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Xbox Game Pass for PC is not good enough

Xbox Game Pass PC
Xbox Game Pass PC (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Xbox Game Pass has become Microsoft's most important innovation in recent years, bringing a huge unique selling point to the Xbox platform, giving gamers one of the best-value services the industry has to offer. The full list of games in Xbox Game Pass continues to swell, with hotly anticipated titles like Halo Infinite and Starfield on the horizon as day-one inclusions.

A lot of the emphasis tends to fall on Xbox Game Pass for consoles, though. Xbox is right there in the name, after all. Xbox Game Pass also has a sister service, called Xbox Game Pass for PC. You can get Game Pass for PC with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, or as a separate service. Game Pass for PC also includes dozens upon dozens of high-quality games, including coveted PC titles like Football Manager, and soon Age of Empires IV.

Xbox Game Pass for PC should be a driver of growth in the service. PC has one of the largest audiences out there, full of value-conscious consumers looking for a good deal. The reality is, however, that Xbox Game Pass for PC is an utterly sub-par experience in many respects, to the point that no amount of great games could offset how frustrating it is to use as a platform.

If Microsoft wants to see increased adoption in its key growth areas, especially PC, the service needs a massive quality injection.

The Xbox app's quality is atrocious

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

The focal point of my issues with Xbox Game Pass for PC revolves around the Xbox app for Windows 10. It's a marked improvement over the UWP "Xbox Companion App" of yesteryear, but that bar couldn't possibly have been lower. Sadly, Microsoft's pace of updates and improvements to the Xbox app on Windows 10 has crawled to a snail's pace, and it's becoming unacceptable.

The first issue with the Xbox app on Windows 10 is just plain ol' speed. Microsoft: You're competing with Steam and Discord for a lot of the features you're offering here. Expecting users to accept the painfully slow, well, everything given that competition exists just a click or two away isn't smart business.

You'd think that fewer features would lead to a more streamlined, speedier app. Apparently, that's not the case.

Sending messages on Xbox Live through the Xbox app is a painfully slow experience. Right-clicking menus and general navigation is held up by the loading of assets from the web, which is just poor design. If I click on something, the action should be instantaneous, in all scenarios. The fact the Xbox app can't offer this, while Steam, and even the Epic Games Store, can, is a big problem.

The Xbox app is also missing tons of features that competing platforms offer. The ability to right-click on a game on your library to access more settings is something Microsoft's Windows platform has been training me to do for years. There's no such feature on offer here. I can't hide or sort games in my library. I can't do anything to configure the style or layout of the app. I can't create playlists. There are no mod libraries, no discussion boards, no community features beyond the incredibly useless "your friends play this" list. There's no way to see developer updates at a glance. There's no way to see patch notes easily. I could go on.

Seriously, what exactly is the intent here? You'd think that fewer features would lead to a more streamlined, speedier app. Apparently, that's not the case. I was forgiving of the Xbox app when it launched, but it has since shed the (beta) tag long ago. Time to get serious about this stuff, I'd say, Microsoft.

Windows 10's game delivery system just plain sucks

Windows 11 Storenew Dark Surfacebook

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

My most hated feature of the modern Windows platform by far is the app package delivery system, which has never really been fit for purpose. When Microsoft started releasing games in UWP containers back in the day, the system buckled. It hadn't been designed to deliver packages that ran in the tens of gigabytes, and a lot of those legacy problems persist even today.

Given that the Xbox app uses the Windows 8-based package delivery system, installing games can be a nightmare for reasons that are often indiscernible. One frequent issue I and others often run into is where the Microsoft Store just gets stuck, and refuses to download or update anything. Often this can be fixed by resetting the Microsoft Store cache, but it's 2021, I shouldn't have to do this when all I want to do is access a game — in an entirely separate app.

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The Microsoft Store is pivoting away from its container format with Windows 11, but it remains to be seen the extent to which that will impact games.

