Across Microsoft today we’re celebrating the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and in turn, commemorating the first birthday for our latest and greatest OS (July 29) – which after just one year already lives on more than 350 million devices. That’s everything from PCs like laptops and desktops, tablets of all sizes, Surface and hybrids, phones, Xbox One consoles, and even HoloLens development kits.
It turns out that a lot of those devices are playing games. In fact, more than 19 billion hours of gameplay were logged on Windows 10 in year one and games were the top app download category in the Windows Store. It’s not just the Windows Store that’s seeing a boon from gaming on Windows 10. Players on Steam are have adopted Windows 10 as their most used operating system, reaching 44.46 percent usage.
A massively fun part of Windows has always been playing games and that couldn’t be truer today with the combination of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update and the Xbox summer update that arrived last week. These updates continue our commitment to give both console and PC gamers more choice in how and where they play, and have included a lot of great features for those who play games on Windows 10: Xbox and Windows Store convergence, the presence of top PC games on Xbox Live, 60fps game clip recording with the Game bar, improved Game bar full-screen support for more PC games, and the Xbox app extending from Windows 10 mobile to iOS and Android devices.
I’m personally pretty excited about the new PC gaming updates. But, as one does at birthdays and anniversaries, I’ve been feeling nostalgic as we’ve approached the big one-year-milestone for Windows 10. I wanted to take a look back at the journey of gaming on Windows over the past year.
To do that, I spoke with Kevin Unangst, senior director for PC gaming here at Team Xbox. Read on for a transcript of what we talked about, including getting to the bottom of what it means to have a PC gaming team within the Xbox group, how gaming on Windows 10 is great for PC gamers and offers more experiences to those who play on both PC and console, and some of our favorite parts of PC gaming with Windows 10 today.
Transcript of Larry Hryb, Xbox Live’s Major Nelson, and Kevin Unangst recorded for the Major Nelson podcast
Larry Hryb: The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is now available. I’m really excited to talk about that with Kevin Unangst, who’s the Senior Director for PC gaming here at Team Xbox. Kevin, it’s great to have you on the show.
Kevin Unangst: It’s great to be here, Larry.
LH: You and I have known each other a long time.
KU: Many years, yes we have.
LH: You’ve worked on a lot of different parts of the business, and I’m so thrilled you’re working on the PC side now. It’s really, really cool stuff coming. Today’s a big day, right?
KU: Today’s a huge day. We’ve had an awesome, amazing first year with Windows 10, and in leading a team that focused on PC gaming inside Team Xbox and thinking about the needs of PC gamers, today PC gaming gets even better.
LH: You know, I was looking at it and its been about 560 days, and if you scroll back and do the math quickly its January 21st, 2015 when Phil Spencer went out on stage at our event here on campus, which we announced Windows 10, and really the doubling down on the commitment to gaming on Windows, right?
KU: Yeah, that was a big moment for us with Phil as the leader at Xbox getting up and telling the world that, despite the challenges we had in the past, and our focus had shifted from PC games, which were part of our heritage, to the console, and Phil getting up and saying Windows is amazing, gaming on Windows is amazing and I’m here as the leader of gaming at the company to talk about how Windows 10 is going to be the best version of Windows we’ve ever made for gamers. That was a very big deal.
LH: And I also want to point out that this is down through the DNA of the organization. Isn’t not just, like, “yea we’re going to do it, and we’re going to hire Kevin to do it,” and then Kevin just goes and plays golf for two weeks, right? You guys are working hard.
KU: What you see and what’s so exciting for someone like myself who’s been a PC gamer, and I also play on console like most do, to see throughout team Xbox, starting from Phil on down, the passion and the focus on how do we deliver experiences not only great for the console but uniquely awesome for the PC gamer.
LH: You sit with Phil when you guys are talking about PC gaming. Xbox really means gaming, it’s no longer just the console, its more than that now, isn’t it?
KU: Yeah, Xbox is a much broader definition. For us, it’s about gaming and Microsoft’s contribution to the gaming ecosystem. And it’s a recognition of both the fact that we’ve got amazing experiences that we’ve delivered on the console historically, and franchises, and we’ve built this world-class gaming network. But it’s also an acknowledgement, and you’ve seen that over the last year, of how do we do things unique to the PC. How do we bring those awesome assets and those great games? And the fact that we live in both of these worlds and make the PC gaming experience better because of it.
LH: There’s a great update that came out for the Xbox app on PC, there’s a lot of really cool features in there. I wanted to see if you can talk through some of those and tell us what people can expect. Because they probably see this Xbox app and they don’t really understand it. Let’s go through what it means and what the features are for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.
KU: The Xbox app is part of every copy of Windows 10. It’s designed as, really, the entry point for you to experience and enhance the games you already have with things like game recording. We have a great new feature that we introduced with Windows 10 called Game DVR that lets you record any gameplay you have on your PC and share it out.
LH: Now this is without any additional hardware?
