Microsoft to bring Game Pass streaming service to PCs, and sell its own games on Valve’s Steam platform

(Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft today announced several new PC gaming initiatives, a series of moves that fit with Microsoft’s evolution as a more open company willing to bring its products and services to the devices and platforms where users want them to be.

Phil Spencer head of Xbox wrote in a blog post that the moves fit an overarching belief that the “player should be at the center of their gaming experience.” This has been an important tenet of the gaming division in recent years, most notably through initiatives to bring Xbox services to more devices.

However, Spencer says, this attitude has yet to fully permeate its PC gaming offerings.

“We’ve not always lived up to our aspiration of keeping gamers at the center of everything we do when it comes to the experience they’ve had on Windows,” Spencer wrote.

Here’s a look at the announcements:

Xbox Game Pass is coming to PC. Launched two years ago for Xbox, Game Pass includes a rotating catalog of roughly 100 games from big-name publishers, Microsoft itself and smaller developers. It allows players to access these games quickly, without needing to purchase a physical disc or license.

Spencer didn’t say how much the service will cost — it’s $9.99 a month for Xbox, or $14.99 for a new bundle with Xbox Live. A release date also remains unknown, but Spencer said the company will have more to share at the big E3 gaming conference next week.

(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Microsoft will sell more in-house Xbox Studios games on other platforms, including Valve’s Steam marketplace. Microsoft has primarily tried to sell games through its own store, but the company has committed to supporting other PC Games stores. Microsoft previously pledged to make Halo: The Master Chief Collection but this takes things a step further.

“We know millions of PC gamers trust Steam as a great source to buy PC games and we’ve heard the feedback that PC gamers would like choice,” Spencer said. “We also know that there are other stores on PC, and we are working to enable more choice in which store you can find our Xbox Game Studios titles in the future.”

Microsoft will support games made in the Win32 app format on Microsoft Store. The Verge notes that Microsoft has been trying to replace the traditional Win32 software architecture with the Universal Windows Platform, with game studios feeling compelled to use it to get better access to core Windows 10 features. But the former, more-established format has persisted as a favorite and Microsoft is giving the developers what they want.

“We recognize that Win32 is the app format that game developers love to use and gamers love to play, so we are excited to share that we will be enabling full support for native Win32 games to the Microsoft Store on Windows,” Spencer said. “This will unlock more options for developers and gamers alike, allowing for the customization and control they’ve come to expect from the open Windows gaming ecosystem.”

This move has sparked a flurry of online discussion about what’s next for UWP.

Taken together, these moves are among the latest examples of Microsoft’s overarching strategy under CEO Satya Nadella to make its apps and services available and functional across a variety of platforms, including those that the company has traditionally considered rivals. Other recent examples include the decision to extend Xbox Live to iOS and Android and the ambitious Project xCloud service that will let users play high-powered Xbox games on their smartphones.

Three years ago, Epic Games co-founder Phil Sweeney wrote that “Microsoft wants to monopolise games development on PC.” Sweeney, whose company is now at the center of the gaming universe thanks to the massive success of Fortnite, argued that Microsoft tried to create a walled garden by forcing people onto the Microsoft Store and UWP platform.

The Verge notes that Microsoft has embraced a more open philosophy, while Epic is now at the center of controversy thanks to its efforts to supplant Steam with its own game store and exclusive contracts with developers.

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