this is a tiny blog about the microsoft store

so, I’ve written, at length, about the Microsoft store before, in part because I was somewhat frustrated by the experience, but primarily because I have a desire for the store to become better. Here’s the thing: I love the idea of being able to buy games on a console, subscribe to game pass, stream games from my console to PC (though even on a gigabit, direct wired connection, streaming quality is a bit weird; possibly in part because my computer monitor is 4k and my xbox is outputting to tv at 1080p, but I’m still seeing some artifacting — I have no idea how xcloud is going to succeed).

I’m a usability person. I’ve helped a lot of game devs make their games more usable, and stores are, well, pretty similar, to be honest. It’s software that you want humans to engage with, it’s software where you want to encourage humans to do things that you’ve set up for them to do.

So, here is some hopefully helpful feedback I’m writing down here so people at Microsoft have a nice, readable list of issues I’m having, some of which are personal preference (“other stores do it better!”) and others appear to be actual bugs or usability issues.

I have some slight issues with the software. I just reinstalled Windows onto an m2 nvme drive, and that’s been a whole unpleasant process, but I almost forgot to delete certain Windows Store folders on my D: Drive, a secondary 6TB HDD where I install all my games.

A few problems:

  1. Windows creates a bunch of folders there, like “WPinstallerbullshit” or whatever, and you can’t modify or delete those unless you do a whole lot of complicated steps to make it happen. If you had a clean file structure before (d:/games, d:/steam, d:/mmos, etc), kiss that goodbye.
  2. You can’t modify the contents of those folders, so say adios to modding, which is a crucial part of PC gaming.
  3. Unlike Steam, GoG, Origin, and Uplay, you can’t simply rescan those folders and take possession of the content inside. You have to redownload. When I was under a data cap, I had to download all ~150 gigabytes — almost an eighth of my data cap — of Gears of War 4 again. Reinstalling every game I had installed destroyed my data cap. No one else needed to redownload a thing.

So that’s all very frustrating and even cost me actual money to fix. Not great.

But then we run into some serious problems.

First, not everything installs. I discussed this before; the Resident Evil 7 DLC will ONLY install on your C: drive and I don’t believe you can install DLC separately from the game. A Forza 7 DLC won’t install (check this article for “strange error”) because it apparently shares the same ID as another DLC, so you can only install one at a time.

On a fundamental level, a store should be able to install everything you own for the platform where you want to install it without issue.

But then there’s another problem. I talked about this before, but basically, Microsoft released a new Xbox app, and I thought this meant I’d be able to install all my PC games through it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. You can only install games you own that are also available on Game Pass at present, so Final Fantasy IX doesn’t show up in my list, but State of Decay, a game I purchased, does.

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“but wait, Doc, some of these games aren’t on gamepass, I don’t think”

yeah uh… so yesterday, I installed some games through the microsoft store

and my list appears to have grown???

In fact, before I took this screenshot, I clicked on the bell notification in the upper right and it actually told me that games I had installed via the Windows Store were finished downloading. So no real idea what’s going on there? Kind of cool that it knows to update the status of games that belong there.

But do you see another problem?

Yup. Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate is showing up as a separate game from Forza Horizon 4.

No idea what’s going on there, but that shouldn’t be happening; we only need one entry to launch the game.

Additionally, Gears 5 Tech Test isn’t a part of Game Pass Ultimate, nor is it even available anymore, so… it shouldn’t show up at all, right? It’s an expired beta.

But then there’s one other teeny tiny problem.

Gears 5 isn’t named correctly: it’s Gears 5 Ultimate Pre-Order blah blah blah. Shouldn’t it just be Gears 5 Ultimate Edition, or just Gears 5?

Oh wait, one more.

I don’t see a way to sort this list at all.

So yeah, even ignoring the issue of ‘real games i own not showing up in the store because only some gamepass games do but also it looks like maybe some non gamepass games are showing up too but I’m not really sure???’ (as opposed to the like… windows 8 store mobile junk, though some games like Hitman GO are really good and I’d love for them to be on this list too), we still run into a few really weird issues.

Ultimately, I want just one place to install all my games, I want the ability to sort/hide them, I want each game to have one entry per game, and I want to control where I install those games.

There are some games that aren’t on game pass at all.

Here is my list of games that are ready to install.

Here’s what happens when I click “show hidden.”

As you can see, Halo Wars 2 is not there (Awakening the Nightmare Demo is).

However, if we look at my list of literally everything I own, Halo Wars 2 shows up.

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Okay, so this means that for some reason, and I have no idea why, but Halo Wars 2, Resident Evil 7, and Forza Horizon 3 (the only games I am aware of that I own but are missing from my games list; it’s possible there are more).

I would like to check the list but look at how slow it loads! Imagine having to scroll down, wait for a load, then scroll down some more after waiting every 5–10 seconds with hundreds of items in your list. It sucks. Steam is instant, in comparison.

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(the gif hasn’t stopped, you can see the circle at the bottom trying to load the next 10 or so entries)

So yeah, I don’t really want to scroll down my list and cross check it with my visible games to see what’s missing; it has separate entries for every single Xbox and PC game, software, DLC I own.

So, yes, okay. Some games aren’t being classed as games, as best I can tell. I own them, but they aren’t in my list of games.

Two more problems:

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Here’s The Crew. I can manage it.

…or can I?

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I can’t.

So, it’s kind of weird, but a lot of my Xbox games show up as a game with a list of DLC under it. I like the idea — but… you can’t actually manage your game install or anything.