The container system was developed with security in mind, but it doesn't seem to be able to discriminate between what are hacks and what are mods. The Xbox app lets you "unlock" a game's files with a very patronizing warning if you want to mod games, but updates to the game or even Windows 10 itself can wipe any modifications made to game files, since Windows containers persistently verify the contents of an app package for "approved" files. Modding is a huge part of the PC space, not only for fun, but also to fix bugs. Those same mods could also solve another annoying issue with Xbox Game Pass ...

Xbox Game Pass PC game versions are often worse

The Ascent Review July 2021

Source: Windows Central | Neon Giant (Image credit: Source: Windows Central | Neon Giant)

Perhaps the most annoying thing of all with Xbox Game Pass is the fact you're often getting a sub-par experience when compared to Steam or Win32 versions on other storefronts. For whatever reason, whether it's issues with the container system, or issues with the Microsoft Store certification process in general, games on Xbox Game Pass often just fail to live up to the same quality standards as competing versions.

The Ascent for example supports NVIDIA DLSS on Steam, but not on the Microsoft Store. This is probably something to do with the game being ported from the Xbox version to Xbox Game Pass for PC, but that doesn't excuse the fact players on Xbox Game Pass for PC are ultimately getting a worse experience. I've also found bugs in various other games. Pillars of Eternity, for example, is completely broken on Xbox Game Pass for PC, with floating objects moving between screens. I've actually worked directly with Obsidian to get this fixed and troubleshot in the past, but the bug persists even to this day. The same bug does not exist on the Xbox or Steam versions of the game, which is intensely frustrating.

Microsoft is allowing developers to use their own content delivery networks for the Windows 11 store revamp, thankfully, and will ditch the container requirement for games and apps being listed on the store. But will those existing developers go in and update their games to the Win32 versions? I somehow doubt it. Even if they did, it would probably be at the loss of Xbox achievements in the process.

A long road ahead

Xbox App August 2021

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

Xbox Game Pass for PC just isn't good enough right now. From a broken app, to a broken content delivery system, to a broken modding platform, and broken game versions, every angle of Xbox Game Pass for PC just screams "just use Steam instead." The fact games like Sea of Thieves, Flight Simulator, and other Microsoft titles continue to trend on Steam despite being far more affordable with Xbox Game Pass could evidence this — people would rather pay for a more reliable, consistent experience.

Microsoft's ignorance of the PC gaming community feels apparent with the Xbox app on PC.

Microsoft's ignorance of the PC gaming community feels apparent with the Xbox app on PC. The lack of features, customizability, and configurability flies in the face of everything that PC gaming is about. In a world where Steam is driving incredible value with its massive sales, and gamers are faced with more competition for their free time than ever, offering a large library of games is nowhere near enough for Microsoft to penetrate this market. It's the experience that will drive adoption in Xbox Game Pass for PC, and right now, that experience just plain sucks.

Windows 11 offers a glimmer of hope that the situation will improve in the future, but there's no official roadmap on what (if anything) Microsoft plans to do to improve the Xbox Game Pass for PC service right now. Other gaming services just seem so much more serious about competing for my interest. I can jump into the Steam beta and get huge patch notes and information on what their plans are for future iterations of the app. Discord pops up with update information and sometimes even a video showcasing new features. It feels like the Xbox app's development has ground to a halt, without any meaningful new features in what feels like months at this point.

I'm optimistic that things will improve, and I have no doubt that the teams are hard at work synchronizing their vision for the Xbox app up with the big Windows 11 effort. Some transparency would be nice though, especially for those who are actively paying into the service.

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

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!

