Let’s Talk About the Microsoft Store.

I used to buy games in brick and mortar stores; it was fun to drive into town, pick up the latest copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator or something, come back home, rush downstairs, and install it. But, as the internet got faster, cheaper, and more reliable, downloads became the easiest, most convenient way to acquire software. These days, I’m a loyal customer on platforms like Amazon, Steam, and gog.com, but I’d like to buy my games from Microsoft as well. Unfortunately, the experience has been… well, challenging, at best.

So, hi, I’m Doc, and among other things, I spend a lot of time helping people make software more usable. You’d think that would be a given, but all too often, it’s not. Software can be a mess. It can be difficult. It can be frustrating. Now, as the person who makes the software, your instinct might be to go “hey, not my problem,” but if you made the product because you want to make money… well, it is your problem, because if there’s one thing everyone seems to forget when making any sort of computer software, it’s this: software needs to be human-friendly.

It’s weird, right? There’s this twitter thread I’ve been reading lately. It’s by Tim Sweeney, millionaire engine developer and conservationist whose company, Epic, is slurping up incredible amounts of cash with their game Fortnite. In this thread, Tim points out the frustration of buying software online. If you ask a store for X, rather than giving you X, it points you to Y, because Y’s creator paid the store to post ads for Y.

When people can’t find what they want, most of them give up. There’s an ‘effort barrier’ in any kind of commerce, and if people move past that barrier, they stop shopping. It’s unlikely that ads for Y in front of X are causing people to switch from X to Y. If anything, they’re less likely to spend money in the store because the store is a frustrating, unfriendly experience to them.

You, as a store owner, want people to want to spend money in your store. That’s how you eliminate the effort barrier. If someone walks in and thinks they want to buy something, but isn’t sure what they want, your goal is to make it so easy to buy something that they figure out what they want and leave happy. You have money, they have the thing they want, and everyone wins.

One store that’s especially good at this is Steam, a video game storefront run by Valve, a company founded by a few people including ex-Microsoft old-timer Gabe Newell. I’ve heard that Valve is one of the most profitable companies in the world relative to the number of people it employs, and this is almost entirely thanks to Steam, a platform that takes a 30% cut of every purchase. Steam makes absurd amounts of money. In fact, Steam has become so synonymous with PC gaming that, if a game is announced as coming to PC, like Bungie’s Destiny 2 or EA’s Titanfall, there’s a tangible sense of frustration when players hear that the game isn’t coming to Steam. Titanfall didn’t do so well on the PC, but I’ve heard many people claim that it would have thrived if it had released on Steam.

I’m going to talk about the Microsoft store here really soon, but first, I want to help you understand the expectations that I, as someone who has made ~almost three thousand purchases~ from the Steam store, have, when I choose where to take my business and why. Ideally you, the reader, if you work on a storefront, can understand where I’m coming from when I talk about the Microsoft Store.

Steam’s success is because it’s very easy to buy products from them. It’s also really good at helping you parse important information. Check out this screenshot from the front page, for instance:

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Bam. Immediately, I can see that I own the Commandos Collection and want Medieval: Kingdom Wars and The Painscreek Killings. I can immediately see that these games are on sale, how much they’re on sale for, and how much they used to go for. From here, I can determine whether or not I want to purchase those games. Right now, it’s not in my budget, so I’m not going to pick them up. Troubleshooter looks interesting, so let’s check it out.

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Alright, cool. It’s got good reviews, it’s a turn-based strategy game inspired by games I enjoy, and it’s in Early Access. I won’t buy it now, but I will put it on my wishlist. Once it leaves Early Access, I’ll check it out again, and if it hits a price point I like, say, 50% off, I’ll go ahead and pick it up.

There’s a lot going on here. Not only do we have immediate access to a ton of useful information, but we have the ability to either buy it immediately and put it on our wishlist.

If I did purchase it, Troubleshooter would show up in my Steam Library, which looks like this (do note that I’m using a Steam skin to pretty things up; default Steam looks pretty similar, however, and still displays all the information available here).

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Okay, so, first things first. Steam defaults to my library page; Valve understands that I use the client primarily to play games; I’ll shop when I want to shop. As such, it allows me to pick which page shows up when I open the client. Other game clients, like Origin, GoG, Battle.net, and Uplay, all allow the same thing.

