Mark August 22, 2013 on your calendar. That's the day Microsoft will permanently retire the PC Marketplace on Xbox.com, effectively ending the sale of Games for Windows Live titles, the company confirmed. Microsoft is encouraging gamers with a Microsoft Points balance to go ahead and spend those Points prior to the change. However, even though the purchase functionality will be discontinued, your previously purchased games and DLC won't disappear.
Microsoft has made many successful products over the years, but unfortunately they’ve also made a lot of mistakes as well. With Windows 8.1 coming out on the horizon, we’ve decided to compile a list of the company's five biggest successes and blunders.
Oh, Microsoft, why have you abandoned PC gamers? Don't get us wrong, Age of Empires Online looks awesome, but the company's almost complete lack of PC gaming news at this year's E3 left a bitter taste in our mouths, and Microsoft's been conspicuously silent on the PC front ever since – until now. Lower your heads and mourn, PC gamers. The continuously half-baked Games for Windows disappears on July 11th, swallowed by the all-consuming console-centric blob that is the Xbox brand.
Games for Windows Lives! No, wait. We’ve used that one, haven’t we? Ok, let’s go with a demand of some sort. “Deliver on your promises!” Something like that. Oops, that one’s also an oldie. How about a nice, protracted metaphor about getting with your sister, then? Huh? We’ve done that too? Darn! Well, you get our point: Microsoft’s come to us on its knees begging for forgiveness time and time again, only to take baby steps toward improvement while everyone else makes strides. So forgive us for being a bit skeptical here.
“Other companies should look to Microsoft for leadership, but I’m not sure they do. It is our job to lead the way on PC. And in some ways we are doing that and in other ways we are not. So we need to step up,” Microsoft Games Studios’ general manager Dave Luehmann told MCV.
“We are putting some real investment and big IPs behind the Windows platform. We’ve spoken of the first three, Fable III, Age of Empires Online and Microsoft Flight. However we are not going to stop there.”
Microsoft, Luehmann explained, now hopes to test the waters in all sorts of new business models – Age of Empires Online being the biggest example – clearing the way for third-party developers to dive in as well.
Granted, between what seems to be an admission of “Yeah, we screwed up just a bit,” and some tangible, soon-to-be-playable evidence, this seems to be Microsoft’s biggest PC gaming push in quite some time. And whether the software behemoth’s sentiments are sincere or not, new business models like free-to-play mean fertile soils in which to plant its money trees.
The bottom line? We’ll get a few games out of it, at the very least. And who knows? Maybe -- just maybe -- Microsoft will actually stick around this time. We, however, aren’t getting our hopes up.
We're pretty sure Dawn of War II is the only RTS in existence that requires more micromanagement before you're able to play the game than while you're clickity-clicking through the thick of battle. See, in order to even view the sci-fi strategy title's start screen, you have to first negotiate your way past two login menus – one for Steam and one for Games For Windows Live. In addition to that relatively minor annoyance, most of you probably know GFWL by its true acronym: SATAN.
Fortunately, THQ's decided that it's high-time Microsoft's online games “service”/dark lord of the underworld be kicked to the curb. From here on out, it's full Steam ahead.
"The move to Steamworks will also allow us to provide features like guest passes, free multiplayer weekends, pre-loading and the ability to provide fast turn-around on future patches and updates,” said THQ in a statement.
"This new back end will allow players to invite friends into matches from their Steam friends lists and take advantage of the full set of Steam community features including groups, achievements, and Steam overlay chat channels.”
Dawn of War II: Retribution, which is scheduled to launch in March 2011, will be among THQ's first to finally tell GFWL that “no means 'no'” and declare that its one true love has always been Steam. Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, to continue the metaphor, will be singing its best rendition of 'N Sync's “Bye, Bye, Bye” to GFWL as well. Good riddance, eh? This makes us almost as happy as when we heard 'N Sync broke up.
