E3 2016: Microsoft Introduces “Play Anywhere” Cross-Buy Plan for Xbox One and Windows 10
One of the recurring themes of the Xbox press briefing on Monday was that games that are Xbox One exclusive will also be exclusive on PC to Windows 10. For PC gamers who have upgraded to Windows 10, this was the press conference that they’ve been waiting for from Microsoft. However, there was another treat in store for PC gamers. Microsoft announced their new Xbox Play Anywhere program that allows gamers to buy a select game once and play it on both Xbox One and Windows 10.
The program is pretty self-explanatory. You can purchase one of the games in the Play Anywhere program on either Xbox One or Windows 10 and you can play on both consoles. These games will automatically cross-save so you can start on your PC, move to your Xbox later and pick up where you left off. There are some missing details such as if you have to buy through your Xbox console or the Microsoft Store on Windows 10 or if you can buy a physical copy of the game from a brick and mortar store but the basics of the plan aren’t too bad.
So far, Microsoft has confirmed the following eight games as being part of the Play Anywhere campaign:
- Forza Horizon 3
- Gears of War 4
- Halo Wars 2
- Sea of Thieves
- State of Decay 2
- We Happy Few
That list excludes Quantum Break which isn’t officially part of Play Anywhere but people who bought it on Xbox One were given a free copy on Windows 10.
It’s worth noting that Sony has a similar plan in place that they call “cross buy” (hence the term I used in the title) which allows gamers to buy games once and play them on multiple platforms. The PlayStation Store currently lists 64 PS3/PS4 cross buy games and 109 PS4/Vita cross buy games. Microsoft’s Play Anywhere plan isn’t unique but it’s a very good thing for consumers. Microsoft’s advantage is that they’re throwing some of their big triple-A games into the Play Anywhere program while Sony’s Cross Buy program is mostly indie games.
As someone who is primarily a PC gamer, Microsoft bringing its big games to PC, a market that they have largely ignored with the rare exception, is fantastic. The ability to buy a game once for multiple platforms, cross-save between platforms and play online across platforms is a great boost to PC gaming. It shows that Microsoft is finally taking PC gaming seriously. Of course, the cynic in me says that they tried this with Windows Vista and Games For Windows Live before quickly abandoning it. This seems like a bigger and longer-term commitment to PC gaming.
Two things have really bolstered Microsoft since the Xbox One’s launch. The first is the Xbox One getting trounced at launch by the PlayStation 4 which forced Microsoft to step up its game to compete with Sony. While the PS4 is outselling the Xbox One but a reported 2:1 ratio, Microsoft is legitimately working hard to close that gap as evidenced by consumer focused initiatives like Play Anywhere. The second was replacing Don Mattrick with a proper gamer like Phil Spencer who managed to turn the perception of the company around somewhat since taking over the Xbox Division.
Of course, the elephant in room for this plan is Windows 10. While I plan to detail the problems with locking the game to Windows 10 later, many gamers aren’t happy with the current state of the gaming through the Microsoft Store (which currently serves as Microsoft’s store and client for Windows 10 games in a manner similar to Steam or Origin but without the functionality) and there have been privacy concerns with Windows 10. While I’m not sure that’s enough to stop people from playing Windows 10 games, these are still concerns about gaming on Windows 10 which isn’t directly tied to Play Anywhere but still a part of that ecosystem.