What we see here is my library, which I can search through text or scroll through manually. There are multiple view options, I can create folders to sort my games, I can hide games I don’t want to see, I can see whether a game is installed or not, and so on and so forth.

XCOM 2 is the game I’ve got up right now. We can see when I last played it, how long I’ve played it for, which friends play it, what achievements I’ve earned (and how close I am to earning 100% of the achievements), recent, highly-praised mods, what DLC I own, and the game’s latest news. That’s a lot, but it’s all useful information. If I took screenshots, I could browse those. Over on the left, there are useful links — not “links to drive me to advertisement,” yo, but actually useful links — that can help me get the most out of the game.

Steam does a lot of really useful things; if I want to install a game, for instance, I’m presented with this menu.

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I can pick where to install each individual game, for instance. I know if I have space, I’m given a time estimate, and so on. I’ve set D:\Steam as my default install directory because I have an SSD for my operating system drive and it’d get filled up fast if I installed my games there. It’s fast. It’s convenient. It’s easy. Steam is extremely good at providing the relevant information. If I want to mod my games, I can simply right click on the game, check its properties, and go to the game’s directory, which is really useful for modifying games with new graphics effects or troubleshooting why the game won’t launch. I can also do things like run an integrity verification if a game isn’t working. Software is complex, especially when you’re simulating real worlds. Errors happen.

But now it’s time to talk about the experience of buying products from Microsoft.

We’re gonna divide this into a few parts for readability’s sake. I’m going to discuss other ways to buy products from Microsoft at some point, ’cause that’s relevant too, but to get started, I think it’s important for us to talk about the user interface.

This is the Microsoft store.

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Well, this is the store as it was on April 20, 2018. It might have changed a bit since then, but I can’t see much of a difference.

Alright, so, question: do I own Sea of Thieves?

Judging by this store page, no, I do not. As a matter of fact, I do. The deals themselves seem kind of random, a lot of the games are things I’d never buy, there’s just… man, this is not an appealing storefront to me, the consumer. There is nothing here that I want. Nothing. And the thing is, I have about 450 games installed on my Xbox One right now, okay? I’ve played a ton of games. Microsoft, presumably, has data on what I, the consumer, spend money on. Right this second, I’ve double-checked the Microsoft Store, which is displaying four games I own on the storefront. It does not recognize that I own them. Kinda weird, right?

I wouldn’t mind buying movies and TV from the Microsoft store; I’m still a bit of a luddite. I buy blu-rays instead of stream stuff, because I think they look best. I could be convinced to try other things, but it’s kinda weird that the movies don’t tell you how much they’re on sale for. The rest of the crapware, I’m not really interested in.

It’d be nice if MS did a better job recommending stuff I might want and helping me filter out stuff I already have or don’t want. I love that Steam lets you add stuff to wishlists or mark things as “not interested.” I have no idea if there is a wishlist on the Microsoft store at all, or how to navigate to it. Imagine being able to set up alerts for prices on certain things. Like, hey, Steep Winter Games Gold Edition is on sale right now… for $40. I’m waiting for it to reach $20 or lower. What if I could tell MS that’s what I wanted it for, then MS could tell me when it was available at that price? Imagine how much data Microsoft or its vendors could glean from that. “Ah, people like our product but not at this price point. Interesting.”

Right, so, next question: how do I get to my library from here?

Back on the Xbox 360, there was no way of knowing what you actually owned. Seriously. You have to go to the website and check your “Purchase History,” which isn’t easy to get to at all unless you use a search engine. You can’t sort your downloads or anything. This is all you can see. Is it on your 360? Is it not? Your 360 only has 500GB of games at maximum. How could you know whether or not you could install something? How do you keep track of all the games you own? Crazy, right? The best part is, that page doesn’t appear to work anymore; I’m signed in and it says I have no 360 games at all.

Well, it got better with the Microsoft Store and the Xbox One. On the Xbox, there’s a thing called “My games and apps” that you can view easily, which shows you your entire library. You don’t have any of the easy access to information that Steam provides, things take forever to load (even on an 80MB wired connection and the latest and greatest Xbox, the One X), but hey, you can see what you own and whether you have it installed or not. That’s good.

On the Microsoft store… I mean, hey, look at that screenshot above? What did you buy? How can you tell?

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See my red squiggly lines on the right? It’s over there. Those three dots. If you click on them, you’ll find a drop-down menu for “My Library.”

