Ever since it launched Windows 10, Microsoft has been working to integrate Xbox One and PC gaming. Multiple games are now available as cross-buy titles, meaning you buy the game once, you can play it on either an Xbox One or a PC. Xbox Owners can stream games locally from their console to a PC elsewhere in the house for portable gameplay. Xbox controllers are fully supported on PC hardware, and Microsoft has already talked about building future games that are cross-play, meaning Xbox One owners and PC gamers can play on the same network.
Now, Microsoft is considering plans that would blur the gap between Xbox One and PC gaming even more, by allowing PC gamers to stream Xbox titles, even if they didn’t actually own an Xbox, The Verge reports. There’s also talk of allowing PCs to stream titles to the Xbox One, which would be an interesting way to shift back and forth between living room and desktop gaming.
There are substantial potential benefits to this kind of flexibility. Microsoft could take a page from SteamOS’ Big Picture mode and offer users the option to boot straight into the Xbox One’s UI, even when the PC in question is running Windows 10. Allowing PCs to run or stream Xbox One titles as a default option would open up back catalogs of console exclusives, possibly including hits from the Xbox 360. In-home streaming between the Xbox One and a high-end PC would give living room gamers the option to run games at their highest resolutions and detail levels without moving a tower into the living room.
These options would greatly increase the flexibility of the Xbox One and create an ecosystem flexibility that Sony would be hard-pressed to match. There are still certain issues with cross-play between Xbox and PC gamers related to fundamental differences in controllers vs. mouse+keyboard gamers, but there are plenty of titles where this simply wouldn’t be an issue. For that matter, there’s also no reason Microsoft couldn’t beef up mouse+keyboard support on the Xbox One, for gamers that want to stream titles to a big screen but still play them from PC peripherals.
With all that said, there are some issues Microsoft needs to address if it wants PC gamers to embrace Xbox titles or integration. To date, the Windows Store has done a generally awful job of meeting the needs of PC gamers. Multi-GPU support has been absent, titles have run terribly, modding doesn’t work, API support is limited to DX12, and games bought via the Windows Store don’t work on other platforms. A game you buy on Steam can be played on any operating system it supports. AAA Windows Store games, in contrast, are Windows 10-only. Microsoft has addressed some of these issues already and it promised to fix a few more when the Anniversary Update drops next month. Some of the others, like the DX12 API limitation and the Windows 10 requirement probably won’t get fixed.
If Microsoft wants PC gamers to take a shine to Xbox One games, it needs to offer PC gamers some of the features and capabilities they’re accustomed to having. People don’t buy into PC games because they somehow missed the giant Xbox One or PS4 signs at the local Best Buy, but because they value certain specific qualities that PCs offer. Some people prefer a mouse and keyboard over controllers, some want the option to run at higher frame rates and control detail levels, some want the ability to mod the game, easily install (and benefit) from an SSD, or use multiple GPUs — and those are just off the top of my head.
As a lifelong PC gamer, I don’t expect to swap my gaming hardware out for an Xbox One controller any time soon. That doesn’t mean I’m not curious about whatever convergence Microsoft envisions for the Xbox One and PC. I can even see some ways that both platforms might benefit from the experience. But the biggest problem with the Windows Store as far as gaming is concerned is that Microsoft clearly hasn’t focused on what PC gamers expect or want with any of its high-profile launches.
Microsoft has never been good at listening to what PC gamers actually want from gaming. It builds the APIs that game developers use the most and the OS the vast majority of PC gamers use, but it’s never been particularly concerned with what PC gamers want. If Redmond wants to change that, it needs to stop treating PC gamers like charity cases who’ve been begging for Xbox Live, and more like an established community with its own priorities, goals, and interests.