Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is set to arrive on February 20 on the Windows Store but not on Steam, an absence that was widely reported as somehow the fault of Valve. "Steam's rules do not allow it," a bold-faced subheader in the Google translation of German gaming site GameStar.de. But the auto-translation from German to English is, to put it generously, a little iffy—"The platform is where people play, and people play in the social spaces of Xbox Live, which means that if Xbox Live exists somewhere, we can get a game out there" is one clear-as-mud bit—and exactly what "rules" would be broken isn't actually specified.
As it turns out, the decision to keep the AoE redo exclusive was solely Microsoft's, and unrelated to what Steam does or doesn't allow.
"We’ve chosen to release Age of Empires: Definitive Edition in the Windows Store and we’re excited about what that entails, including tons of Xbox Live goodness (achievements, cloud saves, multiplayer on the fastest, more reliable gaming network and more)," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.
"Offering games like Quantum Break, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2, and more in our Store has already improved both the Store and Windows 10 by accelerating support for features like unlocked frame rate, and making the overall consumer experience better. Competition on the PC is good for the industry and good for gamers, it drives innovation and more value for customers."
Microsoft is also leaving open the door to bringing the game to other storefronts, eventually: "Before selling on another store front, we want to make sure customers have the best experience, and other store fronts need to fully support Windows 10 before we bring Age of Empires: Definitive Edition over," the rep added.
Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented, and could happen relatively quickly. Remedy's Quantum Break was initially released on the Windows Store but a Steam version was announced just six months later; the Steam edition also supports Windows 7, while the Windows Store version (of both games) is Win10-only. Given that the latest Steam hardware survey indicates that 70 percent of its users are still running Windows 7, that's a big chunk of potential audience that's being excluded.
The greater challenge facing Microsoft isn't just that it's digital storefront is bad, but that it's reputation for badness is so deeply entrenched that a significant number of gamers would rather wait for new releases to appear elsewhere than deal with it. We reported in April 2017 that after years of vague promises and (re)commitments to PC gaming, "The Windows Store still sucks," and our recent Sea of Thieves shenanigans clearly indicates that the situation hasn't changed: Fun was had, but it also led to the prediction that the game won't succeed on PC "because the Microsoft Store is still nearly impossible to navigate, and getting a party together using the Xbox app is a confusing pain."