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Should Xbox move its PC Game Pass operation to Battle.net?

Pc Game Pass Battle Net
Pc Game Pass Battle Net (Image credit: Windows Central)

In February, recently acquired Microsoft subsidiary Bethesda announced it was shutting down its dedicated Bethesda launcher, moving the entirety of its PC gaming library to Steam and, much of it to the PC Game Pass "Xbox" app on Windows 10 and Windows 11. It makes a lot of sense for Microsoft's teams to consolidate their Windows platform offerings under the more popular store fronts, but if Microsoft acquires Activision Blizzard, they may have yet another consideration to make.

As of writing, the vast majority of Activision Blizzard's PC games are available exclusively via the Battle.net PC app. Battle.net was a pioneer in the space, established all the way back in 1996 to facilitate online matches in games like Warcraft and StarCraft. Since then, the app has grown into a platform for mega-hits like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, serving as an in-game chat system across multiple titles under a unified Blizzard ID.

If Microsoft manages to acquire Activision Blizzard, they will effectively have two, separate, and competing gaming social networks across Xbox Live and Battle.net, which as of writing, don't communicate on the same platform. Battle.net has much of the same features as Xbox Live, with instant messaging, community groups, and voice chat, integrated throughout WoW, Overwatch, and many more. The truth is that Battle.net often does this better than Xbox Live too, which uses the aging Skype protocol for a back end, which could present some awkward questions for Microsoft in the future.

Should Microsoft ditch Xbox on PC for Battle.net?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

A few years ago, Activision Blizzard almost killed the Battle.net brand, simply rebranding the launcher to the "Blizzard" app, or some such. The attempt was met with a furious backlash, which very quickly prompted them to cancel the branding change. Battle.net has decades of history behind it, much like Xbox Live, a brand that Microsoft also quietly wound down in favor of a more neutral "Xbox network" reference that literally nobody uses. The backlash against the Xbox Live branding going away was nowhere near as raucous as the attempt to ditch Battle.net, though, and I suspect if Microsoft attempted to close down Battle.net in the same way Bethesda shut down its launcher, the backlash would be similarly palpable.

The Microsoft of 2022 isn't tone-deaf enough to attempt to shut down Battle.net, I would like to think. Nobody shed a tear for the half-baked Bethesda launcher, which pales in comparison to Steam. Battle.net is a little bit more than a simple launcher though, it's tied to the Blizzard identity, which enjoys a Nintendo-like reverence in PC gaming canon. Or at least it did in the past. Many Blizzard fans current and former are hoping for Microsoft to eject Activision's money-obsessed executive layer and bring back a focus on quality at the legendary studio, although that remains firmly to be seen.

It's with this in mind that I ultimately pose the question: Should Microsoft ditch its Xbox branding on PC for Battle.net? Microsoft has struggled long and hard to reignite interest with PC gamers after its maligned Games for Windows Live DRM that I still see cited in discussions about Microsoft's PC commitment. Microsoft has built bridges, throwing full support towards Steam, alongside some truly great value with PC Game Pass, but it still has a very steep hill to climb.

Microsoft Gaming vs. Microsoft Windows

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One of the biggest hurdles Microsoft's gaming division has right now for its PC operation is identity. The Windows team ultimately has a vastly divergent vision of what Windows should be from a regular PC gamer — who values control, optimization, and customization above all else. Windows 11 is one of the most rigid versions of Windows in the operating system's history, and the PC Game Pass "Xbox" app is, by extension, has also suffered from this rigidity. I can't help but feel like the Xbox app is the biggest barrier to PC Game Pass' growth on Windows right now.

Only recently has the Xbox app gained the ability to open up PC games' files for modding tools, and it's still lacking many of those PC-oriented features that Steam enjoys. Irritatingly, the game versions on the Xbox app are often behind their Steam counterparts in features, thanks to Microsoft's UWP push that is now fading out, although this situation has gradually improved over time as well. The trade-off, generally, has been the value afforded by PC Game Pass. Microsoft seems content to sell retail versions of their PC games on Steam too. But games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Heroes of the Storm are conspicuously missing from Steam, and enjoy millions of users without having to give Valve that very expensive commission.