KU: Right, it’s all just built in. And in the Anniversary Update, we make that even better with support for things like 60 frames-per-second recording so you can get the highest fidelity. And we’ve added a feature where not only can you record from games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends and the Steam games that you play, but you can now share those out to Xbox Live and all your friends who may be on Xbox Live or on Windows 10 who can see that as well and get all that great information.
LH: I actually did that last week. I was playing around with the new app and I was sharing from an Age of Empires game. I had downloaded this great mod that turns the game into Game of Thrones, into Westeros. I was playing that and I shared that out and people were like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on here?” I had to explain that this is a top PC games that you can now share into the Xbox Live ecosystem so that people on consoles can now see them. Xbox is now gaming across PC and console.
KU: That’s exactly right. We looked and said, “How can we connect the tens of millions of users who have Xbox Live and the hundreds of millions of gamers on PC who have access to Windows 10 and the Xbox app” and say, “How do we make that PC gaming experience better?” So the Xbox app has always had things like voice chat built-in. And it’s really cool that you can use voice chat…
LH: High quality voice chat. It’s unbelievable.
KU: Yeah, it’s the same one we built for the console but even better for PC. So now you can be playing on the console, I’m playing on my Windows 10 PC, I’m playing some PC game from 10 years ago, and I can still have a chat with you.
LH: I actually did that with Phil. He was playing Civilization Revolution on his PC and I fired up a party and was like, “Phil let’s go, we need to play some Overwatch on console,” and he came right over.
KU: Exactly. And that voice chat is free, too. If you’re a PC gamer, launch the Xbox app and its built-in.
LH: That’s really great. The other thing that’s really coming along, we talked a little bit about this at E3, and I want people to think of it this way – think of it as all these streams of work coming together and one of the streams of works that’s coming together is around Play Anywhere. And that feeds into this big, beautiful big pool of gaming. Right?
KU: Yeah, so when we bring our biggest franchises – and this is going to be the biggest year for Xbox games in the broadest definition – we’ve got Gears 4 coming, we’ve got Forza Horizon 3 coming, we’ve got ReCore coming. Early next year we’ve got Halo Wars 2 coming. What a lineup! And they’re going to sim-ship on Window 10 and Xbox One. And because with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we’re going to have the same store on Xbox One and Windows 10, it lets us do amazing things like this program called Xbox Play Anywhere. So if you buy the game on one of the platforms you automatically get it on the other.
LH: I want to point that out. Because we’ve been talking about the fact that when you buy it on Xbox, you get the Windows 10 version for free. But it works both ways, and that’s really critical. Regardless of what platform you make the initial purchase on, you get the other platform included.
KU: Absolutely. And Play Anywhere also has, in addition to that value of buying the game, because it uses Xbox Live, all of your progress, all of your information about the game is saved in the Xbox Live cloud, like your achievements. While it’s really cool to think about, “I can go back and forth between the console and the PC”, it’s even great for just you as a PC gamer. How many times have you as a PC gamer been playing a game, you upgrade your PC and you’re like, “Oh, where’s my saved games?! I got to go troll through the file system to find where that stuff goes.” From now on, next time you upgrade, it just happens, the game’s in the store, you download it for free because you already own it, and there’s your saved games.
LH: It’s so seamless it’s one of those things you come to expect. You’re going back and forth between PC and console and it just magically happens. That’s the beauty of Xbox Live.
KU: That’s our belief, that we need to unify gamers. We, uniquely with all the assets we have, can do that. And that way it’s completely your choice. If you want to stay on PC you have the choices to do that. If you’re in both worlds, we want to make it super simple.
LH: With this Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which is free, if you have Windows 10 you just download this and nothings required, it’s just going to work. I also want to point out, there’s a whole bunch of other features – it’s not just gaming related. You can go search the web at the Windows Blog and they’ll update you on inking and Cortana and all the rest of the stuff. We’re just talking right now about the goodness that’s coming to gaming that you and your team have been working on. The other area we’re talking about is DirectX 12, which has been a big deal for a lot of people. Explain what that is. And since you’ve been here for a little while, let’s go down memory lane and talk about DirectX as a technology.
KU: DirectX has been the graphics technology and the gaming graphics technology that’s been in Windows forever. The earliest was back in Windows 95.
LH: In fact, a lot of people will know, or if you don’t know, this is where the “X” in Xbox comes from. It comes from DirectX.
KU: That heritage, you’re absolutely right. The purpose of DirectX is to make it easier for game developers to get access to unlock the power of the gaming graphics hardware that’s’ in your PC. DirectX 12 really does, in the simplest terms, unlock that capability by allowing the graphics processor to do more than one thing at one time. It doesn’t have to wait for that command, it gets full access to that graphics hardware. When great new games take advantage of it, and we’ve got great games that we’ve made, games like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition that take advantage of it, we’ve got great games that we see available on Steam like Ashes of the Singularity by Stardock. These are awesome games that take advantage of it. And what you get is great fidelity. Things like artificial intelligence, where each of the individuals in Ashes, for example, each of the units have their own AI and you can have thousands and thousands of these units that think independently because your computer’s processor doesn’t have to do that work. The GPU can do it.
LH: It’s interesting that AI, which a lot of people don’t think as a GPU process, is being harnessed here in this game.
