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How the Windows Phone 8.1 Xbox Games App changes your gaming experience

In Windows Phone 8.1, the Xbox Games Hub is now a separate app that can be updated independently from the OS itself. It can’t be uninstalled, but the freedom to update separately should allow Microsoft to make changes to the app much more quickly than before. In fact, the app received an update earlier today.

Like many aspects of the Windows Phone 8.1 update, the Xbox Games app builds on the established pre-8.1 design and makes a few changes as well. Not all of these changes are for the better, and in some ways the app is a clear step back. Luckily there will surely be more updates to follow. Read on to learn about the major changes in the Windows Phone 8.1 Xbox Games app and the new way the OS lists the games you’ve installed.

The Games List

Traditionally, the Xbox Games hub has been the one and only place from which to browse, launch, and uninstall Windows Phone games. That has changed in Windows Phone 8.1, as games now appear in the phone’s Apps list as well as the Xbox Games app. The dual listing seems to be a result of Microsoft wanting to make games available even if the app should ever be uninstalled (which it can’t be) or become unusable as a result of a bad update.

Some users find it irritating that games now clog up their apps lists, particularly avid gamers with lots of installed games. I don’t blame them; unceremoniously dumping games in with the apps seems like an accident as opposed to a deliberate decision on Microsoft’s part.  Although app browsing is less pleasant in Windows Phone 8.1, you can still access the apps you want easily enough by jumping to specific letters in the list or using Windows Phone 8.1’s expanded search functions.

Windows Phone 8.1 uninstall game

The actual games list still exists in the Xbox Games app as the ‘Collection’ page. And you won’t find all of your apps mixed in with the games list, thank goodness. The list consists of two primary sections: ‘Xbox’ and ‘Other.’ Annoyingly, games can no longer be uninstalled from the 'Collection' page. You have to exit and do it from the Apps page.

At the bottom under ‘More,’ you’ll find a link to the Games store. The link jumps directly to the ‘Top Free’ section of the Games Store.

Inexplicably missing from the ‘Collection’ page is the ‘Recent’ category. Prior to Windows Phone 8.1, you’d find your three most recently played games there. It provided a convenient way to jump back and forth between your favorite games of the moment without having to pin their tiles to the Start screen. Taking away the Recent list is one of those “one step forward, two steps back things” that we’ve seen Microsoft do with things like Xbox Music (and even Windows 8, many would say) in the past. Let’s hope the feature returns soon.

Social Page

The Social page is the one part of the Xbox Games app that actually shows a clear improvement. You’ll still see your Xbox avatar goofing around, though I notice mine is badly in need of anti-aliasing.

To the left of the avatar are now four navigation tiles instead of two:

  • Achievements
  • Profile
  • Messages
  • Friends

The old equivalent of the Social page didn’t have a name. Its navigation icons led directly to Achievements and the avatar editor (which requires installation of the Xbox Live Extras app). From the Achievements page you could swipe over to the Profile page. To view your messages and friends, you had to swipe right from the “Profile” page and select the Friends tile.

Under the new app, users can swipe back and forth between the Achievements and Profile pages or the Messages and Friends pages. The sub-pages are still connected in the same way as before, but jumping directly to the page you want is much easier thanks to all four tiles being grouped together logically under Social.

The actual Profile page has one significant difference in Windows Phone 8.1: the option to set Beacons in Xbox 360 games is gone. Beacons are a seldom-used feature that allows players to announce their desire for multiplayer partners in an individual game. The concept of asking people to join you in a game is good, but the actual implementation proved mostly useless. I doubt anybody will miss Beacon support in the Xbox Games app, especially since Xbox One doesn’t support Beacons.

The avatar editor was located in two different places prior to Windows Phone 8.1: the “Social” page and the Profile page. With the new Xbox games app, you’ll only find the editor under ‘Profile.” A reasonable change, especially since most users probably don’t change their avatars all that frequently. The avatar editor is still a separate download, and it still doesn’t take advantage of the full Windows Phone screen for some reason.

