Microsoft's mission to reclaim the hearts and minds of PC gamers

Microsoft has been involved with PC gaming for a long old time. That involvement has brought us joy, with classic games such as Age of Empires and Crimson Skies, as well as some pain, with stumbles like Game for Windows Live, Microsoft’s fumbled attempt to replicate Steam’s success.

During this time, Microsoft has regularly assured us that it is still committed to PC gaming – and to making Windows the best platform to play games on. As the creators of the operating system so many PC gamers use for their rigs, Microsoft’s interest in PC gaming is always under scrutiny, especially since the launch of its Xbox console.

However, with Windows 10 and the recently-released Creators Update, Microsoft promises that it has made the best version of Windows for PC gamers ever. We chatted to Peter Orullian, Xbox Group Product Manager, about how – and why – Microsoft wants to win over PC gamers. 

  • Hopefully Microsoft is also on a mission to release the Surface Pro 5

Why Microsoft loves PC games

While Microsoft, and Windows, has been a constant presence for PC gamers for a long time now, Microsoft is still primarily thought of as a company that deals with the less exciting things in life – operating systems, cloud servers and office suites.

But, as Peter Orullian suggests, Windows 10 is changing all that. 

“We needed a contemporary, game-focused version of Windows, and that’s Windows 10, the best version of Windows ever for gaming,” Orullian says. “Since the launch of Windows 10, each update has come with new gaming features and integration. It’s part of our focus now with Windows. We’ve also extended Xbox Live, our social gaming network, to Windows, creating a rich way for gamers to connect, compete, and share.”

What a lot of us may forget is that many people at Microsoft love games and gaming, according to Orullian. “The Xbox team is comprised of gamers who are passionate about both the work we do, and improving the gaming experiences we all enjoy and utilize.”

"Each update has come with new gaming features and integration. It’s part of our focus now with Windows."

As Orullian points out, those gamers are helping to shape the direction Microsoft is moving in. “Because our team is full of gamers, our focus is on identifying key areas and opportunities for improvement based on community feedback, and delivering great games and gaming experiences on Windows 10 as a result. We’re energized by the work that we’re doing, the new opportunities for PC gaming on Windows 10, and the great games that are coming to the platform.”

Window shopping

Despite Windows being so integral to the PC gaming experience for many people, where it’s necessary to play PC games, Microsoft hasn’t quite cracked selling PC games, whilst rival services such as Steam go from strength to strength.

With the Windows Store in Windows 10, Microsoft wants to change this by making it easier for people to find and buy games through the store. Improving the quality of the store has been a big focus for Microsoft and Orullian’s team. 

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and are continuing to do, to streamline and make the Windows Store more user-friendly for fans, in addition to continuing to expand our library of game titles. Some of these are Xbox Play Anywhere games that allow fans to gain access to both the Windows 10 and Xbox One versions of the title with one digital purchase, bringing their game saves and progress with them across devices – which offers great value.”

Of course, encouraging people to buy through the Windows Store isn’t a completely altruistic aim, and it’s clear why Microsoft would want a slice of that pie. But, making it easier to buy games means more games are sold, and that’s great news for the industry – and for gamers.

It’s also commendable that Microsoft isn’t just focusing on making it easy for gamers to buy games, but also for games developers to sell their games. 

“One store [across Windows PCs and Xbox consoles] … means a more streamlined submission experience for developers that will also offer new monetization scenarios that span across devices,” Orullian says. “Beginning with the Anniversary Update, the Windows Store now features new scenarios including the ability to pre-order games, bundles, purchase season passes and more.“

Also, as an added incentive to owners of both an Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative lets you buy a game once, and play it on either device.

“We’ve done a lot with Windows gaming over the years – some ideas were successful and some were not.”

Making a service that’s user friendly and affordable isn’t that easy – as Microsoft knows all too well. In 2007 it launched Games for Windows Live, a service designed to replicate Steam’s success in selling games, as well as bringing online gaming on PC more in line with the Xbox Live service on Microsoft’s consoles. It wasn’t popular. 

Orullian was there during those times, and is open about the failures of the service, and the lessons they learnt from it. 

“We’ve done a lot with Windows gaming over the years – some ideas were successful and some were not,” Orullian admits. “Certainly, we understand the scepticism and we’ve learned from the past. I think the philosophy of keeping our fans’ interest front-and-center and building the types of experiences they find welcoming and easy to use is a philosophy that has permeated the entire culture here at Xbox.”

Whatever you say of Microsoft, it certainly appears to listen to its customers, especially recently. 

“Windows 10 was built with the unique needs of both PC gamers and developers in mind. We’re committed to delivering a product created by gamers for gamers. A part of that commitment is being transparent about the development of Windows 10, listening to and incorporating the valuable feedback from gamers and developers to continue to make the Windows 10 gaming experience even better.”

The honesty is refreshing, and it’s good to see a company as big as Microsoft acknowledge its mistakes, as well as learn from them. 

Orullian agrees, pointing out that “everything we do contributes to the strength of our next release. We’ve taken the things we’ve learned both on Xbox and on PC over the past many years and used them to help us chart a strong path forward. I have a lot of optimism about where we’re at and where we’re headed in our participation in PC gaming.”

Getting your Game Mode on

One of the headline features of the recent Creators Update, certainly for PC gamers, is Game Mode, which helps Windows keep check on background tasks when you’re playing games. The idea is that by limiting the resources taken up by other tasks when playing, you should see more consistent framerates.

“We’ve received a lot of great feedback on Game Mode, both positive and constructive. In many cases, gamers who’ve utilized Game Mode to alleviate resource contention – that is, when your PC’s system resources are taxed from multiple applications running concurrently – have told us that they’ve experienced greater frame rate stability.”

Before you dash off and enable Game Mode, Orullian – and Microsoft – want to temper expectations.

"In many cases, gamers who’ve utilized Game Mode to alleviate resource contention... have told us that they’ve experienced greater frame rate stability.”

“As we’ve said all along, the exact performance increase provided by Game Mode will vary per title and individual machine, and will also depend on what apps and process you’re running, given the virtually infinite range of possible hardware and software configurations,” Orullian clarifies. “While Game Mode may not offer a performance boost in every single case, we think the community overall has appreciated the added option to experience a more consistent PC gaming experience, which can be easily turned on or off.”

When Game Mode was first announced, it captured the imaginations of many PC gamers, and while that’s generally a good thing, it also led to increased expectations from some quarters about what Game Mode could manage. This is something that Microsoft is keenly aware of.

“As with any new technology, there’s a risk that people’s expectations may not perfectly align with what they’ll experience, especially in the realm of PC gaming where there are so many different configurations and scenarios to take into account.”

That doesn’t mean it’s downplaying what Game Mode is capable of, though. “We think the benefits that many gamers are seeing from using Game Mode are really exciting, and it’s important to remember that this release is just the first step in our journey to improve Game Mode over time.”

That’s perhaps the most exciting thing about Game Mode, and the other PC gaming-centric features Microsoft has brought to Windows 10. This is just the beginning of Microsoft’s rekindled love of PC gaming, not the end. 

“We’ll continue update and evolve the feature in future updates, and welcome any and all feedback from our amazing community to help us advance that mission.”

Welcome to TechRadar's 3rd annual PC Gaming Week, celebrating the almighty gaming PC with in-depth interviews, previews, reviews and features all about one of the TechRadar team’s favorite pastimes. Missed a day? Check out our constantly updated hub article for all of the coverage in one place.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.