I can't help but feel like the Xbox app is the biggest barrier to PC Game Pass' growth on Windows right now.

Microsoft may well simply seek to include those games on Steam too, given their support for the platform, and the potential for new users that Steam charts and algorithms may bring. However, I feel like they would be missing an opportunity to build up their image as a PC-first gaming publisher if they ditched Battle.net entirely.

Battle.net is not quite up to par with Steam by any means, but as an app, Battle.net is better in practically every way than the Xbox PC gaming app on Windows 10 and Windows 11. It's faster for one thing, but also is more intuitive, with consistent menus and design, pervasive access to social features, easy access to game files, game news, and sales. Most of these features are up front and center on a single page, too, unlike the Xbox app, which is split into various sections and segments with contrasting designs, owing to the fact different parts are owned by different divisions within Microsoft. The messaging features are more rapid, require fewer clicks and menu hops, and crucially, don't take a thousand years to load. Xbox Live's messaging system feels like it's stuck in the '90s, which in an age of Telegrams, Discords, and Whatsapps, simply doesn't cut it. Battle.net's chat system also hooks directly into games too, which Xbox Live chat is simply woefully too slow to even be considered for.

Bringing Xbox to PC

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I could write a separate article on how Windows 11's design is pushing gamers away in general, but that's for another time. If Microsoft's gaming division can't cut through the bureaucracy that is the Windows Store and all of its horribleness, the gaming division should just ditch them entirely, and build a better system that is more forward-facing and consumer-oriented.

The current iteration of Battle.net for sure has its flaws too, but it's light-years ahead of what Microsoft has on PC for its gaming tools right now.

Ditch the sluggish back end for messaging and use whatever it is that Blizzard uses. Ditch the Windows Store systems and use Battle.net to build a new PC store. I wouldn't reject the idea of ditching the Xbox branding entirely on PC to fully embrace Battle.net instead. Build Battle.net up as the centralized bridge between the Xbox console and Microsoft PC gaming ecosystem on Windows, with a brand that actually has some form of clout in the space.

The Xbox app has very, very gradually improved in recent months, with a fresh new version as part of the Xbox Insider Program. I just wonder if the entanglement to Windows is holding back the program in its entirety. The Windows Store is truly unfit for purpose when it comes to delivering video games, and all of its haughty rigidity is antithetical to what PC gaming is, and always has been.

The current iteration of Battle.net for sure has its flaws too, but it's light-years ahead of what Microsoft has on PC for its gaming tools right now, and if you are dropping almost $70 billion dollars, you might as well use all of the tools available to you. In the future, Battle.net could be a better vehicle for PC Game Pass, Halo, Gears of War, Forza, and Windows PC gaming in general, in a world that still hasn't forgotten Games for Windows Live, and still hates the Windows Store.

Jez Corden is a Senior 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!