Notifications and Spotlight

The ‘Notifications’ page and ‘Spotlight’ page remain unchanged in Windows Phone 8.1. Under ‘Notifications’ you’ll find a mixture of Xbox live messages and Windows Phone game invites, all represented as Live tiles. ‘Spotlight’ displays the latest Xbox Red Stripe Deal and other Xbox Windows Phone game advertisements.

Performance and other issues

We’ve already listed the loss of the ‘Recent’ games list and the inability to delete games from the 'Collections' page, but those are not the only problems with the Xbox Games app in Windows Phone 8.1.

The most obvious issue for Xbox One owners is the lack of support for Xbox One Achievements. You still can’t view Achievements earned in Xbox One games through the native Achievement viewer, which is just as ridiculous in Windows Phone 8.1 as it was before the update. The only way to view them on your phone is by using the Xbox One SmartGlass or TrueAchiever apps.

A problem with the Xbox Games app that affects everybody is its performance. Since Windows Phone 8.1 launched and even after the recent Xbox Games app update, the app has been extremely slow to load. Users face a several seconds-long delay every time they launch or resume the app during which time images will slowly load and the Search button can’t be used. I’m sure the loading will be fixed eventually, but it’s a nuisance right now.

Also gone from the Xbox Games app are the link to Xbox SmartGlass and the Games Settings. The former is no real loss. But I can’t find any way to access Games Settings now. Unless that page still exists somewhere, Windows Phone 8.1 users have no way to universally disable toast notifications from games.

Finally, the Xbox Games app does not have a Live tile at present. Prior to 8.1, the user's avatar would show up and perform cute animations on the hub's tile.

Other gaming improvements

Windows Phone 8.1 introduces some major improvements to the gaming experience, namely separate volume controls and the ability to install games and apps on SD cards. The independent volume controls allow gamers to turn down a game’s sound without affecting ringer volume. Every other mobile OS (including Windows Mobile) has long had that ability, so it’s fantastic that Windows Phone users now get the same benefit.

As for SD card support, the benefit is clear. Prior to Windows Phone 8.1, if your phone’s internal storage filled up you would have to delete games or apps in order to create room for new games. Doing so would permanently delete your save files in those games that didn’t support cloud saves. Now many of us can just invest in SD cards and store games there with no loss of save data. Not every Windows Phone device supports SD cards. But going forward, avid gamers can take SD support into account when choosing a phone to buy.

The Xbox Games app is not quite as good as the pre-8.1 Xbox Games hub. Nor does it make much sense to list games in with apps without a way to filter out those games. But the Xbox Games app is just that – a separate app. And that means Microsoft will surely continue to refine and improve it in the future. Although many of us are running the Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview, the general release of Windows Phone 8.1 is still a ways off. Hopefully the app will be up to previous standards by then, if not even better.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