Now, I think it would be fascinating to see how Satya Nadella, Phil Spencer, and whoever else at Microsoft is responsible for the store or the things that get put on the store, uh… actually use the store. Like, seriously, do they buy a lot of software on the store? How do they do it? Is it as intuitive for them to get to the library as it is for me?

Presumably they have Excel at home. How do they open up Excel on their home computers? How does Phil boot up a match of Age of Empires?

It’d be nice if Microsoft made it clear where your software library was and how to get to it easily, like literally every other major software store client in the world.

This is my library (purchase date hidden, because why would you need to know that?).

The Microsoft Store shows me a lot of stuff I can’t install. These are all Xbox One games and software. 360 games don’t show up on this list, just Xbox One games.

I cannot sort these games in any meaningful way. I can only filter by “all,” “installed,” or “ready to install.” I can’t even sort alphabetically! And DLC is included in this list (look at those three free Forza 7 cars I picked up) on equal terms with the games. What is any of this? Why is it like this? At least I can search, I guess?

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Oh.

It doesn’t search my library, it just… searches everything.

It would be useful if customers could sort their libraries in waaaay more useful means than this.

Consider this: I want to buy all the Forza Motorsport 7 DLC. Every year, I buy the most expensive version of Forza, which gives me access to a bunch — but not all — of the DLC. This means I’m not sure if I’ve spent as much money as it’s possible to spend on Forza games. I want to own all DLC. If there’s DLC I don’t own, I want to know about it.

Let’s hop back to Steam. This is a game with a lot of DLC called Total War: Rome 2.

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As we can see, I own a lot of DLC — that’s marked in green — and I’ve wishlisted 3 others. I can’t obtain the Imperator Augustus Campaign Pack for some reason, which is a shame, but I don’t have the Rise of the Republic Campaign Pack on my wishlist, so I’m going to add that now. It’s not in my game budget right now at just 10% off, but If I see it under $10, I’ll probably snatch it up.

If we go back to our library, we can see that I don’t have any of the DLC installed on my machine.

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On the Microsoft Store, I have no way of knowing what DLC is installed and what isn’t. For a while, if you wanted to play the Forza Horizon 3 DLCs… well, first, you had to load the game and try to access them. If you couldn’t, it meant they weren’t installed. To install them, you had to search for them on the store page, but they might not show as owned, so you might have to go from the library to the store page for the game to the store page for the DLC, at which point you would be able to install the DLC from that version of the store page. You couldn’t just check your library to see whether or not it was installed.

I like Steam’s approach a lot better.

On the Xbox One, you can check to see if your DLC is installed, which is awesome, but you have to do so manually, by selecting each game individually, opening the “manage game” option, and having Xbox Live scan to see if you’ve got the DLC. If you have 450 games installed on your Xbox, this process can be… uh, really frustrating to go through. Steam auto-updates every game’s DLC immediately. Buy it and it gets pushed. The Xbox does not, no matter what setting I put it on. I have to manually update every DLC if the game was installed prior to the DLC being purchased.

It’s inconvenient.

Alright, so here’s a fun one. Now that we’re in our library, why don’t we try to see what isn’t installed and install it?

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Ah, uh… okay. We have sorting! Two options. “Most Recent,” and “Name.” I have tried to find Excel in my list, but “search” takes me to the store. I didn’t see it in the list. But I did find the “my office” app, which is separate from the store, and in it, I am able to install my Office apps… for… some reason? Despite being signed into my Microsoft account on Windows, the Office app shows me as not signed in.

At this point, I mean… man, why not just use Google Drive?

I grew up on Office. I learned how to do everything in Office. I created databases in Access, I wrote stories in Word, I tracked a ton of data in Excel. Heck, I’ve even made Powerpoints back in school. But like… why use Office when it’s Microsoft’s premiere thing, I actually have an Office 365 license, and I can’t find and manage each program individually in my own dang library?

But, hey, let’s look at the other things, like Game management. Here’s the game section, which I have sorted by name.

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Okay, first off, it shows Candy Crush Saga, a game I don’t own and have never owned and do not want to own, in my list. I have told my list to uninstall and hide Candy Crush Saga a lot. It will not go away. As a consumer, this is frustrating, like holy geez. It’s so frustrating! The game is always at the top of the list because it permanently shows as “just purchased.” No. I don’t want it. Make it gone.