37 Comments
  • I feel like this may be fixed with Windows 11.
  • I hope so!
  • Their streaming quality and latency is also way behind GFN and Stadia.
  • Not really sure what that has to do with Game Pass for PC, but okay.
  • I agree with that. That I do not understand.
  • I use game pass for pc and don't see these problems, bit of a winger fest article. This is Windows Central not an Apple site, I'd expect this from Microsoft haters but not from this site. If I read this article as a newbie to game pass or thinking about subscribing to service this would make me hesitate.
  • Also try and fix your own app, never loads properly on pc
  • Agreed. Either just hangs on logo or opens to black screen with tabs then closes for me.
  • So it isn't okay for a Microsoft fan or user to complain about the faults of a service and demand better from the company? That makes little sense. As actual users of the service WE are the ones that can give this feedback, not the hater Fan Boys.
  • Complain is okay but the article wasn't a complaint. It was a down right ridicule of a platform. I'm not a fan boy, I complain about Microsoft alot.
  • Just because you don't see problems doesn't mean they don't exist.
  • lol ive never used an apple product willingly in my life. winger is you kiddo.
  • I wasn't saying you are an Apple user, I do know who you are. Try putting yourself in the shoes of a possible subscriber, how will it evolve if someone of your stature on Windows Central basically says it's crap? I use the service a lot, it's great.
  • I see endless reviews about how games don't work, can't seem to replicate it with any given game, but then the reviews are unverified.
    That said, the app is clunky like Epic in terms of navigation, performance and downloads. Steam is much cleaner on all counts.
    With Stadia a floundering failure and Epic not delivering a great experience beyond flinging freebies about, you'd expect Microsoft to give PC gaming the same love as Xbox.
    As it stands, I find it difficult to want to play the XGP version on PC because the Steam versions are mod friendly and workshop friendly.
    Must improve.
  • Yes, Steam is great but not perfect, clunky VR mode, native resolution problems on 49 inch ultra wide monitors, games are expensive due to no subscription. What do I do with old games I don't play anymore or games I don't like? I have about 50 of them. They just sit there and rot.
  • "...the service needs a massive quality injection" Just like Mixer did. We all know how that went.
  • The difference here is that Game Pass is the future of Xbox gaming and Microsoft wants it to work. Trouble is, Game Pass is being hindered by the mechanisms someone else in the company designed to distribute the games. Something that hopefully gets a proper fix in Windows 11.
  • I haven't had any issues with the service myself and the value is unrivalled... I have the ultimate subscription and find myself using Steam less and less... So many games to play, so little time...
  • It's definitely not that bad, most points are debatable, but for the case of The Ascent, that's 100% on the developer. It's still a great deal, and a good service. Every platform has its quirks. What matters is the games.
  • It's not all on the developer. Microsoft should be demanding and ensuring parity with Steam. If they're not bothered about making sure that happens what does it say about the service?
  • Nothing, it says nothing because a GamePass and Streaming Service is NOT a "Buy and keep forever" service. Play the games from the developers who embrace game pass. It's not up to Microsoft to ensure parity with a service that isn't on par to begin with. Microsoft has been releasing a new Xbox app almost 2-3 times a week, sometimes 2-3 times a day... It's come a long way pretty quickly and I don't see them slowing down or giving up and I believe through Windows 11 developers will have more ways to distribute games without the whacky packing they have no further allowing them to release more often and keep better parity. But... none of that means GamePass has to be steam to beat steam.
  • Who said it needs to be Steam? Offering worse versions of games won't make people want to keep using Game Pass. Not sure how any of that is apparently foreign to the people in this comments section. PC gamers are a fickle bunch. People who primarily use Game Pass on Xbox and dabble on PC won't care. But you aren't going to attract more PC gamers by cutting corners.
  • Searching for games is also a nightmare. Often the search doesn't work properly. We need to have a LOT more search filters than what we're given. I don't want to have to scroll through the entire list of games (which takes forever to load).
  • aye, that's another big annoying problem.
  • Really I just did a search and have no problems, maybe it just works better in Australia lol
