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.

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