Second, all these random other things in my library, like Age of Empires: Castle Siege! Why is it here? I made these hidden a while ago. It’s like everything got reset.

Secondly, even though I own them, I can’t install “Forza Horizon 3: Ultimate Edition,” or “Forza Motorsport 7: Ultimate Edition,” or “Gears of War 4: Ultimate Edition — Pre-Order.” It shows them on the “ready to install” list, but they are already installed.

Look, I’m sorry, this is a lot of information, but… that’s part of my point, right? This is a ton of needless information to be throwing at consumers. Why can’t you install something in the ready to install list? You just can’t, for some reason.

Okay, here’s the installed games.

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Steam just shows you one big list that you can sort and search through how you want, while giving you all sorts of useful information, screenshots, links to places you might want to go, and so on. This is just… a list. That’s it. It’s a list. And for some reason, this list still considers DLC to be equal with games. Some DLC shows up in it, other DLC does not.

Fun fact, I was trying to install some Forza 7 DLC a while back and ran into a strange error.

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Oh no.

What does this mean?

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Turns out that two separate DLCs can’t be installed simultaneously because they share the same AppID, and no one at Microsoft or Turn10 has bothered to fix this. That’s frustrating. It was posted three months ago when I took this screenshot, and I took the screenshot on May 18th.

Man, I’m not trying to make Microsoft look bad or anything. Honestly, if I knew anyone at Microsoft who could fix this, I’d invite them out to lunch and try to talk things through and see if they could fix it. But I’m a disabled millennial looking for work in a city with a declining economy, right? I’m nobody important. So I’m making a blog post and hoping it gets out there, because I think Microsoft could make the best store in the world if they had people designing rules that made it work.

“We have two games with the same AppID” should absolutely be a flag in the store backend that tosses out an error so people know to fix it, right? How do two completely different products get the same AppID to begin with?

But, hey. Back to the store!

So, on April 20th, what you had to do was go to the library, wait for it to load, click “show all,” then filter by “works on this device,” and non-games will show up as games.

Today, July 24, you go to the library, click on “ready to install,” wait 30 seconds for the a list of only 13 games to load (what?!), and then you can install them. Non-games do not show up as games now, which is nice, but some DLC does. But I can’t tell if that’s all the DLC or what. It’s not clear.

It’s really awkward and you have to know where everything is. In Steam, I can simply open the app to my library (or click “LIBRARY” at the top of the screen if it’s not my default), click on any uninstalled game (it’s greyed out), and then install it.

On Steam, I can tell it where to install. On Microsoft, you can only tell it what disk drive to install to, and then Microsoft creates a ton of ugly-named folders that completely ruins whatever file structure you might have been trying to maintain. And hey, some games just won’t install on the drive you want it to.

A while back, I bought Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition. One day, I decided to install it on my PC. I went to the list… to find that it wasn’t there. And the weird thing is, I know I purchased it. I preordered the game digitally from Gamestop, got the receipt, entered it in, and it works fine on the Xbox One. On the PC… it was like it didn’t exist. I went to the store page and, again, nothing. The Microsoft store simply did not think I owned the game.

Support helped me figure out how to make it show up: first, you go to the Ultimate Edition page. Not the Forza Horizon 3 page, mind you, but the Ultimate Edition page. From there, if you click on “Forza Horizon 3,” you’ll be taken to a separate page for Forza Horizon 3, and then, and only then, can you install the game. That’s the only way to install it that I’ve found on the PC. It simply does not show up in my list. It’s not the only game that does this. Halo Wars 2 has the same problem.

Now let’s talk about the DLC. I did a twitter thread on this in July 2017.

Thankfully, it’s been updated. Back then, the only way to see what DLC you owned and didn’t was by going to the store page through your library. If you went to the store page directly, you couldn’t see the DLC. It had to be through your library. Now, you can go to the store page directly, but it shows up like… this.

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It will tell you that some of this is “owned” and some of it is “installed,” but I can’t tell the difference, because, for instance, Forza Motorsport 7 here is installed, but only shows as owned. So what’s installed and what’s owned? I dunno.

On Steam, all you do is find the game in your library and click on it. It will show you a list of all DLC you own and tell you if it’s installed or not. On the store page, you can see all DLC you own and don’t own, allowing you to make purchases to complete your collection.

