Until this month, Windows users who installed PC games through the Xbox app couldn’t touch the files. This lockdown on the game folders not only made modding difficult, but basic storage management too. If your boot drive lacked ample free space, you had to play musical chairs with your game installs.
But at long last, Microsoft rolled out the ability to choose the location for Xbox game files. First announced as a feature for Xbox Insiders last November, this update lets you pick a specific folder both during and after installation. So if you outgrow your original location—or you have existing games installed that you want to transfer to a different spot—it’s relatively simple to do, as we explain in our guide on moving Xbox game files on PC.
Unfortunately, copying game folders and files is a different story. If you were hoping to back up your Xbox game files onto an external hard drive, that feature is not available yet. You can copy most game files over, but not the actual executable. Unlike when you download a game through Steam or other services, Xbox apps have different permissions that thwart copying. You can’t easily get around this restriction, either. (We tried.)
So for the moment, you still have to separately download Xbox games for every PC you want to play them on. Big oof. In a household with many PCs and a fondness for playing together, that can be a time sink. (Gigabit internetcan’t come fast enough to U.S. homes.) It can also run you up against your ISP’s monthly data cap. Choose a title like Sea of Thieves for a family gaming session and that’s 75GB per PC.
Make no mistake, Microsoft even allowing PC gamers to move around their installs is progress. Long, long, long overdue progress. The Xbox app now doesn’t trail as far behind its competition. But that’s also a bit of the problem. Steam has let you copy game files for well over a decade now, not just shift them around. (It also has more robust, centralized file management, but that’s outside the scope of this issue.)
With luck, these restrictions will be eliminated relatively soon. Life would be far simpler if PC gaming through the Xbox app were finally on par with the competition, especially for people who’ve fully committed to the ecosystem via an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
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Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.