"The best Windows ever for gaming." That's a catchphrase Microsoft has been touting for Windows 10 ever since the company announced its shiny new operating system. But the slogan is not entirely true, at least not when it comes to first-party titles.
While Microsoft is finally bringing some of its biggest Xbox franchises to PC, those titles have been largely crippled by performance issues and buried in a messy marketplace that lacks the curation and convenience gamers have come to expect. However, with a few tweaks, Microsoft can not only make Windows 10 a great place to play games, but could also bring Windows and Xbox together in a way that would make Microsoft's console stand out from the competition.
Cool Features, Bad Performance
Don't get me wrong, Windows 10 does already offer some neat features for gamers via its Xbox app. Being able to stream Xbox One games to your PC is a godsend when someone's hogging the TV, and it's nice being able to record game play with a few clicks or to keep tabs on your Xbox friends right from your desktop. As with any version of Windows, this one lets you play games from popular services such as Steam, GoG and Origin.
But when it comes to actually buying and playing Microsoft-published titles, Windows 10 starts to fall apart a bit. Two of the company's biggest releases — Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Quantum Break— launched with significant performance issues on PC.
As demonstrated in the above video, Gears Ultimate can become a stuttering mess on even the highest-end graphics cards, particularly for those using AMD-powered machines. Twitter user Joseph Bradford is one of the many folks who had major Quantum Break issues, including sub-30 frame-per-second frame rates on a powerful GTX 980 graphics card. What's even more embarrassing is that there's no option to exit the game from the main menu.
The respective developers of Gears of War and Quantum Break are working to fix these issues, but it's not a great start to what should be a boon of great first-party games on Windows.
Windows Store: Gamers deserve better
Microsoft's PC games aren't the only ones to suffer from launch issues (remember Arkham Knight?), but they do have the unique disadvantage of being stuck in the crappy Windows Store.
When you fire up a service like Steam, you're typically treated to carefully curated bunches of games based on genres and themes. Hit the games tab in the Windows Store, however, and you'll see high-quality hits like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Minecraft trapped between free-to-play junk like Candy Crush and Sonic Dash. It's like the Apple App Store had a terrifying baby with GameStop.
As pointed out by PCWorld, Windows Store games are Universal Windows Apps, which means they can't be used with third-party programs (such as popular frame-rate counter Fraps) or be added to your Steam library. In a perfect world, you'd be able to buy Microsoft games from your digital marketplace of choice. But since Microsoft seems too stubborn for that, the company could at least create an ecosystem that isn't embarrassingly painful to use. Which brings me to my next point…
Killer Potential: Merging Windows and Xbox
Windows 10 has an Xbox app, but you can't buy Windows or Xbox One games from it. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Microsoft should leverage this app to be a one-stop shop for all of the company's titles, allowing you to find hit PC games without wading through vaporware and to buy Xbox One games that you can play on your console later.
With Xbox and Windows becoming ever more similar, there's no reason why buying and using Microsoft games on PC shouldn't be as seamless as doing so on Xbox One.
There's a reason I'm hopeful for the future of Windows 10 gaming, and that reason is Killer Instinct, Microsoft's flagship fighting game that just hit PC after two-plus years as an Xbox One exclusive. When I fire up Killer Instinct on my PC, all of my game progress and purchased content from the Xbox version is there, and vice versa. The game's cross-platform play lets me beat up on both my Xbox and PC pals, regardless of which of those machines I happen to be using at the time.
Quantum Break has similar cross-save functionality, but the two versions are sold separately. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is completely segregated across Xbox and Windows, which has left owners of the latter version with a small player base.
If Microsoft can make its first-party games truly universal across PC and Xbox, that would give these titles a unique benefit over the slew of competing Windows and console games. Sony offers plenty of cross-buy and cross-save games across PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, but being able to bring your console purchases to a high-end PC could attract a whole new audience of gamers.
With a wealth of cross-compatible games and a more gamer-friendly marketplace, Windows 10 truly can become "the best Windows ever for gaming." Microsoft just has to do the work.