Hands-On with the New Xbox App for Windows 10

Posted on June 10, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10, Xbox with 24 Comments

Xbox Game Pass for PC is key to Microsoft’s new strategy for Windows 10 gaming. And there’s a new Xbox app that makes it all happen.

Oh, the confusion.

As Windows 8 morphed into Windows 10, Microsoft rethought the Xbox apps that it bundled with the operating system. The entertainment titles, Xbox Music and Xbox Video, were rebranded as Groove Music and Microsoft Movies & TV, respectively. But the Xbox gaming apps, Xbox and Xbox One SmartGlass, simply continued forward.

Yes, they were updated over time, or at least the Xbox app was. But it was kind of a confusing mess, and still is. It’s now rebranded as Xbox Console Companion in a bid, I think, to more clearly identify what it is and what it does.

With that rebranding, Microsoft has also announced a new Xbox app, and it’s available now in beta form. The new Xbox app is literally new. It’s not a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) or Store app, it’s a web application, just like a PWA, that is downloaded from the web. Just in case you didn’t get the memo about UWP being dead. Which it is.

More important, at least to Xbox fans, the new Xbox app has a new purpose. It will still provide the social (friends lists, messaging) and store functionality from what is now called the Xbox Console Companion, but it will also provide gamers with a front-end to the new Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription.

It looks a lot like the Epic Games app to me, and that’s a compliment. It’s simple and clean, which is possible when you only have to deal with the roughly 100 games that are available via Xbox Game Pass and not the many, many thousands available via the broader Xbox Store. (Yes, you can access the full PC games library via the Store tab.)

That it defaults to a Game Pass view is, of course, by design: This is the central point of the app, and it lets subscribers browse the current selection in various ways, find the games they wish to play, and download and install them.

Testing this as I am on a non-gaming PC, I decided to stick to some of the lighter titles. So, Oxenfree, a game I own on multiple platforms and something of a known quantity, presented a good test. The game’s page in the store provides a prominent Install button, and because my PC has two drives, I was given a download location choice as well. That’s nice, but it didn’t tell me how much space the game requires, which would have helped with the decision.

Beyond that, you get the expected video demos and screenshots, system requirements and recommended system specifications, Mixer clips (when available), and a tile-based list of related or similar games, like Ruiner (which is a “brutal action shooter” that is nothing like Oxenfree), Ori and the Blind Forest (better), Thimbleweed Park, and more.

Install, for this particular game, took barely a few minutes, and I was able to launch the game directly from the Xbox app. It ran in a window by default, which is curious, and I was presented with the notification for the new version of the Xbox Game Bar in Windows 10 1903.

As expected, the game also appears in the Start menu and can be launched directly.

As you install games, they’re added to a column on the left side of the Xbox app so that they can be accessed quickly. I think a “My Games” tab would have made more sense, but the installed games column does at least feature nice image thumbnails for each game.

From what I can tell, the Xbox app provides access to both Store-based and Win32/desktop games in a further blurring of the role of the Microsoft Store in Windows 10. As you may recall, Microsoft said at Build last month that it would make Store apps available outside of the Store and in competing stores; this is the first example of how this will work.

Beyond Xbox Game Pass, you can also use the app’s Store experience to browse the games in the Microsoft Store, and you can purchase games that are not part of Xbox Game Pass. For example, Wolfenstein II: Deluxe Edition is not included in Xbox Game Pass, but as a subscriber, you can purchase it at a reduced price of $63.99; non-subscribers will pay $79.99. (Another edition of this game, called Wolfenstein II: Standard Edition, is available with Xbox Game Pass.)

This app is a breath of fresh air, and unlike the unwieldy Xbox Console Companion app, it’s clean, simple, and easy to use. I like it quite a bit, and only wish that Microsoft had figured out this path years ago. In retrospect, it’s not just necessary, it’s obvious.

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