Microsoft responds to PC gaming flubs: We needed to learn by doing

Microsoft's Albert Penello defends the company's recent track record shipping Windows games.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read

For a moment, it looked like Microsoft was going to make PC gaming better than ever. Then, it stumbled hard.

"The new Gears of War Ultimate Edition is a DX12 disaster," wrote ExtremeTech.

"What went wrong with Quantum Break on PC?" asked Eurogamer.

On March 1st, Microsoft revealed that it would be bringing all its newest, biggest Xbox games to the Windows PC, starting with Gears of War, Quantum Break, Fable Legends and a version of the popular racing franchise, Forza Motorsport. But the PC versions of Gears of War and Quantum Break were buggy and broken from start.

Meanwhile, Fable Legends got cancelled entirely. Only the stripped-down, free-to-play Forza Motorsport 6 Apex managed to impress critics and fans at release.

What should have been a coming-out party for Microsoft's games built on the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) to work across Xbox and PC was, instead, the latest reminder that PC gamers shouldn't buy Microsoft games sight-unseen.

How did this happen? We spoke to Albert Penello, Senior Director of Product Management and Planning for Microsoft's Xbox business. His answer, in short, was this: Microsoft felt it needed to ship these games, and make these mistakes, so it could learn from them.

(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

What happened?

I think you're watching the learning process happen in real time. The Windows Store wasn't really built for triple-A [flagship games], it was built for light mobile apps and productivity. And frankly, Phil [Spencer, Xbox chief] has decided that he's going to take the arrows and be the pioneer in launching [universal games across Xbox and Windows PC].

So you're going to see the learning process of developing triple-A UWP games before we can credibly go out and sell it to third-parties.

Fable Legends is its own thing. Games get cancelled, I don't think that really has anything to do with this. But there were some driver problems that had to get fixed, we needed to get G-Sync and FreeSync working, we still have the feedback that we need to get FRAPS and overlays working...it's all known stuff.

Why push those games out at all if they weren't ready?

I think the truth is you have to start...it seems counter-intuitive and the answer seems obtuse, but you've got to learn by doing. You've got to push stuff out and you have to learn. Otherwise the problems are theoretical. Is this a problem or not a problem? We did it and it turns out it was harder than we thought, this was challenging or this other feature wasn't there, sometimes in ways you don't expect.

It's really not much more complicated than that.

How do you come back from that, get gamers to trust that a PC game from Microsoft will be worth their money? It's not only Microsoft either; Batman: Arkham Knight was a big blow for a lot of PC gamers...

Look, Phil is a do-it more than say-it guy, I think more than most of the people we've had on Xbox...the answer is you try to make good, you try to keep getting better, you keep supporting...we went back and supported G-Sync and FreeSync on Forza.

I think we've done some good stuff too that hasn't gotten reported, like I think [Killer Instinct] was an excellent PC port, did a lot of really interesting things with achievements and savegame states between the two platforms. It's inherently a very good PC game with really good support for different resolutions and stuff, so I think that was a win.

But you've just got to keep getting better, you've got to keep listening to the feedback, you've got to make changes. That's the way to do it. If we waited until everything was perfect, who knows if it'd even happen.

You work in the real world; sometimes you know you'll argue about things forever, and you've just got to do it and see what happens.

But by the same token, I'm not going to pre-order a Microsoft PC title. I'll wait till it's out, I'll read the reviews first, and if it's good, I'll buy it.

You know what, I think that's totally fair. The team is committed, and hopefully in a year when we talk again, you'll have a different point of view.