32 Comments
  • No. They just need to migrate Battle.net to Xbox app. First enable all Battle.net games to be downloaded in Xbox app, then later, just shutdown battle.net, after everything has been successfully migrate. Makes no sense move from Xbox brand to Battle.net when the majority of the titles are available in Xbox not Battle.net.
  • you didn't read the article i see lol. battle.net has a history on PC, Xbox does not.
  • Microsoft has a history of being on pc.
  • Battle. net was a multiplayer lobby, functionality no different than say what Microsoft had for age of empires around the same time. The blizzard launcher has nothing to do with the original battle. Net other than the name You should probably also mention that the games available on said launcher is pretty much limited to five blizzard games and call of duty.
  • Hell no!!! That's a lousy idea.
  • why tho? any thoughts?
  • Because Battle.net doesn't add anything to th Xbox gaming experience. As a person who has used the Xbox app almost daily for the last 3 years, it's not perfect but it's good. Battle really doesn't solve any of its inherently solve any of its problems. But the Xbox app got me to turn off Steam loading on start up for the first time in over a decade. It's good enough.
  • To me, in my mind I will always associate Battle.net with the trash that was StarCraft 1 MP. I know it was probably my dial up connection most of the time, but I felt lucky to get though a game most of the time. Then again, I never had a problem with C&C with the same connection, so yeah, trash.
  • Looks like EA is giving ideas for articles. This doesn't make an inch of a sense. lol
  • So far, nobody in the comments thinks it’s a good idea. I don’t either 😂
  • Why not tho? battle.net is undeniably faster, more intuitive, etc.
  • You have ignored everything Microsoft is doing for gaming in Azure. They will add PC gaming to that over time. This means they are creating APIs and likely a new faster Xbox App and Game Pass App. In the short term they should keep making easy to make improvements to the Xbox App and rebrand Battle.net to Xbox Battle.net in the meantime. Of course they have a whole year to make a brand new Xbox App before they acquire Blizzard. So, they could be ready to go with a new Xbox App by then.
  • Battlenet is not faster.. not even close. I have a Gigabit connection and Xbox live/Windows Store/Xbox app generally downloads at 850Mbps... That's impressive. For comparison PSN is usually maxing out at about 100Mbps. Steam 500Mbps, Origin 300 Mbps, Uplay 300Mbps, Epic 100 to 200Mbps, Battlenet 200Mbps. Battlenet also doesn't have all the social features of the Xbox app. The Xbox app has some of the consoles social network style stuff. Party chat, clan support, messaging, LFG, friends list etc. Battlenet has next to nothing. I don't see how battlenet is more intuitive. I mean it has no features in comparison but that doesn't mean more intuitive. It takes maybe 2 min to learn all the functions of the Xbox app. The Xbox Windows app is also tied to the phone app so you can remotely install games. It's also SIGNIFICANTLY faster to download from the Xbox app. I get about 850Mbps. Battlenet gives me around 200Mbps. Obviously ms could increase bandwidth for BN.... but why? They would have to remake all the features and the Xbox app is tied into the gaming settings for windows. Adding everything to battlenet would just make it a copy of the Xbox app.
  • Windows Game Pass.
    I'am for games on Pc without mention of Xbox or Live.
    You bought Battle.net with Activision-Blizzard, integration on Game Pass.
    Use name of Battle.net only for devs in studios.
    Xbox Live have Skype architecture (congratulations for this info, Jez), becomes Teams.
    The important is sharefiles and research of session.
    You build Windows Store with Xbox Game Pass, Pc Game Pass, apps, services ...
  • Absolutely not, yo! (Sorry, I needed 3 words)
  • Yes. XBOX app SUCKS. Take Battle.net, paint it green/black, rename to something like XBOX Battle.net or Battle.net Gamepass. Make 4 tabs: Activision/Blizzard, Bethesda, XBOX Studios, ID@XBOX. Keep the social part of the app the same and add a way to edit profile and check achievements. Oh and add an easy and direct way to share screens and videos. I mean come on dude you are Microsoft. Make our cloud uploads fast and let us do crap. PS. You guys keep saying no. But, can't you at least say why? Because right now you are looking like the stereotypical pc gamer that just says no because he doesnt want anything to change
  • I mean you haven't given a reason for your yes answer either. Like all you said is "do it, but then also add all the stuff the Xbox app does". Haha. Yeah rather bring Battlenet over to Xbox where it can enjoy the extra and better features. Battlenet is very barebones.
  • How does it suck? It has a ton of great features and it's tied into Windows itself. It also downloads significantly faster. The Xbox app is fantastic. Take 2 min to learn what it does. Battlenet is just a store with like 5 games and lower quality voice chat than the Xbox app
  • Yes and no.
    Xbox Launcher is not the best launcher and battle net is not the best launcher.
    I think they should use the best from both and make a good Xbox Launcher. Can also add that this is one small problem they may have but what they really need to focus on is a Xbox/discord app.
    They have everything discord offers but in 100 programs and with bad performance...
    We need and deserve a good Xbox community program/experience.