This “installed/owned” problem isn’t just a Microsoft Store issue. You can see it on the Xbox One platform as well.

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For the record, every game “owned” on this page is also installed, and vice versa…

Except. Wait a minute.

Hold on.

Why is South Park telling me I don’t own it? Let’s click on that.

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Um.

Hey. I own this. I own the Gold Edition. Why are you telling me I can buy it and acting like I don’t own it, Microsoft store? This is reminiscent of the Forza Horizon 3 problem, just on my console instead!

Seriously, here’s the actual receipt:

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See?

Gold Edition.

So yeah, there’s something weird on the backend with how Microsoft handles this. A while ago, I had to repurchase the Season Pass for Sunset Overdrive because even though I’d purchased the Ultimate Edition of that game, Microsoft decided I didn’t own it. The customer support rep made me repurchase it, then gave me a refund immediately after.

Isn’t that weird? You buy a thing but the store arbitrarily decides that, in Forza Horizon 3’s case, maybe you don’t own it at all unless you go through a really weird set of steps to make it work, or in Sunset Overdrive’s case, you don’t own it at all unless you repurchase it entirely, or in South Park’s case… it’ll let you install it, but tell you that you don’t own it whenever you browse sales, which can be confusing and frustrating.

And even if you do, then you’ve gotta deal with a really frustrating system that can make it hard to figure out if you own DLC and whether or not you have it installed. There’s no real way to tell because of this weird “owned/installed” issue.

So. Back to DLC.

For Resident Evil 7, if I want some, but not all, of the DLC installed, it must be installed on the C: drive or it will fail, and there’s only a 50/50 chance it’ll tell you that you have to install it on the C drive.

Look at how many people gave this DLC negative reviews and said they’d never buy games on the Microsoft store!

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Like, holy crap! That’s a huge problem with your interface right there. On Steam, this DLC will install to whatever drive you want just fine. On the Microsoft store, it doesn’t. Why buy on the Microsoft Store? What’s the value in it?

It’d sure be nice if you could install whatever you want to whatever drive you want.

It’d also be nice if you could manage your downloads.

I don’t just mean “know what is installed and what isn’t at a very granular level,” I mean… check out Steam.

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What it is. How fast it’s downloading. The fastest it downloaded. A history of recent downloads and upcoming downloads. You can pause or resume downloads at will. I don’t have any idea when Microsoft updates my games. The process is invisible. And… when I have bandwidth caps in a given month? That can really screw me over. I ended up having to pay a lot of money I wasn’t expecting because Microsoft kept going over my awful data caps.

(by the way, I have Cox, one of the biggest ISPs in America; how do you expect to release a streaming device when all of your biggest ISPs — Comcast, ATT, Verizon, etc — all have data caps? I left some streams running for a couple days and ended up having to more than double my internet bill that month! No way I could stream games unless I had a better ISP!)

But… then there’s the biggest problem of all.

The big one.

The mother lode.

The Godzilla, King of the Monsters of all fuckups.

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It was May 18th, 2018, and this is what I woke up to. All of my games suddenly, inexplicably not working.

All of them.

Gears of War 4 is over 120GB, more than a tenth of my bandwidth cap. I don’t have any idea what the other ones amount to. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to scrimp and save and plan my bandwidth to download all of these games? It’s not like Steam where you can download the files at the library on your laptop, transfer them to an external hard drive, and transfer those files to your desktop computer. If the game doesn’t work…

You’re screwed.

And there I was, completely screwed that day. All the games I’d purchased and worked so hard to get on my computer, suddenly inaccessible… for no reason at all. Each game reported the same error. I had made no changes to my computer at all. I turned it off one day and turned it on the next.

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Okay, uh, weird. Dang.

So, I decided to use the feedback app, not that it’d help me.

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Wait.

What?

Turns out, this error is caused by having my VPN running. Annoying. I shouldn’t have to shut off my VPN to log into my Microsoft account. But whatever, that’s a Microsoft-wide problem, not a Store-specific issue.

Okay. Let’s do a ton of googling. Will this work?

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Nope.

No solution I found worked.

With every single game, I got the same error:

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If you click “reinstall,” on about half the games, nothing happens. On the other half, reinstallation works just fine. If you back out of the freeze and attempt it again, like with Recore, you’ll get this:

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Okay, fine. Thankfully, I’d upgraded my internet — for $50/extra a month — to avoid bandwidth caps, but that’s something I’m not going to be able to afford to do forever. I had to reinstall all of my games. Every. Single. One.

