I click on my ^ button, the one nestled by the date time, in the lower left-hand corner of my screen. A wave of nausea comes over me. Look at them, all those stupid little distribution applets crowded together. Like little leeches whose sole purpose is to await the opening of my wallet. Every publisher has one now (the latest criminal? Bethesda’s horrible client). Most of these distribution apps are pathetic sniveling attempts to impersonate Steam. Why bother?
The answer is tied to diverting some of Valve’s profits back into their own pockets. Every game publisher now has invested in a distribution system to compete with Steam, how well that’s working out for them is unclear. Some like Uplay, integrate and play nice with Steam; as if to not piss off the Gabe giant. Others, like Electronic Arts’ Origin system, is more about controlling high price points on their popular titles well beyond the release dates; than bringing anything new to the table. Then off to the left, there’s the innocuous Windows 10 Store, just smug and content out of reach of all other applets interred in the pit to the right.
Is the Windows 10 Store and it’s games any better than Steam and its competitors? No, not by a long shot. However, peruse the games for sale and you can’t help notice the piles of negative reviews on triple A titles, especially Microsoft’s exclusive titles. These negative reviews seem to have one common theme “UWP (Universal Windows Platform) sux!!!1”. Does it? Or is this another example of abusing game review systems to get a singular point across?
There are some bad things about Windows 10 Store games that cannot be ignored. UWP purchased and apps are saved in a protected and encrypted area on your PC. One big DRM vault on your hard drive that is difficult to mess with. This prevents UWP from being copied and pirated, but it also prevents modding. In addition, there are numerous quirks with installing and updating games tied to it. The Windows 10 Store is also prone to numerous failures, which can take hours to troubleshoot. Simple updates to popular games can take anywhere from 24-48 hours to distribute properly to clients. Just get hit with your first Store cache mix-up, and you will understand.
However is it really that bad? Well no, it’s not that bad either. Since its release, there have been a number of updates to the OS that have brought fixes and improvements to the Store. Some of those aches (but not all) have been alleviated, including the handy command line function WSReset.exe. Once installed, all of the games play smooth as silk. No crashes and good performance with every single game in the store. Again, it’s baffling to read hundreds of reviews claiming that this or that game “refuses to run” and “crashes to the point it’s unplayable” with a final “Windows 10 store games are just awful”. With such differential experiences, I decided to dig a little deeper into those claims.
Not only do we publish numerous reviews for games, here at GWTW we spend a great deal of time reading them. Several Steam games will also receive a heap of angry attention; with one of the bigger antagonizing issues being a title that is using Denuvo DRM encryption. Steam games themselves have a DRM that verify ownership of that title (but no one ever complains about Steam’s DRM). The list of angry gamers claiming Denuvo causes crashes or makes the game unplayable is rather long. How valid are those claims? Our GWTW utilizes approximately fourteen gaming PCs and laptops, with a game library on Steam in the thousands. Every Steam game we own works and plays without issue – Denuvo DRM or not. Those that do crash are patched up within days in most cases. The same can be said for the Windows UWP games. They just work. Thus the claims of horrible game performance and crashes seems dubious.
Microsoft seems most afraid of game piracy on their own OS than any other publisher. However, their thoughts on the matter have changed with UWP, because since Windows 10’s release they have been intent on sharing first-party exclusive games previously limited to the Xbox console with PC gamers. Even their highly touted IPs such as Halo and Forza are sold in the Windows 10 Store, and as a bonus they are Play Anywhere titles (meaning you buy the game once and play it on either Xbox or PC). Those gamers out there (like me) that have consoles and computers and a tribe of kids that play on both do appreciate the licensing flexibility.
For casual gaming, full Xbox Live integration is an intuitive service, and it has blended its way into Windows 10 Store games. Achievements are linked across platforms. Xbox Live communication also works seamlessly between PC and console players. As well as, for Play Anywhere titles, game saves are on Microsoft’s cloud servers, and transfer with ease between platforms.
As I look at Windows Store games as a whole it’s hard to blame Microsoft for everything its own game reviewers rage against. For example, not every game on Steam supports modding. Popular games on other platforms like Overwatch, do not support modding in any way. It is a downside that no game on UWP can be modded, but that would be something Microsoft should consider forcing it’s first party developers to work on – a folder or section for custom maps or XML editing. It’s also hard to blame them for trying to control piracy. CD Project RED is a development company that had its own battles against piracy. While at first they were for strict DRM, they dropped that approach and GoG distribution is an open system. Their strategy changed to a “carrot, not stick” idea (Source: PC Gamer), while their Witcher series was highly successful at over 20 million total unit sales, CD Projekt Red still estimates 2-3 times as many copies were pirated. Microsoft’s UWP is a strict system, but if it helps move over some of their more desirable titles away from exclusive-to-consoles and into PC gamers’ hands, I’m all for it.
Windows 10 Store games will never overtake Steam’s grip on the PC gaming market. It doesn’t have to. There are several things Microsoft could do however to vamp up its platform, making it more appealing and integral to every gamer’s arsenal. Microsoft is big enough and competitive enough to force all of its third-party partners to offer Play Anywhere Windows 10 versions of any game sold on Xbox One consoles (Madden on PC anyone?). While titles like Halo Wars 2, Gears of War, and Forza are DirectX 12 exclusive, no one has really pushed the API anywhere close to its documented potential. Isn’t this something Microsoft Game Studios should be pioneering? There are still millions of PC gamers that are not on board with Windows 10, DirectX 12, and its benefits – and developers know that building a DX12 from the ground up is just not in their best interest at this point. So why not flagship that project? Why not design a game for Windows 10 PCs in mind, then port down to Xbox One X consoles? With so many gamer enthusiasts looking to push VR and 4k gaming, it would appear to be a prime time to drop a title or two with dazzling visuals and capitalize.
Microsoft could also make a push to put all their older classics onto the Windows 10 Store as well. Would their backward compatibility work translate from Xbox One to PC? There doesn’t seem to be a reason to believe it wouldn’t. This would bring in nostalgic love from gamers, and maybe new fans who never played some of the previous 360 exclusives. There is also the bigger equalizer for gamers: budget. While Windows 10 Store is not as stingy as Origin has been, it is also not the rampant discount spree that Steam has proven to be.
Final Verdict: Is the Windows 10 Store bad? The Store itself needs work, the games it houses are not much of an issue. There is much room for improvement, and if Steam integration could happen on any level it would be a monumental bridge between claiming you support PC gaming and actually supporting PC gaming. Microsoft Game division executives need to jump out of their suites in Seattle and spend some time with real gamers. There are plenty of things they are doing that suggest “they get it” (Play Anywhere) and so many things that still suggest they are clueless (like, how come the Windows 10 Minecraft version is still the garbage mobile device equivalent?). It is clear, that it is not the horrible cesspool described by some of its own reviewers. If it were ever to become an integral part of every gamer’s library depends on Microsoft’s eagerness to appease the ever expanding PC gaming market. Also, how flexible Microsoft will be with the columns that already support that complex PC marketplace.