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Microsoft's Game Mode Arrives Soon, Here's How It Works (Updated)

Update, 1/27/2017, 1p.m. PST: The Insider Preview Build that contains the new Game Mode (Build 15019) is now available in the Fast ring. However, Microsoft noted that the build "does have some platform related bugs that will impact the ability to play popular games on your PC." Specifically, some games might crash or show black screens because of "a platform issue." In addition, some Win32 games will minimize when you start it up and it can't be restored. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Update, 1/25/2017, 2:44 p.m. PST: Microsoft informed us that it's unsure if the build will be available by January 26, and the company hasn't provided us with a concrete date for its release. We've changed the headline and the text to reflect the new information.

The Creators Update isn’t coming to Windows 10 for a few more months, but Insider users are getting another sneak peek at what’s to come with an upcoming build scheduled, which includes a new Game Mode that’s supposed to increase overall performance when you play games on the PC. Speaking to Kevin Gammill, the Xbox partner group program manager, we got some more information on how Game Mode actually works as well as the programs that will utilize it.

Gammill said the goal of Game Mode is actually in two parts: an overall increase in performance and an improvement in “overall gaming consistency” throughout the gaming session. Game Mode works when a game is played in the foreground. Gammill mentioned that there are a number of games that are “whitelisted,” and Game Mode will be automatically activated when one of these specified titles starts. However, you can also choose to turn it on or off for any title by pressing the Windows and G keys. The result is that more resources are provided to the game. On the CPU end, more cycles are provided and there’s less thread contention. The best part is that the game doesn’t necessarily need to be in the regular fullscreen mode: As long as it’s in the foreground of activities, you can play it in a borderless window or even windowed mode.

Because it’s still in development, Gammill couldn’t provide any solid numbers in the performance delta, but he did mention that the overall gaming consistency is in regard to the CPU’s order in taking tasks.

The goal here is providing a more consistent gameplay experience. In gaming scenarios where a player may encounter performance ‘hitches’ or sudden brief drops in framerate, with Game Mode, we look to smooth out those bumps,” he wrote in an email. “This is accomplished mainly by guiding which processes arrive at which set of CPU cores, but we’ll explore more about the science behind Windows Game Mode in time.

One would think that Game Mode works only with Universal Windows Platform (UWP) titles, aka games purchased through the Windows Store. However, it can also work with Win32 titles, so you can use it with any game, even if you bought it on Steam, Origin, or GOG. However, Gamill mentioned that you’ll get slightly better performance on UWP games that use Game Mode as opposed to the Win32 titles. Game Mode will also work with new titles out of the gate, so there’s no need to wait for an update from the developer side. If that wasn’t enough, Gamill also mentioned that Game Mode works “in tandem” with currently existing APIs as well as apps such as Razer Cortex and MSI Afterburner, which can further increase performance.

You’ll start to see a difference in performance even in this development phase, but Gammill said that as Game Mode nears its finished version with the release of the Creators Update, we should see drastic improvements in the way it enhances gaming performance. Throughout the preview builds, you should expect multiple bug fixes and overall tweaks to the app, as well.

The many changes to the feature between now and the final release won’t provide concrete data for us to see how it compares against other performance boosting apps or APIs, but we plan to follow up on more specifics with Microsoft in the near future. For now, those on the Insider program will get the chance to see a working prototype of Game Mode action.