Game Theory: The Fourth Console

Nathan Edwards

In order to become a Games for Windows title, a game needs to meet a few criteria, including an Easy Install option, compatibility with Xbox 360 controllers (sometimes), compatibility with Vista Games Explorer, compatibility with 64-bit processors (even for 32-bit games), and support for both normal and widescreen resolutions.
As criteria go, that’s about as meager a set of standards as one can assemble and still call them “standards.” It’s particularly risible given the fact that the most important standard, that of DirectX 10 compatibility, remains irrelevant at this point given the paucity of DX10 hardware.

No one is denying that the new Windows Display Driver Module is a fine thing for gaming. It promises us a world filled with the wonders of unified pipeline architecture and predicated rendering, much like The Jetsons promised us a world of robot maids and flying cars. I’m sure DX10 will work wonders and move mountains, but right now there’s no there there. The entire Games for Windows brand is thus less a set of standards than it is a placeholder for a set of standards. It’s a simple marketing gimmick.

And you know what? I think that’s great. I actually get excited about marketing because I live in the Pine Barrens and we really don’t have much else to get excited about (aside from the annual Jersey Devil hunt). Microsoft is creating, out of the warring factions and disparate creators of PC gaming, an identifiable brand that allows PC games to compete with Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo titles on retail shelves. It means more than simply putting a banner graphic at the top of a standardized, game-size box. It means shifting PC games from the software ghetto of retail stores to the far more sexy gaming section, where their improved branding creates a de facto fourth gaming system.

People need to be reminded that PCs are gaming systems and that they can compete against (and in most cases defeat) any of the new consoles. PC gaming will survive, and Vista will eventually earn its bones as the gaming OS of the next generation. In the meantime, simply creating a fourth platform will go a long way toward winning back the hearts and minds of the gaming public.

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