Microsoft’s Evolving Gaming Strategy Takes A Giant Step Forward

Posted on February 25, 2019 by Brad Sams in Games with 21 Comments

During the past couple of years, we have seen Microsoft’s gaming strategy take an aggressive turn. From launching a new console, the Xbox One X, out of the traditional release cycle to moving to a streaming service called xCloud, gaming at Microsoft has once again become a top priority.

Earlier this year, Microsoft made a peculiar announcement on the Windows Insider blog related to gaming. With build 18334, Microsoft said they were bringing new technology to Windows 10 and were offering up State of Decay for free to try but that’s all the information that they provided.

Wanting to understand more, I started poking around and asking for more technical help to dig out the information needed. Thanks to help from NazmusLabs and Rafael, I was able to better understand what is happening and thanks to a few people familiar with the company’s plans, we can piece together the puzzle.

When you download State of Decay, the oddities begin immediately. Instead of downloading from the Microsoft Store server, serverdl.microsoft.com, where all content comes from including PlayAnywhere titles, the game downloads from assets1.xboxlive.com.

What it looks like Microsoft is doing, instead of porting each Xbox feature back to the PC one by one, they are simply dumping the entire Xbox one installation/servicing plumbing and making it the primary installation for Windows.

When you extract the installer from the Store after downloading, you will discover that it is using the .xvc file format. While that may not sound familiar, Microsoft introduced this format around 2013 specifically for Xbox One games. Further, you can now install this file format using PowerShell in 19H1; I never thought I would write the words “PowerShell can now install Xbox One games” but here we are.

When you install State of Decay, you get a legacy DX installation setup prompt that does a classic, non-sandboxed, and non-store based installation of DirectX dependencies to your system directory. You can see what this looks like in the screenshot at the top of the post.

For a few months, I had been hearing that Microsoft was working to bring Xbox and the Microsoft store experience closer together. This appears to be part of the GameCore strategy that is designed to make it significantly easier to bring Xbox games to the PC. Granted, the challenges today of building a PC and Xbox game using the same assets is significantly easier than the last generation but Microsoft wants to make it a streamlined process for maximum value for developers to support both platforms.

After all, as consoles have evolved, they are more like PCs than stand-alone unique pieces of hardware. By doing this, it makes it easier for developers to build one game for both PC and Xbox which is a huge win for Microsoft on both the console and PC gaming fronts.

There is also a new Gaming Service app, Microsoft.GamingServices app, that installs two drivers; xvdd.sys = XVD Disk Driver (Microsoft Gaming Filesystem Driver) gameflt.sys = Gaming Filter (Microsoft Gaming Install Filter Driver). As WalkingCat notes, xsapi.dll = Durango Storage API, XCrdApi.dll = Durango XCRDAPI, both of these references can be found in the files: Durango was the codename for Xbox One.

On the surface, what it looks like Microsoft is doing is collapsing any differences between PC and Xbox gaming to make it the same experience on both devices. The company is in the process of making the delivery mechanisms based on the Xbox infrastructure, appears to be making it possible to run Xbox games on the PC, and replacing the existing Store PC games infrastructure on that of what Xbox has built.

And this isn’t some half baked port to the Windows ecosystem either. Much like the Xbox does, this updated mechanism supports delivery optimization too.

This is a substantial development process for Microsoft and not something that happened overnight. While it certainly looks like developers will be able to use a single binary package to target and Xbox and PC, I believe the larger ambition is to make the gaming experience the same on both PC and Xbox.

If Microsoft can make this a reality with performance being top notch on both platforms, it means the addressable market for Xbox and PC gamers is going to be the same which makes it a much more lucrative target than other platforms.

Tagged with , ,

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (21)

21 responses to “Microsoft’s Evolving Gaming Strategy Takes A Giant Step Forward”

  1. Avatar

    codymesh

    why wasn't this the first route taken for bringing Xbox games to Windows? Seems like they are repeating a Windows Phone situation here where they wasted time creating another platform and then wasted more time in achieving parity between the two...

    • Avatar

      locust infested orchard inc

      In reply to codymesh:


      I believe because people in the noughties preferred to play games in the comfort of their lounge / living room / family room with friends and family, on the big screen, as opposed to the small screen of a PC in a claustrophobic bedroom.


