Xbox Play Anywhere program brings Xbox exclusives to the PC

— 10:48 AM on June 17, 2016

Almost every game at Microsoft's conference at E3 2016 was introduced as an "Xbox One and Windows 10" title, highlighting the company's new Xbox Play Anywhere program. Cross-platform and cross-device play are the new order of the day at Microsoft. The company demonstrated Minecraft Realms with players on iOS, Android, Xbox One, and Windows, including Oculus' John Carmack on stage playing in a Gear VR headset.

As part of that big news, several titles which were formerly couched as Xbox One exclusives are now coming to the Windows Store, including Gears of War 4 and Platinum Games' Scalebound. As Phil Spencer announced at Build 2016, all of Microsoft's first-party Xbox One games will be coming to Windows, too. This further solidifies Microsoft's "Unified Windows" push, as the versions of the games coming to the Windows Store will in theory be the same versions on the Xbox One, and they'll support cross-platform play between the two ecosystems.

Not everyone likes the Windows Store, though, and if you believe former Lionhead employees speaking to Kotaku UK, things aren't going well for the marketplace. There certainly may be reasons to dislike the Windows Store, chief among them Microsoft's past transgressions against PC gamers. Other users simply prefer to keep all of their purchases in one place. If you're a Steam user and interested in Microsoft's games, rejoice: Microsoft could bring some of its games to Steam, too.

That's a pretty vague statement, but it's all we really know. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, spoke to Giant Bomb in an after-hours E3 livestream with remarkable frankness about the failure of Games for Windows Live and the future of Windows gaming. He admitted that Games for Windows Live was really about getting PC gamers to buy Xboxes. He then talked about how Microsoft has released games on Steam in the past, including the Age of Empires II HD remake, as well as the fantastic Ori and the Blind Forest, finally stating "we will ship games on Steam again."

Ultimately, we don't know what titles will be coming to Steam, or when that will happen. It's possible that future games on Steam from Microsoft will simply be smaller indie titles like Ori. Microsoft could reserve larger titles for its own store. Spencer remains committed to the Windows store, saying "I definitely want to have, inside of Windows, a healthy store [...] I think I have to put my first-party stuff there."

Furthermore, Microsoft is committed to the Universal Windows Platform for software, and it is unlikely that a Steam release for a larger Microsoft first-party title will be anything but a launcher for the Windows Store version of the game. Ubisoft titles on Steam launch Uplay versions of its games, and recent EA titles on Steam just launch Origin—a fact that Spencer specifically remarked on. 

Spencer also admitted in the interview that the first few launches of big-ticket games (including Remedy's Quantum Break) on the Windows Store have had some problems, but said the company is working to avoid or resolve these issues moving forward. Microsoft already announced improvements for UWP games coming in the Windows Anniversary Update later this year, including support for variable-refresh displays. Spencer mentioned overlays and monitoring tools as problem areas getting attention, as well.

If nothing else, a listing on Steam will allow Microsoft's games to reach a wider audience. Square Enix's recent hit Rise of the Tomb Raider released simultaneously on Steam and the Windows Store, and it seems unlikely it would have been the success that it was without its presence on Valve's platform. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft brings to Steam.

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