  • Tbh this. I wish ms would have bought discord and integrated it into their services. I think discord does a great job at being that go between games and people. I honestly wouldn't be apposed to ms giving up xbox parties for native integration with discord and I don't even use discord to PC game I'm just talking from a console perspective. Xbox parties have too many limitations. Yes they are great for getting your friends together but they haven't changed much. You still have the party cap of how many people you can have. While in most instances that's OK but when you're talking about games that require huge parties it's not. They also have random bugs where they just break for no reason or randomly stop recognizing your mic and such. Discord does have issues too but I think if you combined the two and got the best product out of both it would be awesome. Same goes for battle.net and xb merge them and take the best features of both.
  • They don't need discord. The Xbox app already does everything that discord does plus tons more. The Xbox app is like a social network for gaming and people need to give it a real chance. It's also tied into both Windows gaming functions and the Xbox phone app that lets you do tons of stuff tooz including remote installation of games.
  • They need to keep Battle.net for now, but change the name to Xbox Battle.net. They then need to improve/replace the Xbox app and make it close to what Battle.net is. Then Change over games to work with Xbox. Basically, they need to slowly build it all up and get the games to work on just one plateform over time. With billions at stake, you don't just throw one away. Look at how Microsoft slowly converted Minecraft over to Microsoft accounts.
  • Not just no, but a full blown "OH HELL NO!" Microsoft should dismantle Battle.net and let it die like it should have decades ago.
  • I believe they can separate activision from battle.net
    All activision games only available on steam and xbox app
    And all blizzard games will only be available on battle.net
  • Bethesda said last month they are moving their gams to steam and shutting down their launcher.
    Bethesda/Activision will follow once MS buys them completly
  • I have never used Battle.net so I can't really comment on it, but if it's as good and popular as you say, I think they should keep it going. They have the resources to run both platforms, despite the overlap, which they do in other areas already (see Skype, Teams, GroupMe as an example). Personally, I dislike how they shut down Bethesda.net and release their games on Steam. The Steam monopoly needs to end, and merging together Xbox, Bethesda, and Activision could be a strong competitor. I'd rather see that then see them shut it down and just support the Steam monopoly instead.
  • Best experience is when things sync together very well. Like an iPhone with Mac or their Watch. If they ditch the Xbox app, they will also ditch the parity between Xbox and PC. I'm an Xbox gamer primarily but have many friends on PC. Even though Xbox Party chat has many issues that's our go to way of communication. With so many cross-platform games now, this could even be expanded to PS and Switch. Things like Play Anywhere and Cross Progression all will be lost by moving to Battle.net. I love being able to continue a game right from where I left it on my Xbox. What they should do use the Battle.net expertise to improve the backend for the Xbox Chat. Cause not only will that improve it for PC but also for Xbox. We might finally get a sensitivity slider for mic or Noise Cancellation features like Discord. They should also bring the features like Xbox Clubs to PC, that would boost their usage. Build a more robust Capture and Sharing system across Both platforms.
  • This on this. I just got an XSX and it was so nice to have all the save games from the Xbox pc app carry over. It's also made it much easier on pc to crossplay with my Xbox friends than it was with my PlayStation friends.
  • Almost parity with Xbox in terms of social features. It would also lose the integration with Windows as a trusted system app and it would lose the ability to connect with the phone app which does a ton of stuff including remote installs
  • I feel like this is a solution in search of a problem. But yeah, no, this is dumb to me. I like my Microsoft Account, I don't need yet ANOTHER account service to tie it up with. I don't really even care for the Battle. net interface. As far as "Slow", there isn't a single game from the game pass app that I need to open the app to play, so long as it's installed on the computer.
  • I kind of think Microsoft is best when it's not trying to be all things to everyone. It comes to with a good idea, continuing working on THAT good idea, and not grows. When it tries to react to everything, it sees failure.
    Again, the game pass is fine. It's not steam, it's not epic, it's battle. net. It doesn't need to be. Xbox has a history that runs as deep as Battle. net, it should rely on that. What I actually wish MS would do is to break to some of the things I loved. Like play anywhere. That was an awesome initiative, and one that should come back. I play Xbox and PC, I've gotten into streaming. If Xbox wants to entire players who normally rely on steam. Play Anywhere AND Game pass is the one two punch to do it
  • No, I don't see any reason to. It would be a huge investment and also completely unnecessary. The Xbox app works just fine for getting games and it has most of the consoles social networking, chat, messages and party stuff.