Whether you’ve been playing games on PC for a year or a decade, you probably know where Microsoft stands as of now. No matter what it tries, whether it be Games for Windows Live or the Microsoft Store, it always comes with caveats. Once the Xbox came to town, Microsoft was laser-focused on console gaming, even in spite of the massive synergy the company could theoretically create between its divisions. At best, its output was innovative and infrequent. At worst, it doomed multiple PC versions of third-party titles to DRM hell. Every time it comes around with a new vow to take PC gaming seriously, many in the community refused to listen. Game Pass could change all that.
With a shift in business model and a more friendly app store interface, this could finally be the Microsoft offering to win people back. After all, Game Pass on Xbox is a hit, letting Xbox save face in an otherwise disastrous generation. However, as Microsoft hopefully has learned by now, PC and console are highly different markets. To conquer computers and compete with Steam and Epic, you need to bring your A game. If Microsoft really wants to succeed, there’s only one road forward.
Fulfill the Xbox Play Anywhere promise
Here’s an easy win. When Xbox Play Anywhere was announced several years ago, it seemed like an amazing prospect. Buying an Xbox version of a supported title gave you access on your computer and your console. Saves shift between the two versions, allowing for a seamless transition from room to room whenever it’s needed. In an age where cross-platform multiplayer is just now starting to gain traction in titles like Dauntless and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the ability to buy a game just once for all your devices is the ideal.
While Play Anywhere works wonders for the titles that support it, that list is far from impressive. You’ve got most of Microsoft’s first-party titles, but not early releases like Halo 5 or Sunset Overdrive. For third-party support, you have some bigger titles, including Sniper Elite V2 Remastered, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Resident Evil 7, and We Happy Few. Beyond that, there are a handful of indie stalwarts (Gungeon, Guacamelee, Snake Pass) and some games you’ve probably never heard of. In all, 66 releases support Play Anywhere, a paltry fraction of the Xbox One library.
To be fair, part of this is due to the Microsoft Store’s insistence on games utilizing UWP apps rather than standard Windows programs. Microsoft recently announced that Win32 games (basically anything you’ve ever played on Steam) can now join in on the fun. What’s the best way to showcase your newly opened up marketplace and boost your new PC service? A huge boost to the Xbox Play Anywhere catalog and an expanded library for PC and console players alike. A Game Pass game that doesn’t support Play Anywhere should be the exception, not the rule.
Game Pass is a single cross-platform subscription
One confusing thing about Microsoft’s announcement is that pricing and other details of that nature are still unknown. That leaves open the possibility that Microsoft’s PC subscription will be separated from the Xbox’s offering, which would be a huge mistake. There’s a real appeal in added value for a subscription you already have. You wake up one morning, a switch is flipped, and you suddenly have something you didn’t have before. One of the reasons that Amazon is so good at keeping its customers in the Prime ecosystem is that the company is always finding new trinkets and baubles to throw at them. The deal is getting better all the time.
Charging players twice for two versions of the same subscription is not only bad for the consumer but it also seemingly goes against the entire Xbox strategy. The aforementioned Play Anywhere initiative,a service that erases the barriers between Xbox and PC, is one of Microsoft’s biggest. We’ve also seen Microsoft introduce “Game Pass Ultimate,” a service that combines Xbox Live Gold with Game Pass into one easy to purchase subscription. Its entire goal seems to be to simplify its offerings to attract a wider group of players. This simply doesn’t gel with dividing PC and console players into separate experiences.
It’s all about the games
As we’ve seen with Play Anywhere, a service is only truly as great as the games backing it up. Microsoft already has some big names lined up for PC titles. Devolver and Bethesda bring games that you’d expect to see on this kind of service. Sega and Paradox will bring more PC-centric titles that Game Pass subscribers haven’t seen before. It’s a great mix on paper, and we can only hope that it delivers when more is revealed.
Basically, Microsoft just needs to keep up the heat with their service. On Xbox, the company has impressed by picking out promising new releases and delivering them to its subscriber base on day one. Games like Mutant Year Zero, WarGroove, and Void Bastards are prime examples of great surprises that Game Pass holders could try on day one. This has to be mixed in with recognizable names to initially draw people in. People will come for Just Cause and Wolfenstein. They’ll stay for the games they didn’t even know they wanted to play.
It almost seems foolhardy to be hopeful for a Microsoft PC gaming initiative in 2019, but it’s still easy to be pretty psyched. After all, in the wooly new world of game streaming and Project XCloud, the platform barriers are being torn down around us. There won’t be PC Microsoft and console Microsoft. It will be one joint Xbox providing their service to one player base. Game Pass on PC is another step towards that end goal. Hopefully Phil Spencer and the team have considered their options. They could really offer something strong late in the generation and have a good leg to stand on when next-gen conversations start up soon. Or Microsoft could offer another Games for Windows Live. The ball is in their court.