Microsoft is competing with Steam. For $60, you can get Rise of the Tomb Raider from either the Windows Store or Steam. But the Windows Store’s version of the game is worse, and Microsoft’s new app platform is to blame. It’s not ready for powerful games yet.
There’s no problem with getting Candy Crush Saga or other simple mobile games from the Windows Store. The Universal App Platform is ideal for simple things like that. But Rise of the Tomb Raider demonstrates just how limited universal apps are.
Steam and other PC gaming services distribute games as traditional Windows desktop applications. You buy a game, it downloads the .exe or .msi installer and installs it. All apps in the Windows Store, on the other hand, are made using Microsoft’s new “Universal Windows Platform,” or UWP.
That’s why there’s such a huge difference here. It’s not just the limitations of the Store itself. Underneath, you’re choosing between a “universal app” version of the game and a “Windows desktop” version of the game.
Microsoft’s new app platform has improved dramatically from the state it was in back in Windows 8. But it’s still not as powerful as the Windows desktop platform. It may one day be, but it isn’t there yet.
“Store apps,” as Microsoft called them back in Windows 8.1, are limited in some important ways. This doesn’t normally matter for simple apps or casual games, but it’s very noticeable for PC games. Courtesy of this discussion on Reddit, here’s a list of things the Windows Store version of Rise of the Tomb Raider can’t do.
First up, there are serious limitations when it comes to making use of your graphics hardware. Some graphics settings also can’t be changed:
Windows Store apps are also more locked down, so other processes on the system can’t interfere with them and their files can’t be modified. This leads to a few more problems:
The Windows Store itself also needs work:
Some of these things may not matter to you, but you never know what features you might want down the line. And when both versions of the game cost the exact same amount of money, why would you choose to buy the version that’s crippled?
None of this is just speculation. In a thread on the Steam discussion forum, a representative for Nixxes–the company developing both the Steam and Windows Store versions of the game–confirmed the problem. “Sorry, unfortunately disabling VSync is not supported in the UWP framework currently,” the representative wrote.
Yes, you read that right: Even support for the Windows Store app is happening on Steam. There’s no good way for developers to communicate with their users on the Windows Store in the same way.
Valve’s Steam service has locked down a huge chunk of the PC gaming market, and competition is always good. But Microsoft’s crippled Windows Store versions of games aren’t the solution. If you want more competition in PC gaming, you should bet on a competing store like GOG or even EA’s Origin.
Microsoft responded to our article, and promised to improve in the future. Phil Spencer, head of Xbox at Microsoft, said Microsoft would do better:
Microsoft’s Mike Ybarra promised to fix the VSync issue. Interestingly enough, he said that SLI and Crossfire do work if the game supports it. If this is the case, it’s unclear why the Steam version of Rise of the Tomb Raider supports SLI and Crossfire, but the Windows Store version doesn’t.
Rise of the Tomb Raider gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast the platforms. Microsoft has announced plans to only release Quantum Break through the Windows Store. Microsoft’s move towards the Windows Store is bad news for PC gamers who’d like any of the above features.
After the failure of Microsoft’s disastrous Games for Windows Live (GFWL) platform, it shouldn’t be rolling out another PC gaming platform that causes problems for gamers.