On the last day of GDC 2014 the Head of Microsoft Studios, Phil Spencer, held a panel in which he made a number of interesting statements in regards to Microsoft and its future in PC gaming. It began with a simple question about how Microsoft will combat Valve and their upcoming Steam Machines. His answer seemed to disregard the very concept of competition and instead hinted that Microsoft will embrace the use of Steam:
“I think Valve’s an incredible company. They’ve been the backbone of PC gaming for the last decade, and as the Windows company, I appreciate what they’ve done. They have, in a lot of ways, focused more on PC gaming than we have.”
“You will see more focus from us; not to go compete with what Valve has done, but because we also understand as the platform holder it’s important for us to invest in the platform in a real way.”
– Phil Spencer
Being Microsoft, there are plenty of lines to read between. But Phil’s statements do raise a lot of questions when you consider that the Xbox One is not backward compatible with both the Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE Arcade titles which leaves all those games with no future on a Microsoft platform, especially once Games for Windows LIVE shuts down and leaves Microsoft with no PC gaming service of any sort. Rather than revealing any information about some kind of replacement for the service, or brushing the topic under the rug entirely Phil Spencer, the head of the publishing studio for the Xbox brand (Microsoft Studios) pacified the idea of competing with Steam in the PC space. Furthermore he praised Valve for what they’ve done to become synonymous with PC gaming itself and wished to “invest” in the platform rather than move away from it even as Valve continues to advocate the use of Linux over Windows. Does this mean that we could see Microsoft publishing many more games on to Steam, including older PC games that will completely lose support once Games for Windows LIVE closes? Does this mean that the near-death PC versions of Halo 2 and Gears of War will be revitalized on Steam and possibly be joined by the rest of their respective series? Microsoft is attempting to push full speed ahead with the Xbox One but is weighed down by the baggage of a poorly managed library of popular IPs that desperately need a stable home. Could Steam be that home, or is Microsoft hiding a service of its own?
Talking to Polygon.com, Phil Spencer elaborated on his statements after he stepped down from the panel. When asked about the fate of titles that still rely on Games For Windows LIVE, which includes some non-Microsoft published ones, Spencer said “You will get a clear answer from us very soon”. This likely means that details will be given before or during the Electronics Entertainment Expo which will begin on June 10. He also admitted that the Xbox’s current marketplace “isn’t great” and that the “core” of the companies’ PC model today will probably not be its future.
To me, these words don’t sound like those of a company with an ace up its sleeve but rather of one that is seriously considering joining the side they couldn’t beat. With Ubisofts Uplay and EAs Origin vastly considered to a be an unwanted nuisance by the PC gaming community and only used when there’s no other choice, one has to wonder if Microsoft sees any gain in implementing another distribution service that faces a massive uphill-battle against Steam. Would they prefer to offer their library on a well established market, or be yet another store that is mostly used by a begrudging audience of PC gamers?
What do you think? Please, let us know in the comments.