It’s been seven months since Windows 10 became generally available, and with it comes another challenge: attracting PC gamers to the Windows Store. At the Xbox Spring Showcase event, we talked to Mike Ybarra, the director of program management at Xbox, on how the company intends to make the Windows Store a hit with developers and players.
Start From The Bottom
The foundation for any Windows Store app, whether it’s the Netflix app or a brand new game, is the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which Ybarra called an all-in-one package installation. By using the UWP as the building block for any program, the development process for creators is easier, and the finished product is more stable at launch.
With the utilization of the UWP, the app is considered a Universal Windows App (UWA). We saw the first wave of these UWAs in January 2015, when Microsoft revealed more about Windows 10. Apps such as Office, Mail, Photos and Messaging were all part of this new program. In fact, every game from the Windows Store is considered a UWA.
This new form of development not only helps with getting the games to work on various Windows 10 devices, but it also ensures that the installation process is cleaner.
“We solved the problem where titles could be nested, installed, just put on the registry and everywhere else,” Ybarra said. “One of the problems was I had to format Windows about every six months just to clean it out to get the most performance.” UWA apps don’t have this issue, as all of its files are stored in one location, which should make the uninstallation process easier.
The Vision For UWP And UWAs
Obviously, first-party developers (which are owned by Microsoft) will have their games developed as a UWA. This includes teams such as Remedy, which is currently working on Quantum Break, and Turn 10 Studios, which is working on Forza Motorsport 6: Apex. Both development teams are known for their games on console, but creating a game for the PC is a different challenge.
“When you develop for two platforms, there’s a complexity with that,” Ybarra said. “It takes more dev cost, [and] it’s hard to break even on big games now. UWP is designed to reduce the overall development cost.”
On top of that, Microsoft also offers some extra hands to assist with development. In addition to providing additional technical support, these reinforcements help developers understand certain aspects of the UWP and its impact on consoles versus PC games. They also provide what Ybarra called “tricks of the trade” in the development process.
Even with Microsoft’s exclusivity on the UWP, Ybarra believes that UWA games created from the platform shouldn’t just be confined to the Windows Store.
“I’m completely open to having UWA sold in more places than our store,” he said. “In fact, that’s a promise of ours to say, ‘If Steam wants to sell a UWA version of a game, go ahead.’ If we had a developer come to us and say, 'I want to make a UWA [game] and I want to distribute it on Steam and Windows,' we’d sit down with them and say, 'Let’s call Valve and figure this out. Let’s make it happen.'"
Even with this spirit of camaraderie, Microsoft still wants people to use its digital storefront to buy more apps for their Windows 10 device. For developers, the Windows Store is another distribution channel, where they can publish their game to an even broader audience than before.
Needs More Work
Even though the Windows Store is up and running, it’s still lacks a few features that PC gamers are accustomed to in various clients such as Steam and GOG. So far, the biggest complaints were regarding the Windows Store overlay and the need for mod support. Ybarra assured us that the company is looking at the issues and figuring out the next logical step for the Windows Store.
Xbox One owners have access to the Game Preview program, which is similar to Steam’s Early Access content. Ybarra said that the company is looking into that feature as well, but there aren’t any concrete plans to bringing the feature to the Windows Store in the near future.
“There’s a lot of complexity when you think about that,” Ybarra said.
Watch It Grow
Just like any new platform, the Windows Store will take time grow. Obviously, people are still sticking to Steam, not only because they’re familiar with the product, but also because it’s been around for quite some time (13 years, to be exact). In that time, Valve’s storefront evolved to its current state. It’s unclear whether it will take the Windows Store five, ten or even fifteen years to reach Steam’s popularity status, but Ybarra doesn’t want people to count it out in its early years.
“Our goal with Windows is to make it easier [and] more reliable for consumers to use. All developers want that target, too, because they get a lot of calls about driver issues or whatever [the case may be],” Ybarra said.