Steam could land on Xbox Series X as Phil Spencer opens the door to third-party stores

Xbox Series X console
(Image credit: Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Xbox has easily been the most talked about player in gaming this year. It’s almost like murmurings of Starfield going to PS5 grabbed everyone’s attention. 

The rumbling rumors that Microsoft was going to become an entirely third-party publisher were eventually tucked into bed and were briefly told “nighty-night” following the underwhelming announcement that merely four Xbox games would be going multi-platform. Wooh! 

During a recent interview with Polyon at GDC 2024 (Games Developers Conference), CEO of Microsoft Gaming Phil Spencer revealed plans about the possibility of other digital storefronts coming to Xbox consoles in an interesting chat.

The big takeaway? When Polygon asked him directly if he could envisage a future where the likes of PC gaming platforms such as the Epic Games Store may appear on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, he certainly seemed open to the notion. “Yes” was Phil’s simple, oh so direct answer.

The big takeaway? The Xbox boss could envisage a future where the likes of the Epic Games Store appear on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S"

“Nobody would blink twice if I said, ‘Hey, when you’re using a PC, you get to decide the type of experience you have [by picking where to buy games], Spencer continued. There’s real value in that.”

Although in the case of Epic's storefront, and for as much as I appreciate the impressive library of games it’s amassed and monthly free titles, hot damn does that Epic launcher crash on me way too often. Trying to get a game downloaded on it even with one of the best gaming PCs can often feel like a challenge akin to squaring off against a raging bull armed only with a small dessert spoon… while wearing an entirely red tracksuit.

But Phil certainly seems open to well, “opening” up the industry. “(Subsidizing hardware) becomes more challenging in today’s world,” revealed Spencer at the latest GDC. “And I will say, and this may seem too altruistic, I don’t know that it’s growing the industry. So I think, what are the barriers? What are the things that create friction in today’s world for creators and players? And how can we be part of opening up that model?”

A sea change 

sea of thieves

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Using Sea of Thieves as an example — the high seas sociable pirate sim being one of the foursome of titles jumping to rival consoles, as I previously mentioned — doubles down on the idea Spencer genuinely wants to break down as many barriers as possible to allow gamers to play together, regardless of platform.

“If I want to play on a gaming PC, then I feel like I’m more a continuous part of a gaming ecosystem as a whole,” said Spencer. “As opposed to [on console], my gaming is kind of sharded — to use a gaming term — based on these different closed ecosystems that I have to play across.”

It’s not exactly like the Xbox big cheese hasn’t actively tried to smash down the walls between Xbox and PC gaming for a long while. The best Xbox Series X games have been available to play through Xbox Game Pass via (the annoyingly unstable) Xbox App and through the Microsoft Store on Windows 11 on PC and the best gaming laptops for years now. And let me tell you, playing Halo Infinite in 4K at 120 fps is a Master Chief delight.

Could Steam come to Xbox?

With the PS5 and PS5 Slim currently smashing Xbox Series X in terms of units sold, turning the two Series systems into hybrid consoles/PCs that potentially have access to even the mighty Steam would feel like an absolute game-changer. Though seeing as there’s no currently easy way to get Xbox Game Pass titles working on the Steam Deck without jumping through painful hoops, it might take quite the sales pitch from Phil to get Gabe Newell to allow Valve’s iconic platform to arrive on Xbox consoles.

Editor's note: since this article was initially published, somewhat prominent X user Kariam Jovian has posted the following regarding a newly engaged partnership between Microsoft and Valve: 

Xbox clearly has to do something drastic in terms of turning the tide of its current console war with PlayStation. Perhaps leaning into Microsoft’s enduring software legacy and opening Xbox’s doors to other distribution platforms could give Phil and his team the momentum swing they appear to so desperately need.

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Dave Meikleham
UK Computing Editor

Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal. 

  • Sam Bridges
    This would actually be cool. If I could play my Steam library on XBOX would be dope. But I have the feeling it’s way more complicated than that. I mean, It would mean Death Stranding, Horizon etc on XBOX. LOL. 😂
    Reply
  • Zenith0616
    I feel this would only work via cloud gaming, since most games on there aren't necessarily Xbox-optimized. But I'm not familiar enough to be certain. Would be neat!

    Also, never once had Epic's launcher crash on my mid-tier and years old pc. Probably the nicest thing I could say about Epic.
    Reply