      But times have changed and PC monitors are now catering for the frenetic frame speed of games, making the experience on a PC as good as on an Xbox, if not better, because of the PC's internal hardware.

  2. Avatar

    Omega Ra

    I had a feeling that this is what was going to happen, bringing Xbox games to PC makes so much sense.

  3. Avatar

    BoItmanLives

    > And this isn’t some half baked port to the Windows ecosystem either.


    uh huh....

  4. Avatar

    sandman

    What would be nice is if every game offered the feature to buy once and play on both. I would love to be able to play assasin's creed odyssey on my xbox one x at 4k most of the time, but then play it on my laptop while I am on business travel. This way I don't have to lug my xbox with me when I want to go somewhere and play certain games.

  5. Avatar

    Pierre Masse

    So much for the spin-off Xbox thing :(

  6. Avatar

    VancouverNinja

    This feels like they are trying to line this up with the Andromeda launch. Gaming is a strong advantage of MSs and one of the primary usages of mobile devices. If you could run any xbox game on it this would only strengthen the chances of the device gaining a strong market share.

  7. Avatar

    bassoprofundo

    Does this take away the advantages of today's PC platform, though? The advantage to the PC platform up until now is that titles can scale up to match the capabilities of the hardware. If everything becomes about servicing the lowest common denominator and/or if anything on the PC runs containerized, doesn't this bring those with more capable setups down?

    • Avatar

      DaveHelps

      In reply to bassoprofundo:


      Maybe, but I don’t think so. The Xbox One experience today already caters for multiple generations of Console hardware (original/S/X), and multiple display types (720p/1080i/1080p/HDR/etc)


      New games on old hardware, old games on new hardware... it all works out optimally.


      I would expect to see some kind of tiering, where your PC meets the requirements to play at Xbox One level, or Xbox One X level, and maybe some levels in-between. Sorta like the Windows Experience Index from Vista days - each component would need to meet a certain level. Considering the Xbox One doesn’t have a SSD, we’re probably only thinking about GPU, CPU and RAM. Maybe NIC speed?

  8. Avatar

    dcdevito

    I've been waiting for this since the original Xbox was launched.


    What it looks like Microsoft is doing, instead of porting each Xbox feature back to the PC one by one, they are simply dumping the entire Xbox one installation/servicing plumbing and making it the primary installation for Windows.


    Am I reading this correctly in saying game devs wouldn't have to do anything extra to get their Xbox games to play on Windows 10 PCs??

  9. Avatar

    Darekmeridian

    Gaming File System? Is that the same thing as saying DRM protected file system?


  10. Avatar

    madthinus

    Can they remove the overhead and get us closer to the metal like an Xbox? That would be the real game changer. This, nice to have.

  11. Avatar

    proesterchen

    I wonder which road this will go down:


    (1) Xbox games being dumped onto the PC with little to no options to change / adapt graphics fidelity to the hardware at hand, basically forcing PC to run Xbox One S or X profiles as available in the original releases


    (2) Xbox games being changed to include PC-like functionality to allow users to tune their settings to their hardware, while potentially also opening up more freedom to prioritize visual quality or frame rate on the X. (and any future hardware)

    • Avatar

      bookgrub

      In reply to proesterchen:

      Why not both?


      Seriously, I don't think this has to be an either-or situation. The scenarios you outlined aren't mutually exclusive, and different developers might take different approaches depending on their resources, target audience, online gameplay goals, etc.


      I think the 'dumped onto the PC' scenario might also be reworded as "Xbox games being made available on Windows 10 with true-to-console fidelity and performance", which sounds like a perk rather than a problem.

      • Avatar

        spacein_vader

        In reply to bookgrub:

        Really? Because being dumped ad hoc suggests limited mouse support, limited options (no graphics options, resolution choices, minimal input options, unable to run windowed,) lack of mod support, and a clunky UI (see Skyrim for a UI thats fine for a controller but a hugely inefficent waste of space when you have a mouse.)


        true-to-console fidelity is generally lower than gaming PCs and they won't be able to guarantee performance as they'll be supporting a much wider range of hardware.

  12. Avatar

    Noel

    Good sleuthing Brad. I love your Xbox coverage. Top notch.

Leave a Reply