What is Windows 10 Game Mode (and do you need it)?

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter
Mass Effect: Andromeda

The PC is arguably the best platform for gaming. With a high-end PC system, you can play blockbusters like Battlefield 1 and Mass Effect: Andromeda in resolutions up to 4K, evolve titles like No Man’s Sky and GTA V with imaginative mods, play hundreds of indie/early access games, and enjoy the best virtual reality experiences with Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

Microsoft hopes to make playing games on PC even better with the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update. In addition to the new Paint3D app, improved Edge browser performance and a Cortana upgrade that the update brings, the Windows 10 Game Mode promises to provide a “a better and more consistent gaming experience on Windows 10.”

It does this by “dedicating more system resources to your game”, altering the CPU and GPU priorities so that Win32 and UWP games run more efficiently. This means that background processes, like anti-virus scans, won’t run when you’re trying to save the galaxy or beat a lap time.

The first thing to point out is that Windows 10 Game Mode won’t improve gaming performance on every PC system. Nor will it have an effect on every game. The mode will automatically switch on for Windows Store games that support it, like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3. Otherwise, it can be manually enabled/disabled via the Windows 10 Game Bar.

Back in January, Microsoft aimed to temper performance expectations. Kevin Gammill, Partner Group Program Manager, Xbox Platform, told Rock Paper Shotgun that “even it’s as low as, say, a 2% increase in framerate, if you’re running a hundred frames per second… two percent is pretty significant when you’re playing your game.”

Making unplayable games playable

In practice, Game Mode’s effect is more pronounced on slower machines. “If you’re playing on a humble desktop or laptop with limited hardware,” says PC World, “Windows 10’s Game Mode could make unplayable games playable enough.”

Of course, Microsoft has been down this road before with Games for Windows Live. Launched for Windows Vista back in 2007, it too was all about “making great PC games even better,” although it didn’t catch on with most gamers.

Gears of War 4
Newer games, like Gears of War 4, will automatically enable the Windows 10 Game Mode.

So it’s important to be clear about what Game Mode is and isn’t. “Its purpose is less to boost your maximum frame rate,” explains Alec Meer on Rock Paper Shotgun, “and more to clamp down on big fluctuations within it, as various background processes trigger or otherwise consume system resources.”

Game Mode won’t help everyone

What becomes clear is that Game Mode has little effect on newer PCs equipped with the latest processors and graphics hardware. Investing in the latest technology is the best way to ensure an enjoyable gaming experience, whether you’re using one screen, multiple screens or a VR headset.

“I appreciate the good intentions behind it,” adds Meer, “and with a bit of squinting I can see how it’s going to useful further down the line – especially on more under-powered CPUs that are knocked to their knees by e.g. malware scans.”

If you’re a PC gamer, try it for yourself. Game Mode is part of the Windows 10 Creator update, aka Windows 10 version 1703, OS build 15063. It’s rolling out now and comes as standard on all new Windows 10 PCs.

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