Microsoft's new PC revenue share makes things weird for cross-buy games

Gears of War 5 screenshots
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft announced on Thursday that it's giving developers a bigger cut of the revenue on PC, increasing their share of game sales from 70% to 88%. That means Microsoft's cut of sales on the Windows Xbox app and Microsoft store is now 12%, matching the Epic Games Store. It's a great change for PC developers, who can now keep more money from their sales on the Xbox app or Epic Games Store than they do on Steam. But Microsoft's change creates a weird disparity between its PC and console ecosystems, with "Play Anywhere" games now playing by two sets of rules.

For consumers, there's no difference between buying a Play Anywhere game on PC or Xbox, but publishers now receive a different cut of the revenue depending on where you click the buy button, Microsoft confirmed to PC Gamer.

Some background: Back in 2016, when Microsoft was just starting to focus on PC gaming again in a big way, it introduced the Play Anywhere program, which lets you buy a game once and play it on both PC and console. Save files, DLC, and Achievements carry over. Play Anywhere was a nice perk for Xbox owners, but came with one big drawback on PC: using the Microsoft Store. Most players would prefer to buy third-party Play Anywhere games, like Resident Evil 7, on Steam instead—Microsoft's infamous UWP framework caused a lot of problems for games.

For those who do like switching between playing on an Xbox and PC with Play Anywhere games, nothing has changed. For developers, though, the situation is now a little more complicated.

"Purchases of Xbox Play Anywhere games made on PC storefronts will be subject to the 88/12 revenue share for PC games. Purchases of Xbox Play Anywhere games made on console will be subject to the applicable console revenue share rate," Microsoft said in a statement.

Yakuza in Microsoft Store

(Image credit: Microsoft)

So if you buy a Play Anywhere game like Yakuza: Like a Dragon on PC, Sega will get to keep 88% of the sale. If you buy it on Xbox, they get to keep… how much? Microsoft didn't say explicitly, but we know that Microsoft has always taken a 30% cut of sales, as do most other digital stores like Apple's App Store (for devs that make over $1 million a year) and Sony's PlayStation Network. Maybe Microsoft has deals with certain publishers for a smaller revenue share, but it's a safe bet that 30% is the norm.

There are currently only 171 games in the Play Anywhere program according to Microsoft's website, and many of those are published by Microsoft, meaning the revenue split is irrelevant for them. But it does matter for quite a few indie games like The Darkside Detective, which was added just this month. $9.09 (70%) vs. $11.43 (88%) is only a couple dollars, but that adds up. If I were an indie developer who's part of the Play Anywhere program, I'd probably encourage fans to buy my game using a PC, even though it ultimately makes no difference to the player.

It seems inevitable for things like Play Anywhere to occasionally create weird conflicts, especially at a company as big as Microsoft. As much as Microsoft has tried to make "Xbox" a brand name that applies to both consoles and PCs, there are still little discrepancies that remind us the two still operate independently. Until just this month, Xbox console players had to pay for Xbox Live Gold to play free-to-play games like Fortnite; Gold isn't required for playing any online games on PC. Xbox Game Pass is available on both console and PC, but with a different selection of games. 

If Microsoft wants to have one ecosystem, it doesn't really make sense to have a different revenue split across devices that are actually selling the exact same games, and maybe a future policy change will pave over this oddity. For now, at least it means developers will sometimes be getting a bigger cut.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).