Why do I like the idea? Well… look at that gif above. It’s stuck on Valkyria chronicles DLC for around 16 seconds before it loads a few more entries into the list.

There’s poor communication here! Some DLC is shown under a game’s ‘manage’ entry (but you can’t manage it) while other DLC is just… in the list (and in some cases, you can install it manually; in others, you cannot).

Do I really need to see my Xbox DLC at all? I kinda like the idea, but when I’m trying to install games on a list that loads super super slow… it’s unpleasant, yeah?

Oh huh. Here’s something weird.

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Gears 5 tech test and Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition have both disappeared. All I did was click on Halo: Spartan Strike, install it, and then hit the back button on my mouse.

Weirdly, State of Decay 2 Ultimate Edition is still visible.

So… okay, when I started the store, Gears 5 Ultimate Preorder/Gears 5 Tech Test were visible. Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate were available. State of Decay 2 Ultimate and State of Decay 2 were available. I left the page and came back to it after installing one game.

State of Decay 2 Ultimate and State of Decay 2 are visible.

Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate is no longer visible.

Gears 5 Tech Test is no longer visible (but Gears 5 is still dumbly named Pre-Order Edition or whatever, I can’t see the full name).

That’s odd.

(remember, this is a beta app so some jank is to be expected, but there’s no forum for me to report these issues on as far as I can tell, much less a place to host gifs, so we’re posting on medium, baybee!)

Here’s another odd one:

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This is like a 26 second gif of me loading into “all games” and only getting some games to load. It’s running at 15 fps, so it looks a bit weird, but don’t worry about that, the actual recording time was around 25 seconds. There are WAY more games than this available, it’s just not loading them.

I actually did get it to load after backing out of the page and reloading it, at which point it stuttered a lot during scrolling.

(I’m running on an i7 6700k with 32gb of ddr4 ram operating at a frequency of 3.2ghz and I have a gtx 2080ti. the os ssd, which the xbox app is installed on, is an intel 660p 1tb, and the windows installation is brand new, fully updated)

So.

The games aren’t loading properly, and when they do, it’s really laggy and juddery, and images fade in and out as if, somehow, it’s redownloading every single image whenever you aren’t looking at it or something? Whatever the case is, this is not performant at all.

But you wanna know the weirdest part?

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As we see in this image, I own Halo Wars 2 for PC. You can see near the top there, I can click “install” on Halo Wars 2.

If we look at my list of games, Halo Wars 2 is not available (for clarity, I’m not showing hidden games, but it’s not there either).

As you can see, I own the game and all DLC:

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Heck, here’s the receipt:

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But… when we look on the list of GamePass games I own?

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No Halo Wars 2.

Maybe, like Final Fantasy IX or Romancing SaGa 2, it’s not available on GamePass, right?

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Wrong.

So, from this, we can assume something’s happening with the way Microsoft’s backend recognizes all this stuff.

As best I can tell, it doesn’t think Halo Wars 2 is a game, so it doesn’t show up as “games to install.” As a result, it also doesn’t show up as a game I own under the GamePass app, which is called “Xbox,” (which is super misleading as it makes you think all your Xbox games would be available).

“Ehnh, that’s not so bad, you just have to remember what games are missing” sounds acceptable if it’s only one or two games, but because I own hundreds of games through Xbox and Windows, finding which games aren’t showing up in my games list that I own is frustrating, especially because of the massive performance issues with this store.

So, to recap, after the initial list at the start of the article, the problems are:

  1. Some games are not showing up as games to install in either Microsoft Store or the currently misleadingly-named Xbox app, even if I definitely purchased them under this account and they DO show up under the massive “list of everything I own.”
  2. I can’t sort any of this, in either the Microsoft Store or the Xbox app.
  3. Nothing loads very quickly, despite my machine having great specs and being on a wired gigabit LAN connection using gigabit internet. In fact, it can take 15+ seconds to load entries to the store page, while the xbox app won’t load at all. When loading JUST games in the Microsoft Store, despite it being a MUCH shorter list, it still takes forever.
  4. You can “manage” some games, but not really, because they’re xbox only games. DLC shows up under those games.
  5. You cannot manage other games but it’s not clear why.
  6. Some DLC shows up in your list but not all of it.
  7. DLC does not show up as games, nor does it install when you actually install the relevant game. So now I have to go manually install a bunch of DLC and hope I got it all because as I’ve demonstrated, the stores load really slowly and sometimes not at all.
  8. Massive inconsistencies with what’s displayed and what isn’t (state of decay 2 and state of decay 2 ultimate edition both show up).

Oh, I should talk about the DLC process.

Seriously, why do I have to manually install my DLC?

Why doesn’t my Halo Wars 2 DLC show up at all while a shitload of Forza DLC shows up?

Why does State of Decay 2 show up but not State of Decay 2 ultimate edition?

(for the record, this is how it should be: just the game name, and if you own the ultimate edition, all that content shows up under the state of decay 2 entry as like Ultimate Edition DLC or whatever)

(steam actually treats this bundles, which is super nice, so if you click “ultimate edition,” you can see if you actually got everything)

So we’ve talked about the problems, but what would a good store look like?

Well, Steam pulls up its list instantly when I look for a game, there’s only one entry per game, and it shows what DLC I own or have installed on the actual game page. It’s very easy to manage a game and its DLC.

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and if I want to view a game’s folder, I just right click on the entry, go to the location, and bam, it’s there, in the folder I told it to install in, where I can mod the game to my heart’s content.

That’s how it should be.

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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