192 Comments
  • Get those games off the app list & restore uninstall/pin to start controls to games hub. This is what the world wants.
  • Yes, I must uinstal lot of games that I play, but I do not wont games in app list.
  • I already did, uninstalled about 60 games. I believe this way developers are going to lose out, games atleast you still want to play once in a blue moon, you wouldn't bother to keep them and it will be like, out of sight out of mind thing :(
  • I haven't visited the Games Hub since games were moved to the app list. It's so much more easier to search for a game the same way you find an app, than it is to have a list of uncategorized games.
  • This was one of the features that made WP stand out from the rest. Having all the games tucked away in the Hub gave the app list a very clean look. Atleast give an option to disable this feature, so everyone is content.
  • Or atleast have an option to sort by category, apps and games, this way apps will be at the top and games all together at the bottom of the screen..
  • or rather yet another swipe to the right for the Games page - right? Right!
    Alright! Vote for that feature!
  • Absolutely! Swipe right from the app list to get to the games list.
  • I would be totally fine with that concept
  • Good idea.
  • No two swipes to get to games... Too much effort :)  I personally like the games being in apps but agree it feels less special than going to the XBOX LIVE GAMES hub.
  • Why swipe to the right 2 times ? we have still the left side right ? so why dont do a nouther system update and actually add the games hub to the right side ?
    like this :
    Games(alphabetic ordered) social( all the 4 menus) shop/store whatever It wouldnt be that hard ! and its the best improvement ms could ever do. vote for that ! and it would be just easy to swipe from your homescreen to the left ^^
  • I disagree. Sometimes I want to play a game but I'm not sure which one. I liked the hub because when I think "game" or "audio" I just go to the hub, then all my choices are there. I'd just like an option to include hub apps in the main list or not
  • Choice is always great, but my main concern is that I either have to fill my already stuffed Start screen with another icon just to play one of my few games. Or I have to find Games on the app list, and then find the game I want to play, which is a few steps more than needed.
  • WP is supossed to be a clean and organised OS. These new changes (alterations to photo hub, games in app list) are reminiscent of Android OS. If we wanted those we would have switched to Android.  
  • I agree, it's why I chose WP. What's next, putting music on the app list as well. (So that it's "easier to have everything in one place"?
  • I still wouldn't choose Android but I get your point.
  • Indeed!
  • Thats excatly what i said . it really feels like ms gave up hope into winphone , and adresses the new way into the android/ios styled direction. i mean yeah that seperation to the apps themselfs gives microsoft new abilities , but we never fucking needed those apps ! because they were useless . and now we get credit for not using them by getting the worst apps ever ???
  • Totally agree with you!!!
  • This. I don't game much but when I feel like the hub was the best place to choose.
  • How many games do you have installed? I'd guess not many. I have every Xbox game installed. It actually makes it harder for me to find a app with all my games.
  • how about having the games hub being organised in the same way as app list
     