KU: And DirectX 12 makes that possible. It’s just a great tool that we’ve put in the hands of game developers and you’re going to see that across even our new titles. The work The Coalition is doing on Gears of War 4 with DirectX 12 is going to be amazing.
LH: I also want to point out that a lot people kind of take DirectX for granted. It really is the most advanced graphics system on computers. None of the other operating systems have anything like this, do they?
KU: There’s similar and other things but nothing as powerful or as widely adopted and supported by the NVIDIAs and AMDs of the world, who are working with us to make sure that power is unleashed to all those game developers.
LH: Another thing that comes along with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is native support for Xbox accessories. Now, we’ve had support for Xbox accessories on Windows 10 before, right?
KU: What’s new in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is that we’ve got these awesome Xbox One controllers with Bluetooth built-in and the Windows 10 Anniversary Update adds support for those controllers. So right out of the box you take your Xbox controller, sync it up with Bluetooth and you’re good to go.
LH: That’s also important to point out – it’s the newer controller, the one’s that come with Xbox One S, the customizable ones from Xbox Design Labs – those all have the Bluetooth stack in them and you’ll be able to use those. So go ahead and customize your controller and then roll on back to your PC gaming and you’ll be good to go. The other thing I want to talk about is game streaming continues to get better. This is the concept of streaming from your console to your Windows 10 PC.
KU: We’ve continued to enhance on a monthly basis the Xbox app. It’s pretty awesome. You’ve got your console in one room in your house but you play a lot of your games on your PC. If your buddy sends you a message that he wants to play Dead Rising, or something, you just fire up the Xbox app, connect to your Xbox, and literally with the controller in your hand you can play your Xbox One games on your Windows 10 PC through the Xbox app, which is awesome.
LH: You guys are coming out with guns blazing and it’s been really exciting to be in this space. You’ve worked in the PC space for a long time. It feels like there’s a resurgence, isn’t there?
KU: I certainly think the PC has always been this massive platform. We’ve seen so many innovations and from a resurgences perspective what we’re seeing is our efforts and our investments at making sure we make meaningful experiences that matter to PC gamers. That’s really where the excitement is coming from for me, personally, as someone who’s watched so much great things happen in the PC gaming space and to now be part of Microsoft playing a very active role over the last couple of years and really deliver on the vision that we’ve got.
LH: I’m going to let people in on a little bit of inside baseball. If you look across Microsoft, Phil Spencer and Team Xbox own gaming for the company. That’s it, straight and simple. There’s not all these random efforts. The center of gravity around gaming is all under Phil Spencer and is all under Xbox.
KU: You’ve got great leaders like Phil who play on PC. You’ve got Mike Ybarra running the engineering who’s a big PC gamer, as well. What’s great is to see that that point-of-view, that DNA; we’re talking to the biggest PC OEMs. It’s part of everything we do now.
LH: What’s your rig look like at home?
KU: It’s loud because I’ve got a couple of fans in it. I don’t want to be biased towards which partner I have equipment from or not. But I’ll tell you, it’s got an amazing DirectX 12 video card. I’ve got an Xbox Bluetooth controller connected.
LH: I have a new PC, I work with the guys at origin. I’ve got a pretty high end beast. People make fun of me because for my GPU, I’m running two NVIDIA Titans. It’s a little overkill, but its works. I love seeing what other people are doing and there’s so much excitement right now. You’ve seen the future, haven’t you, Kevin, both in terms of hardware and software?
KU: If you’re a PC gamer, one of the great things about it is the technology changes so fast that PC gamers are part of the future. Whether it’s VR or 4k. Whether it’s these amazing new games with DirectX 12. That’s what I love about my job. We get to see that future and be part of that bleeding edge with all those engineering teams, and the folks at AMD and what they’re doing, and NVIDIA, and Intel with the processor work they’re doing with multicore. It just gets better, literally, every week.
LH: I have to ask you this question. Do you have water cooling?
KU: I do. I needed liquid! I got to have some cooling because I’m pushing a lot of pixels and I want to keep that cool.
LH: As they say, you’re framerates are high and your temperatures are low. I love having you on the show. I had you on a long time ago and it’s so good to have you back and talking about the focus on PC. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is available now for free. Can you give us a little bit of a tease about what we can expect in the future?
KU: The safest way to talk about what’s coming in the future is if you look at what we’re doing now. We’re bringing our games lineup, our biggest blockbusters, we’re creating awesome programs like Xbox Play Anywhere. We’re going to keep doing that. This isn’t like we’re going to it this year and then re-focus elsewhere. No no no no. I’ve seen games under development. I talk to the Xbox Live folks and see some of the great things they’re building to help you find and play with people on our service across devices – like people who like what you like, and play the way that you play; some features like Clubs that’s going to benefit PC gamers as well as console gamers.
LH: Will you come back on the show and talk about some stuff when you’re ready to talk about the future?
KU: I would love that.
LH: Alright. Kevin Unangst, you are the Senior Director for PC Gaming here at Team Xbox. Thanks for your time and we’ll see you online.
KU: See you online.