  • It's also super difficult to re-install DLC on a Game Pass for PC game. It's easy to download the basic version, but if I've bought lots of different DLC, it doesn't automatically install, and I don't have a centralized place to select what I do want to install. I have to end up going to the Microsoft Store, search for the game, find the DLC content, and install from there. Super annoying.
  • I only occasionally use GP4PC on my Ultrabook, and as a basic user it is more than adequate but I think that could actually be part of the problem. They aren't really catering to heavy users.
  • For me the biggest quirk is.. how the heck do I find the games I already own. There's no bought section/library in the xbox app. I recently bought Halo MCC.. as I don't play enough games to invest in a monthly subscription and MCC was on sale. But, I couldn't find it anywhere after I had bought and closed the app. I had to look for the game again via search. It is just annoying.
  • Nvm. I was being a dummy. The collection tab was collapsed and didn't see it.
  • Steam and Epic are stores.
    XGP is suscription service.
    App Xbox needs settings and statictics, okay.
    Maybe Microsoft can includes tools for modding and for Pcs modes (more evolutive than consoles).
    Why not photo + bots + speed Cpu-Gpu performance, for Minecraft, Halo …
    Fovorise creations, and devs for new games on Windows.
  • Do you actually use game pass for PC? You have been able to right-click on installed games and games in your My Collection tab for a long time, at least a year I believe. I would post a screen shot if I can. On an installed games it gives options: Launch Game, View Details, Create Shortcut, Uninstall Game.
    Maybe you want more options there. I'll give you the speed of the overall app. It is slow. I don't use mods on most games, so I can't really comment on that. I did have Battletech broken on launch. The game would run but not save any progress. I did end up just buying it on steam because I really liked it.
  • While I agree with some of the points made here, I've never had any speed-related issues to date and I play on Game Pass for PC almost daily. Save for a pair of crashes several months back, everything is fairly speedy. Now, if I compare the experience to Steam am I getting the same thing? Nope. Am I expecting it? Not really. GP is still in its infancy and Steam has been an ugly (albeit quick) and complicated mess for years. Valve has had years to make Steam into what it is today AND it's a multipurpose storefront vs a simple launcher/installer for a handful of games. I'm not getting the comparison here. As for the rest, yeah, it sucks that some of the games themselves are a bit hobbled by being on GamePass, no doubt. Lastly, I had to close all-too-many pop-ups to even comment here. If you want to talk about a poor user experience, perhaps visit www.windowscentral.com. I love you guys and this is one of my favorite sites but this persistent junk that keeps taking over the bottom part of my browser is beyond annoying.
  • My biggest pain point is that Minecraft is not in the Xbox Game Pass app OR available via Xbox.com/play Yet it’s available in Xbox for game pass. What a ridiculous move.
  • OK, so the app sucks compared to the competition. Now add the fact the Game Pass for Xbox allows anyone to play the games on Game Pass, but on PC, only the person who purchased Game Pass Ultimate can install and play the games. This is horrible and very expensive to for playing PC games vs playing on an Xbox console.
  • Install GOG Galaxy, connect your xbox account, and boom a lot of the lacking features are filled. It's not perfect sure but a much more convenient way to use the GP library.
  • The xbox App is a react native app put into an UWP app. I dont think its an UWP issue (I already developed high performace 3D Software in UWP - Same FPS as Win32 or even better) I think the webapp layer of react native is the problem. But I could not find any reference about react native in your article just UWP. You should think about this problem.
  • I'm a PC using Game Pass Ultimate user....now, I could be wrong "I'm new to the subscription", but it seems like the Xbox Windows app doesn't list "Ultimate" games at all, ie, games you play on your pc using Microsoft servers, and I have no idea how to find them. This was perfectly shown when, on my phone, I found MLB The Show 21, and using my Ultimate account, I was playing the game on my phone using Microsofts servers. I've yet to find it again while on my PC. The only ones that come up tell me they're only for game pass for consoles, which I KNOW not to be the case as I've played it on my phone.....So I feel like I'm not getting the full compliment of games that I should. It seems like I could drop the Ultimate part of the subscription and I wouldn't see any change in the Xbox windows app. Even the fact a fairly competent PC user like me is turned around over something so basic speaks VOLUMES about it's issues. Imagine Netflix hid 1/3 of their movies outside the main app, and you could only find them by digging through menu after menu of Netflix's website. That's what this feels like.