  • I guess it wud require an OS update
  • Exactly!!!
  • Exactly. I ununstalled all those games I downloaded for my nieces because I didn't want them cluttering up my app list. Such a weird decision by MS.
  • Yes absolutely!!!! And make that stupid avatar to disappear out of my sight. At least let people have an option to hide it or something. Avatar thing is the worst wp experience i have..
  • I like the games on the app list. But it's simple to please everyone, just have a filter in the app list to include or exclude games.
  • This is what the world wants.
    Yes this is what the world wants, and world peace, and then shawarma. Ok maybe games off the app list, then shawarma, and then world peace.
  • HAHA I see what you did there LOL
  • They should at LEAST give us the option to!
  • It is overall slower and different. I like the old Game hub. Also please oh please Microsoft remove games from my app list. It the reason why I love the app list on WP as opposed to other OSs.
  • Agreed! I never thought of it before, but its definitely something that made WP feel so much cleaner. Now it feels like a cluster****.
  • Slower than turtle.
  • I miss all of the original hubs...
  • Me too. In going forward to appeal to new users and making it more like Android and IOS for familiarity (which is understandable) It's lost a bit of it's spark IMO, it's definitely better but now not so different.
  • +1
  • I really like the efficiency of having the hub tile represent several apps. Now I have to pin my 7-8 music and podcast apps separately which looks cluttered to me.
  • Me too.
  • The avatar was so much fun previously too. It wasn't seen as cut off when you scrolled to the side, and you could do things like holding down and sliding the hub screen left and right very quick to make your avatar fall, etc. :)
  • Exactly! One of the things that made WP different from boring androids and iPhones was the hubs. All my friends envied it and I have never ever heard anyone asking for Microsoft to remove them. If the point is to make WP the exact same thing as android and iPhone then they are doing a good job.
  • Yeah, no kidding. It seems like that's exactly what they're trying for...it's actually kind of pathetic. They're scrapping everything people loved about WP. They must be high on something...hopefully it wears off soon so we get a proper 8.1 update!
  • Me too. Pretty annoyed. These new apps blow!
  • I agree i really miss all the hubs and how beautiful they were with the large photo scrollable wallpaper particularly in the photos hub...as for the games hub it feels like its unfinished to say the least as for the games peppered throughout the apps list, that actually doesn't bother me. Probably because I don't have tons of games but they should have left the ability quarantine the games if the user desired.
  • I do too!
  • They should bring back all the original hubs plus improve it! Additional maybe a Social Hub! Or a messaging hub for all your sms, chat apps, etc. Or improve the current messaging app that integrates with Twitter DM, instagram Direct, Facebook chat, and etc etc etc. :))
  • I cant update it - it just says Item not available :(
  • Slow piece of crap, the hub was a million times better
  • The update coming on 22nd is for Xbox music or the OS general fixes of bugs again?
  • Only Xbox Music: http://www.wpcentral.com/xbox-music-windows-phone-81-receiving-first-update-next-week
  • XBOX live features are working for a lot of people outside the US. Basically means there's a games list and nothing else. No gamer score, no access to xbox friends.... Nothing....
  • That's happening in Argentina to me no social features! No avatar no anything beyond a list!
  • You mean Xbox LIVE social features aren't working, right? Because I can attest to this! :)
  • Yes not working!! I can't even see my avatar, that's happening also in my sister and brother phones!! ( before you ask Xbox live is available in Argentina)
  • The Xbox Live social features don't work for me in Australia either.  Interestingly though, when I change my region to the USA, the Xbox Live social features in the App work.  They just dont work when my region is set to Australia. Clearly the bug is region related.  Thankfully, those of us living outside the USA are clearly Microsoft's highest priority, so this bug will undoubtedly be fixed really soon.  NOT!
  • You're correct of course. It is region related I suspect as the original version of the app was listed as a test version in the Australian app store. Not sure why they would take out the integrated features for non US phones as this doesn't make any sense. I'm presuming that an updated app is inbound so I'm not overly concerned about this, however it does beg the question: Why remove the social features in the first place?
  • I doubt the removal is deliberate.  It is almost certainly an unintentional oversight.  So far, from comments here and at the MSDN forum, the problem exists in Australia, Austria and Argentina.  I am sure it exists in other countries too, but not all people complaining mention which country they are in.
    Given this list of countries, maybe there is a coding problem where countries beginning in A were left out of the Xbox Live integration features?
  • Oh, I know. I wasn't inferring that it was; it was (probably) an unintentional consequence of the developer preview. Still, a company the size of Microsoft? Seems like a really big oversight on their behalf. Again, I'm not overly perturbed by it like some are. I figure I'll just wait it out :)
  • Well at least Xbox Live works on some parts of my phone - I just unlocked an achievement in Asphalt 7 on my phone :-) That suggests that the bug is limited to the new Games Hub App, so hopefully it is easily fixed by Microsoft :-) What I miss the most about no xbox live integration in the Games App is watching my avatar bounce around the screen with his lightsaber - childish I know, but makes me smile every time I watch it!
