy, reducing its footprint to zero.
Beyond the system resources, the Game Bar is also highly customizable. If you don't use the Spotify integration you can simply turn it off, for example. Closing each widget reduces the resource footprint on your PC as well, you can shrink it all the way down to the basics if you so choose. The modularity of the platform should lend itself well to adding new features without allowing it to become bloated.
Can it really replace Discord?
Discord has become the de-facto community tool for the entire games industry. Microsoft itself uses it for its communities, the biggest game streamers and influencers use it, and groups of friends use it. It's easy to use, has an awesome array of tools for chat and content sharing, and is faster than competing choices on PC, especially the Xbox app for Windows 10. Its focus on community tools also makes it a better option than Skype for many gamers, which has seen its dominance eroded against the rise of competing messaging and calling services.
As of right now, the Windows 10 Game Bar update is only available in preview for Xbox Insider hub users, and even then, the modules for Xbox Live messages and party voice chats are listed as a beta, within the app itself. Even at this early stage, they're quite polished, fast, and do exactly what you'd expect them to. They even have a permanent on-screen overlay option, similarly to Discord, which lights up users when they are chatting.
There are a few bugs here and there, as well as layout oddities and missing features. For example, it doesn't seem to be possible to change the privacy settings on a voice call, and there are a couple of menus you can expand out that simply have no options in them (yet), but it's a truly encouraging early effort. It's already far preferable to use over the Windows 10 Xbox app, with centered notifications and faster access to the most important features.
It's missing things like Xbox Clubs community support, which it would need to truly become a lighter alternative to Discord, but there's no reason to think it wouldn't come across eventually. Xbox Clubs themselves are missing a lot of basic features Discord enjoys, like image sharing, gifs, custom community emotes, and so on, but the integration it has inside Xbox Live gives it a few advantages. Being able to send "Looking for Group" ads that allow you to instantly jump into games, set up competitive tournaments, are aggressively underused, but I believe part of that underuse is the difficulty of access. On Xbox, you have to navigate and type using a controller, on PC, Xbox Clubs are buried in a clunky UWP app that simply isn't fit for purpose. The Windows 10 Game Bar looks set to change all that.
An encouraging emphasis on PC gaming
If Microsoft can make the case for using the Game Bar, built into Windows 10 and accessible via a quick keyboard shortcut from anywhere, it might prove to be an excellent tool for people who don't fancy installing a separate program. It's not really in a position to provide a great alternative to Discord today, given the light feature set and lack of Xbox Clubs support, but if Microsoft is as serious as it seems to be, these features are probably on the way.
I don't think it's any accident how Microsoft undersold the new Game Bar when it was announced this past week. They didn't discuss many of its features, announcing it in a small, fairly understated blog post. Clearly the efforts represent a grander vision for a more cohesive PC-oriented gaming strategy from Microsoft, and the new font typing and rounded edges probably offer a hint at future design language for the next-gen Xbox "Scarlett" consoles. Microsoft wants to earn back that trust, and probably knows it has a lot to do.
With Microsoft set to bring Xbox Game Pass to PC, alongside a widely-expected overhaul of its maligned PC gaming store, Project xCloud for mobile devices and lower-end laptops, and a new generation of Xbox hardware, social and community features are the systems that will tie it all together. It's crucial that Microsoft takes this aspect of its platform more seriously, especially given its investment in Mixer streaming and beyond. Thankfully, these early signs are incredibly encouraging.
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Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
This is a good sign and hopefully they continue down this path. To really compete with Discord, they will need to revamp their Xbox app offerings across all platforms as well. No service can get to the top if it's only available on a single platform. And I will comment once again on the Microsoft Store for games. They need to better filter between traditional PC games and modern touch first games. There is currently no way to differentiate between them. They also need to work with the big mobile game studios to get more big touch titles into Windows.
I agree, it's weird how Microsoft has almost totally ignored mobile gaming except Minecraft...
Most likely because mobile gaming is a joke.
A lot of the changes we've seen at Microsoft in recent months would appear to be related to the departure of Terry Myerson and the elevation of Phil Spencer.
Not to **** on the guy, but mostly good things about Windows since he left.
How likely is it for Microsoft to purchase Discord? I think there are clear synergies with each company. Discord could be used as a Twitch Competitor with Mixer and have XCloud integration.
They tried to buy them, according to Brad Sams.
Discord isn't game-centric. Game-heavy, but I connect with more non-game sites on Discord than game ones. Tech support is a significant presence, in fact. Unless Microsoft is ready to rebrand the Game Bar, it won't have a chance at all. And, as for me, I am not a fan of using shortcut keys to do everything, and I really hate that Microsoft seems to keep pushing that as THE way to do everything. My primary work device is a Surface Pro. Half the time I don't have the keyboard attached or it's at the folded-back position.
You bring up a good point, can you even access the game bar without the use of Wind.+G?...
Game Bar has entry in the Start Menu, since 1809
With an Xbox controller connected over Bluetooth, you simply press the Xbox button to bring the game bar up. I know it's not the touch based input you mentioned, but most gamers on Windows currently use a keyboard or a controller.
I HATE CONTROLLERS!!!! That is NOT a solution. A primary reason I refuse to game on our Xbox is because of controllers. So, if Win+G or a stupid flipping controller are the only way to use the game bar, then I have no use for it.
You can also bring up the Game bar using the Start Menu. I am curious - other than keyboard shortcut, start menu and the Xbox nexus button, what is the other you would like to use for launching the Game bar?
That's like, your opinion man... In all seriousness, it's not Microsoft's fault that you don't like their hard ware made for playing games. A lot of people in the world do like them. Think about it, what would you rather them do? In a PC game they can't just make it one key and hope that EVERY game doesn't assign it to game play. It has to be something like a shortcut. They can't jus make an Xbox button on a keyboard, because like you said not everyone has one during play or there are literally THOUSANDS of different ones out there. So probably the best solution that will work for everyone is a shortcut. Plus Windows loves them. 😜
Even with a large number of developers working on it, it takes a long time to develop a great experience like this. It's pretty obvious that they've been working on this for months, maybe even years.
A good start.
I think the reason why Xbox Live couldn't take off,
1) Xbox didn't support KBM by default (it's hard to mingle with gamepad typing,
2) it's not on PC.
XBox Live did take off...
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