When Rare announced "the most ambitious game" it's ever created at Microsoft's E3 2015 press conference, the announcer said "Xbox One exclusive world premier." But Sea of Thieves is not an Xbox One exclusive—it's coming to Windows 10. The Xbox brand has been leaking into Windows for a while, but based on this year's E3, it seems like it's being poured into Windows 10. It's getting confusing.
Here are the good things about Windows 10: it'll be a free upgrade, we get DirectX 12, and it should be easier for developers to create cross-platform PC and Xbox One games. But aside from DirectX 12, what do we get? Here are some of the benefits of Xbox on Windows 10, according to Microsoft:
- Get a "collection of award-winning Xbox game franchises."
- Stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 devices.
- Cross-platform play with Xbox One players.
- Record and edit gameplay video.
To those, I say:
- Killer Instinct and Gears of War Ultimate Edition are nice, but what of Gears of War 4? What of Halo 5? When is the new Tomb Raider coming to PC?
- I don't want to stream Xbox One games to my Windows 10 devices—I'd rather go the other way, from my PC to my TV, with Steam's in-home streaming.
- Being able to play co-op with my console-having friends might be nice.
- I can already record and edit gameplay video, but if the tools are good, I'll try them.
None of this is hugely exciting. We get Xbox branding, cross-play with Xbox One, and 'exclusive' games, but not all first-party Xbox games, as far as we know. At the PC Gaming Show earlier this week, Xbox head Phil Spencer wouldn't say much more about that effort. "There's been a lot of push for us to do more in the first party, and we will, we're dedicated to that," he said. "But also I don't like to make promises or announce things before we have a plan."
It's a start, and I'll take the free upgrade, but what I really saw at this year's E3 was a desire to make PCs and Xbox Ones into companion products, to expand the Xbox brand—to make me start saying "Xbox" when talking about PC games. That's a hard sell, and it feels intrusive. I look forward to seeing what Microsoft's developers do with DirectX 12 (especially Rare), but I'm not especially excited to buy their games from the Windows Store, nor am I writing off OpenGL and Linux gaming.
To be fair, I may be asking for something that's wholly unrealistic from Microsoft. I want the work it puts into APIs, and I want its first-party games, but I don't want any of its Xbox marketing or for it to run a store on its terms, to target Surface and all-in-one PC users who are more familiar with mobile app stores than Steam. I'm asking Microsoft to both invest in PC gaming and stay out of it—that's my hard sell.
But however much Microsoft treats the PC like a console when it comes to its own games and services, the rest of the PC gaming ecosystem is too big and unwieldy to be tamped down. I don't think Steam, GOG, and the general spirit of PC gaming are under assault (even though Valve seems to be building an ark with SteamOS). Microsoft has, after all, brought Ori and the Blind Forest, Halo: Spartan Assault, and other games to Steam, and I don't think—as Gabe Newell may still fear—that Windows will ever be closed to free software distribution. But I'm still never going to be comfortable saying "Xbox" when talking about PC games. I might play Halo 5 if Microsoft wants to put it on PC, but let's call it what it ought to be called: a PC game.