What you need to know
- Microsoft announced a new commitment to gaming on Windows PCs.
- Microsoft is cutting its share of game revenue from 30% to just 12%, letting devs keep more money.
- Microsoft also teased more "quality-of-life" improvements for PC gamers, touting "improved install reliability and faster download speeds."
Microsoft has a checkered history when it comes to PC gaming. While its early work to make Windows as open as possible for game development led to the industry we know and love today, later blunders like Games for Windows Live did more than a fair share of damage to its reputation in the space. And even now, many PC gamers haven't forgotten, nor forgiven. The modern Microsoft is proving itself to be a lot different, however, making over a hundred high-quality games available on Xbox Game Pass for PC at a relatively low cost, while also showcasing a commitment to bringing its flagship Xbox titles to Steam and beyond.
Xbox Game Studios lead Matt Booty recently shared a blog post on Xbox Wire, touting further Microsoft's commitment to gaming on Windows PCs, while teasing some improvements heading to the Windows content delivery system.
"Premier" PC games experience
In the post, Booty touted Microsoft's efforts to revitalize classics like Age of Empires and Flight Simulator, while delivering new titles like Wasteland 3, Minecraft Dungeons, Gears Tactics, Sea of Thieves, and others to PC. Microsoft also discussed the recent beta rollout of Xbox Game Pass for the web, bringing hundreds of console-quality games to low-power PCs that might not necessarily have the graphics clout to run a game natively. Microsoft was also careful to add that cloud streaming is by no means intended to replace native gaming, merely serving as an option.
Microsoft reiterated that Age of Empires IV is aiming to launch later this year, built from the ground up for PC, while reiterating that Halo Infinite will support multiplayer cross-play and cross-progression between Windows and Xbox consoles when it drops.
We've talked often about our "player-first" approach to gaming over the last few years. In the past, that may have meant different things to different people, especially for those who identified strongly with being a console gamer, a PC gamer, or a mobile gamer. If you were to walk the (virtual) halls at Xbox today, I think you'd find that to us, the idea of the "player" has come to mean someone who plays many kinds of games on many different devices. PC gaming is part of this; "player first" has to apply for PC, as well, and to that end we've been making investments across the PC gaming ecosystem to ensure that PC is a key part of how people can play games.
The company notes that Halo Infinite will be a "premier" PC experience, including out-of-the-box support for ultrawide and ultrawide displays, triple keybinds, and a "wide variety" of advanced graphic options. Given the work Microsoft did with Gears Tactics, I think it's safe to say Halo Infinite could be an impressive showcase for Microsoft's commitment to the platform.
Tech boost for Xbox Game Pass for PC and devs
Matt Booty also discussed its plans for Xbox Game Pass for PC in a bit more detail, touting the hundred-plus games Microsoft has added to their PC offering so far in 2021. Microsoft says that over fifty "leading device partners" including the likes of Acer, Razer, MSI, and ASUS will offer Xbox Game Pass for PC bundled in with select devices.
Microsoft also teased more "quality-of-life" improvements for PC gamers, touting "improved install reliability and faster download speeds." We believe that this is part of Microsoft's effort to revamp the clunky Microsoft Store delivery system, which was ultimately designed originally to deliver mobile apps on Windows Phone. We recently wrote about how Microsoft is planning to embrace Win32 on the Microsoft Store, dropping the requirement to use UWP containers. Microsoft will even allow developers to use their own content delivery networks (CDN) — the latter of which alleviates major headaches for certain developers. For example, Final Fantasy 14: Realm Reborn is notoriously unavailable on Xbox, and we believe the CDN restriction could be to blame. We believe that these improvements could be announced at Build 2021, alongside the big Sun Valley refresh for the Windows 10 OS.
Matt Booty also reiterated the recent announcements out of Game Stack Live 2021, which revealed the DX12 Agility SDK to help devs gain access to new DirectX features more easily, alongside DirectStorage, bringing Xbox Velocity Architecture APIs to PC games for faster loading speeds and decompression.
A bigger cut for game devs
One of the biggest areas of contention in the game industry right now revolves around how much developers get paid. Epic is doing battle with Apple in court over its hefty store restrictions and deep revenue share scheme, which sees 30% of all cash spent on the store going straight into Apple's pockets. Epic Games has bucked industry trends by offering developers an 88% share on its own Epic Games Store, and now, Microsoft is following suit.
Matt Booty says that from August 1st, the developer share for PC game sales net revenue will increase to 88%, up from 70%. This is a "clear, no-strings-attached" revenue share, without any hidden caveats.
This is a huge opportunity for game developers to gain access to a storefront that is pre-installed on over a billion devices, offering an industry-leading revenue share. It will put pressure on Steam to follow suit potentially and will continue to shine a spotlight on the likes of Apple, who gouge their developer community despite the incredibly high margins on the hardware they sell.
A committed PC gaming Microsoft
Microsoft has never before put so much money behind its gaming offering, and to see all of these moves signal a huge boost for the effort in this space. The lifted restrictions on content delivery via the Microsoft Store delivery system should lead to improved mod support for Xbox Game Pass titles too, and make it easier for developers to bring their games to the store, while also getting a bigger chunk of the profit pie.
Microsoft still has work to do in this space, but they're certainly on the right track.
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