One Terabyte of video games.

And Halo Wars 2 and Resident Evil 7 didn’t show up in my list of owned games at all.

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Okay. Uh. So, I own everything in this list, but the store won’t let me install; it only gives me an option to buy. This is because of the way the Microsoft Store appears to handle applications. If you buy a game, you only get that specific version of the game. I bought the Ultimate Edition (which wasn’t the Ultimate edition, as the Complete Edition had more stuff), so I don’t own “Halo Wars 2” or “Halo Wars 2: Complete Edition,” I just own Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition.

Here’s what I had to do in order to install the game, copied verbatim from a tweet that day.

1) search Halo Wars 2

2) open “Complete edition” window

3) click on “Halo Wars 2”

4) click “reinstall”

5) wait for it to freeze

6) click ‘back’ on my mouse

7) click Halo Wars 2 again

8) click “install”

Then, and only then, would it work.

On Steam, here’s how it works: each game has an appID, and those games can be included in a package, like so:

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If you go buy an XCOM 2 bundle, you’ll get a package which includes multiple appIDs. So let’s say Halo Wars 2 were on Steam (please, oh please, release this, Microsoft!). I could go to the Halo Wars 2 store page and buy Halo Wars 2. I could look at a list of all DLC and buy that DLC. I could also buy the Ultimate Edition of the game, which, these days, is usually a package including the game and the Ultimate Edition DLC. In the case of Halo Wars 2, that’s basically just the game and the season pass.

A Season Pass is treated like its own package. It gets updated each time DLC gets added. No need for a vestigial Season Pass you can’t install on the Microsoft Store here, folks. No going to the store to find out that it thinks you don’t own the “Complete Edition” of Halo Wars 2 even though you own all the DLC separately. When the Season Pass package gets updated, you automatically receive the DLC in your account.

In the case of Halo Wars 2, if more DLC were added at a later date, then new players could buy the “Complete Edition” package.

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Imagine Halo Wars 2 as the Regular Edition, the Ultimate Edition as the Digital Deluxe, and the XCOM 2 Collection as the Complete Edition in this analogy. You can see all the DLC, check out all the bundles, and so on. In fact, with some games, you can simply go to the store, buy everything, and it’ll automatically filter out all the content you own. Just add everything you don’t have to the cart right away.

So… why mention this?

Steam makes it easy to buy things to complete your collection. Microsoft makes it really, really hard to know what you do and don’t have and to figure out what you’re missing. This means it’s harder to convince people that they should buy more things.

Which brings me back to the May nightmare.

Eventually, my computer freaked out completely.

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Black screen, unresponsive mouse, crashing, etc. You know what had happened? This was, uh, the big update. I finally let it happen. That’s what made all my games not work, I think. A huge Windows 10 update. And that night, I installed about a terabyte of games on a secondary hard drive… only to wake up and find my computer almost completely dead the next day.

I had to reinstall Windows.

So that’s what I did.

On Steam, this isn’t a problem. If you download a game to a secondary hard drive and reinstall Windows, all you have to do is tell the fresh Steam installation where to find its games. “Hey! I’ve got a new library on D!” Steam will immediately check it out, find all the old games, and happily pretend nothing happened. Origin will recognize the games if you attempt to install them, which is pretty cool. GoG can scan your library and recognize ’em. Only the Windows Store hates this.

The Windows Store went “woah, hey, there’s a ton of games on this hard drive, but I don’t know what they are, so uh, you’re going to have to reinstall an entire terabyte of video games now, okay?”

Even though you own the games, even though it lets you install them to a drive of your choosing (unless it makes you install them to system drive, lol; it seems arbitrary), even if it’s your account signing back in on your own hard drive… Microsoft won’t recognize the games you downloaded and will force you to reinstall them.

By the way, it won’t let you install to specific directories, which makes modding a pain. You can’t even defragment those files. Can’t access them at all, even though you’re the administrator on your own machine, so if a game doesn’t work, the ONLY solution is a complete nuke and reinstall. Gears of War simply stopped working for me one day. Bam 125 gigabytes. All my games stopped working? Yup. 1TB.