  • I didn't think that it wouldn't to be honest. The Xbox integration in the old games hub was probably separate from the rest of the parts that tie into achievements and other social features. It's a consolation I suppose but I need to keep reminding myself that this is still a dev preview; although one can't help but wonder what the fuck goes on at Microsoft sometimes. Nah, not childish; that's what makes WP (imo) the better platform. I hope they bring back live tiles for Xbox Music, Games and Video. It'd even be nice if the new podcast app had a live too (I won't hold me breath!) :)
  • Here in Brazil, is fine.
  • I thought it might have had something to do with being outside the US. It's made the games app completely useless to me now and yet I can't even uninstall it.
  • Only games appear in Australia - No avatar, no friends, no achievements. Not happy Microsoft!
  • Changed for worse
  • Remove games from apps...... That's only update I want.....
  • Amen.
  • Is the option to disconnect from xbox games no longer there? It used to disable all the social aspects
  • Seems like it, I wanted to disable it as well but I cant find the option anywhere
  • I don't know why anybody would do that, but yes. The Games Settings are gone.
  • Does anybody know why I don't revive windows phone games notifications?! Like six-guns or other games that support Xbox live?
  • Isn't the achievements thing a widespread Microsoft problem? I haven't checked in a few weeks, but my games weren't showing up on their actual site either
  • If you mean Xbox One Achievements, then yeah. We can't view them through the Xbox 360 either. Super annoying.
  • Make it faster,now it takes around 7-10s to load completely
  • Get games off app list and implement Xbox One smart glass to the Games Hub
  • Why don't I have the social page, all I have is the collection list and the games are no longer separated either. Anyone else seen this?
  • Same for me, all I get is the games app list. No profile or social pages
  • Same here.
  • Same here.  Let me guess - all of you live outside the USA?
  • That's the gist I got from another comment. Kind of annoying.
  • Just give us folders or more control of organizing the apps on the startscreen and within the applist
  • For me, all of my game progress was lost. Just saw that on my Temple Run 2. Really pissed me off
  • God;what was wrong when the app was a part of os ????now I have too see lags, loading.... . The same about Xbox music and Its very frustrated
  • It may sound weird but I never had the' recent 'category in the prior Xbox games hub.
  • I understand this is a beta. Please fix this. Does anyone know if there is an easy way to submit suggestions or complaints? Is there an app for that? By the way, swipe keyboard is awesome.
  • The "beta" thing doesn't fly with me. This isn't some grand new app that they're taking a risk with, it's supposed to be what we already had only now as an app instead of native. It's not like Microsoft haven't been coding apps for years now, they should be able to get this right.
  • Thank you Paul for pointing out the xbox one achievements issue its crazy that the support isn't there
  • Really needs another update. Still slow and laggy.
  • The is no other way to describe it, the Xbox app is an unbelievable pile of SHIT. It lags on almost every single task, many games freeze and then go again, the sound and the screen suffer from random cuts, games mixed with apps, no recent played games, can't uninstall from within the app. It's not a step back, it's miles back from where it was before. Pain in the freaking ass.
  • They obviously copied some code directly from Lagdroid
  • Fan of Papa John's pizza I see... I love their The Greek One! What's your fav Paul?
  • Ha ha. I just get pepperoni and pineapple. :)
  • When will Nokia release cyan update? Which month?
  • Who cares about updating it separately when the tradeoff is horrific performance and a splash screen everytime you go into it. Unfortunately, apps will never be as smooth as native experiences and this move was nothing but boneheaded. We want our native experience back!!!
  • I don't game much, so I like the games listed in the apps list, I never liked using the hub. Though I do miss the live tile of the Games app with my avatar peeking in, etc. That is gone and makes the Games app rather dull looking.
  • MSFT always find a way to mess things up... Why can't they just leave it alone.. I don't want all my games on my app list.. Im not upgrading my phone to 8.1.. PLEASE!!!
  • I hope there will be an article on music hub in Windows Phone 8.1... So much different now. Work no more like before... No album artwork displayed on now playing. MPA Tool apps i don't think is applicable anymore... Hoping for some tips and how-to...
  • To fix lock screen now playing open the app force close then go to settings and turn off then on
  • My previously installed games dont show up in the games hub at all.. Is anyone else facing this?
  • Got fixed with the latest update :D
  • Game app load too slow
  • Mine just updated, and it does seem to startup a little faster and work a little smoother. In fact, launch and resume are now both quite fast for me after the first launch. I still miss my avatar on the now dead tile. No reason to have the hub pinned now. :(
  • +1 I also removed the "live" tile and I hope that in a future update It will start to liven up a bit thus reinstate It in Its glorious former "front seat" position....
  • I dont use app list or game hub my used apps and games are on start screen or I quick jump
  • Scrolling thru apps period is slow
  • I updated the Games app and now I can't view my games. I use the Nokia app folder instead.
  • The 2nd update fixed the bug. Whew!
  • The option to disable XBox integration is missing also.
  • Anyone here with silver memnbership able to sen msgs to xbox friends??I am able to send msgs without gold membership?
  • You have always been able to do everything but play games and use Netflix with silver on Xbox
  • Not true. He is correct that Silver members could not send messages. Maybe they got rid of that limitation when they changed the name to Free? Not sure...as I've been Gold since '08 so I didn't have to deal with it first hand.
  • Pls remove games from app list nd put it in games hub as it was earlier in wp 8