How Windows 10 won over PC gamers, and how Microsoft plans to keep them there

windows 10 pc gaming

If you were to ask any PC gamer before July 29, 2015 what the best operating system (OS) was for PC gaming, they would immediately tell you, "Windows 7, stupid." However, the answer to that question has changed rapidly over the past nine months.

According to Valve's April Steam Hardware and Software survey, Windows 10 has grown to be the OS of choice for 38.18% of its users (as of this writing). That's the majority by a stark 5% lead over Steam users' next most popular choice – go figure – Windows 7.

The launch of Windows 10 last July heralded the next phase of its hugely popular PC gaming APIs – or application programming interfaces for game makers – in DirectX 12. Microsoft didn't release that major upgrade for its older OSes.

Clearly, that move has paid off in dividends.

windows 10 pc gaming

Microsoft Senior Director of PC Gaming at Xbox Kevin Unangst

Sure, DX12 being exclusive to Windows 10 (and Xbox One, mind) has no doubt been a major motivator for PC gamers to take Microsoft up on the free upgrade. But, what about when that free upgrade period ends this July? What does Windows 10 offer now for PC gamers that sweetens that $100 pot come July 30, and where is Redmond's head at when it comes to keeping PC gamers?

For Kevin Unangst (pictured left), Senior Director for PC Gaming at Xbox, that's an easy one.

"We believe that ultimately creating an ecosystem with more games, a bigger community and more choice in how and where you play is good for gamers."

Right, but what does that mean specifically?

Windows 10 needs more than just backward compatibility

The way Unangst sees it, making games written for Windows 7 or older work with Windows 10 wouldn't be enough. You need a better reason to play your catalog on the new Windows, and that's where the Game Bar and Xbox app come in for Microsoft.

Looking ahead, one of the most interesting opportunities comes from the increasing number of devices we see gamers playing on – Kevin Unangst

"It was and remains very important that the games – and services, like Steam – you already play on the PC run great on Windows 10," Unangst says. "[But also] that Windows 10 makes those games meaningfully better – like the Game Bar, which brings GameDVR video recording and screenshots for any PC game you're playing."

Even if such a feature isn't utilized all that much, the fact that it's offered keeps the PC competitive with – or, as Microsoft would probably put it, "complimentary to" – the consoles. However, there's one Windows 10 tool, thanks to the Xbox app, that Unangst says is taking off.

"One feature we're seeing fans use a lot is voice chat," Unangst says. "You can chat with your friends on Windows 10 PCs – and even on Xbox One – while playing your favorite PC game, through Xbox Live, for free."

For console gamers turned PC fans, this one comes in mighty handy, but we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that, yeah, DX12 has helped a lot in nudging players toward Windows 10.

windows 10 pc gaming

Lara Croft's latest adventure is one of the first DX12 games

The amazing power of APIs

So much of the success of PC gaming's endless ascent above its console cousins relies on APIs, the software tools that allow game makers to directly take advantage of the latest hardware in their games.

We're going to also continue to invest in cross-device experiences ... – Kevin Unangst

And we're already seeing the fruits of that labor through games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Singularity.

"These games were built to look amazing and take full advantage of the power of the PC; it's one of the greatest attributes of PC gaming," Unangst affirms. "The ability to support multiple graphics processors at the Windows level with DirectX 12 was critical for us to land, and we know it was absolutely worth putting in the extra time for, because of the new levels of performance and fidelity it brings to gamers."

Unangst says that the game development community has adopted DX12 faster than any prior version of the software across game studios, middleware makers and hardware firms.

You can imagine the snowball effect that creates, especially with Xbox One supporting the tools as well. Speaking of which, that black box appears to be a key point in Microsoft's plan to draw PC gamers to Windows 10.

windows 10 pc gaming

Expect to see plenty more of this in your PC's future

If you keep building, they will stay

"We're going to continue to invest in Windows as a gaming platform," Unangst says. "We started with the Game Bar and the Xbox app, and we'll continue delivering ongoing updates based on fan feedback we receive through the Windows Insider Program."

That's great, but that could also mean anything. Where is Microsoft's head at specifically when it comes to its place in PC gaming?

"Looking ahead, one of the most interesting opportunities comes from the increasing number of devices we see gamers playing on," Unangst elaborates. "Most gamers play on more than one device."

"We're going to also continue to invest in cross-device experiences – such as cross-device multiplayer, cloud saves so you can start on the PC and pick up on Xbox One and cross-buy for in-game content so anything you purchase on one device is available on the other."

OK, now we're talking. When looking to make PC gamers' stay worthwhile after getting the flier that there was free DX12 to be served, making your PC a better hub for your hobby sounds like a fine place to start.

Unangst tells me that Microsoft has been committed to making Windows 10 the best version yet for gaming, but the proof is in the pudding. This year's E3 ought to be mighty interesting.

Joe Osborne

Joe Osborne is the Senior Technology Editor at Insider Inc. His role is to leads the technology coverage team for the Business Insider Shopping team, facilitating expert reviews, comprehensive buying guides, snap deals news and more. Previously, Joe was TechRadar's US computing editor, leading reviews of everything from gaming PCs to internal components and accessories. In his spare time, Joe is a renowned Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master – and arguably the nicest man in tech.