Microsoft does not respect that its customers might be stuck with data caps. We don’t all make 60,000 a year or whatever, dudes! Shit ain’t cheap. And because you stick our files in encrypted folders like “WUDownloadCache,” “WpSystem,” “WindowsApps,” “SoftwareDistribution,” “DeliveryOptimization,” and “Appreadiness,” we can’t even organize our drives and files how we might want! Like, heck, my folder structure was so nice before. I had each individual app with its own folder, games that didn’t have apps in a “games” folder, and so on. I could manually manage saves and mods. Now I can’t do any of that. It sucks.

I wish Microsoft would just let us download the data and manage it how we wanted instead of randomly corrupting it and deciding we can’t access or control it. If I have a license to play a game because I paid for it, I should be able to do stuff like download the files at a library and bring them home to play on my gaming machine. Jeez.

So.

Yeah.

I have a friend in Norway who bought Gears of War 4 and can’t play it with us because it refuses to download. I’ve had friends — me too — who couldn’t play the game at all because it just decided to crash on launch and 125GB of downloading was too much to ask for. Sometimes, the store doesn’t think I own things I install. It’s a frustrating, unusable mess.

I want to sit down with the higher-ups at Microsoft and ask them about it. I want them to try using it. I want to know how these things got the okay.

But ultimately?

I like the Xbox ecosystem. I play it more than any other console, and for my job, I have every console of the past three generations. The only platform I play more on… is Windows.

Steam does everything it should. Funny thing is, it has its own problems. It sucks at curation, for instance. It doesn’t handle 4k well. There are so many situations where someone could absolutely eat Steam’s lunch.

But here’s the thing: I need to be able to buy a game, install that game, and play that game. I need to be able to manage the files how I want them to be managed, not just because people like DeadEndThrills can mod games to take incredible screenshots, but because sometimes, a Windows update breaks my OS and I installed all my games on a secondary drive so that reinstalling Windows wouldn’t be too hard, and the only program that makes me redownload everything anyways is the Windows Store.

I should be able to know what I have, what’s installed, and where it’s at. I want to be able to sort my library, browse through it, see how all this stuff works.

Do you have any idea how negative public perception of the Microsoft store is? Go to reddit or Resetera. Talk to people about Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. So many people I know refused to buy it because “I didn’t want to put up with the hassle of the Microsoft store.”

Steam is popular — to the point of people literally worshipping Gabe Newell — because it’s user friendly and makes it easy to buy games and manage your game collection. There is nothing about the Microsoft Store experience, on Windows or the Xbox, that makes it easy to buy or manage anything. It’s a frustrating nightmare hellscape plagued by bugs and baffling User Experience decisions.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Heck, I want to make games that I can sell on the Microsoft Store. I love the idea of competition in the marketplace. I love Play Anywhere as a system. But… man, how many people do you think are ignoring Play Anywhere because no one wants to put up with the Microsoft Store? My friends all gave up playing State of Decay because we kept having to fight with Teredo issues and in-game connections. We switched to Discord for voice chat because it just works. Connecting to games, downloading them, updating them, managing them… it’s bad. Not even “not great,” genuinely bad.

Microsoft needs to make the Microsoft Store a place people want to shop, and you do that by making it easy to find and purchase new content, and by making it easy to manage and access that content online. There are so many barriers to customers in the Microsoft Store experience right now. It needs a complete, ground-up rebuild.

It’s frustrating to me because I genuinely like the Xbox ecosystem. I love all the Xbox initiatives. I streamed Final Fantasy XV from my Xbox to my laptop in my bedroom last night! I can check my achievement progress on my phone! There’s so much cool stuff going on here… but I can’t manage any of it well. The Microsoft Store feels more like a mobile phone store that wasn’t built to handle really large programs that can be over a hundred gigabytes in size. I want it to be amazing. I would love to spend more money here.

But… why spend money on the Xbox when Steam does everything better, y’know?

I’d love to sit down with a bunch of Microsoft folks and ask them about this stuff. I want to understand how and why the system works. I wonder if they know that a Forza DLC shares an AppID. I wonder how easy or hard it would be to fix it so my friend in Norway can download games or manage files. There have been a ton of great improvements, most notably the one that lets you pick which drive to install on, but every other store I buy from is still leagues beyond what Microsoft is offering.

One draft, no edits. Sorry, got games to develop and articles to write! If you have any questions, my DMs are open on twitter!

(this twitter thread inspired it all)

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.

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