Epic Games of Fortnite fame just announced a creator-friendly PC gaming storefront. The announcement was significant, as Epic touted 88 percent revenue slice for developers, beating out Steam (and for that matter, Microsoft) by a significant margin. Additionally, the Epic store will also allow YouTubers, streamers, and bloggers to get a cut of any sales they send through to the Epic store, which is something Steam has yet to consider.
Things are certainly heating up for Steam. Steam was the de-facto ruler of PC gaming distribution for quite a while, but as companies like Activision Blizzard and EA began selling their games direct to consumers on PC via their own storefronts, others have begun to realize that they don’t exactly need Steam anymore. It also doesn’t help that Steam is incredibly saturated, making it hard for some devs to gain visibility. Discord’s rise as a community platform has also taken eyes away from Steam, as Valve’s chat and community tools languish in an archaic state.
With increasing competition from all sides, the window for Microsoft to build a credible PC gaming storefront of its own seems to be shrinking. But as a platform holder, Microsoft does have a few natural advantages. Should it want to capitalize, that is.
The state of the Microsoft Store
Microsoft has signaled an intent to improve its offering for PC gamers, though. It’s particularly important because, as Xbox Game Pass expands, it could eventually incorporate PC games as well. It already does with games that support Xbox Play Anywhere (XPA), but the additional developer effort involved to make XPA work for devs has kept third-party support relatively anemic. Thus far, the lion’s share of XPA support has come via Microsoft itself, with games like Forza Horizon 4 which are distributed exclusively on the Microsoft Store for PC.
There is a growing pool of good PC games on the store, but it’s still very limited, and update parity is a problem.
What could the future look like?
A future game store from Microsoft would probably have to be completely separate from the Microsoft Store, which is crammed with non-gaming “stuff” that completely muddies its focus. Allowing the distribution of traditional games that don’t upset developer’s workflow should probably be on the cards as well, while also increasing revenue share Microsoft offers to compete with Epic’s 88 percent.
In addition, Microsoft is also exploring game streaming over the internet with Project xCloud, which would eliminate the need for Win32 entirely. Future ARM-powered super-lightweight, battery-potent laptops and tablets might be able to tap into console-quality games streamed via the internet, circumventing the need for installations. If it works, of course. Microsoft could create a paradigm shift, but there’s always going to be more advantages for playing games locally, particularly PC games.
When will we find out more?
I think we have got a ton of work to do on Windows. Windows is something I’m very committed to. I’ve heard the feedback about our store. I’m going to take a much bigger leadership role on what’s going on with the Windows Store and make it really tailored towards the gamers that we know want to see the best from what we have to offer.
It could be that Microsoft unveils its efforts in this space to coincide with their efforts revolving around the next Xbox, which we understand will be a family of devices and services, currently codenamed Scarlett. From 5G-powered mobile cloud streaming, new ARM-powered PC form factors, new Windows platform features, studio acquisitions, and the next Xbox, there are certainly a lot of pieces to consider as Microsoft builds its strategy to reach hundreds of millions of gamers. I expect we’ll see Microsoft’s game plan begin to unveil itself throughout 2019.