With its latest PC push, Microsoft is ushering in a bonafied zombie apocalypse of allegedly “dead” PC gaming legends. First up, we’ve got Age of Empires Online, the latest entry in a series that was thought to be six feet under when Microsoft axed its creator, Ensemble Studios. Ditto for Microsoft Flight, the successor to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series, whose developer went into a fiery tailspin in 2009. And both will appear as part of Microsoft’s Games for Windows brand, a platform that, well, wasn’t really ever alive to begin with.
Granted, if you’re expecting Age of Empires IV and Flight Simulator Whichever One We’re On Now, you might be a tad disappointed. Instead, Age of Empires Online has advanced right into the free-to-play age, which could mean some serious nickel-and-diming – possibly at the expense of balance. Fortunately, developer Robot Studios is made up of many ex-Ensemble staffers, so hopefully they won’t steer the franchise wrong. If you’d like to try before you don’t buy, though, you can head over to the game’s official site and sign up for the upcoming beta.
Microsoft Flight, meanwhile, has lost the “Simulator” moniker in exchange for a second lease on life. Its announcement, however, was buried at the bottom of a press release, so all we know at this point is that Flight will “bring a new perspective to the long-standing genre, welcoming everyone, including longtime fans, to experience the magic of flight.” Sounds… accessible.
Again, that’s all we’ve got to go on at this point, but we’ve gone from replicating every nitty-gritty technical detail of flight to describing it as “magic”? Longtime fans, don’t cry for your series just yet, but maybe you should start stocking up on tissues.
Pirates of all ilks are locked in a game of cat and mouse with regulators and content proprietors. Throughout their endless war, both have tightly clung to Newton’s third law: every regulation (action) has an equal and opposite ruse (action). Microsoft has come up with a fresh way to stymie videogame piracy. Its newfangled anti-piracy measure will prevent gamers from enjoying illicit copies of games before the street date.
"We have zero-day piracy protection—this helps reduce the leakage of IP before release. The bits are encrypted, and there is a one-time activation that checks to see if the game has been released or not, and we'll send out a decrypt code so the game can be played." Drew Johnston, the product unit manager for the Windows Gaming Platform, told Ars Technica. How will pirates respond?
Will Windows 7 bring glad tidings for gamers? Chris Lewis, VP of Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft EMEA, certainly believes the new OS will keep gamers happy.
"It's all good news - it's even more robust, it's quicker relatively, and the early testing cycles are proving very promising overall,” an excited Lewis told Gameindustry.biz in an interview. He said the company will divulge more details later this year.
Lewis didn’t forget to reassure gamers that Microsoft remains committed to PC gaming. “Ultimately we're a Windows and PC company at heart,” Lewis accentuated Microsoft’s commitment to its roots.
(*And a conclusion that, I guess, could be considered a fifth thing, but that’d really be reaching.)
Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage is the first drop in an irradiated stream of DLC that Bethesda has planned for its fantastic revamp of the Fallout universe. It sees your wastelander – presumably, by this point, an Iron Man-esque mishmash of cutting-edge weaponry, cold steel, and a 40’s-era radio – stripped right out of his/her tin can and flung (via simulation) into the future’s past that’s still technically our future. Once there, it’s your job to play border patrol for Alaska, keeping China’s Communist government from nabbing Democracy’s swank American job. And make no mistake, son – this is war. But is it a war worth fighting? Well, yes and no. Here’s why.
1. Installing it is like giving birth – Er, not that I’d know what giving birth is like, but I’ve installed Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage, which I’ve heard is a comparable experience. So here’s the rundown: Remember when you feverishly chucked GFW Live into computer limbo because, right after buying Fallout 3, you just wanted to play Fallout 3? Well, that’s actually important now. In order to purchase and subsequently install Operation Anchorage, you must rent out a portion of your precious hard drive to GFW. Then, if you don’t have a GFW or Xbox Live account, you have to snooze your way through some paper work too. Next up, purchasing Microsoft Points. No, your hard-earned dollars are about as worthless as bottle caps here, so you’ll need to have them irreparably mangled into Microsoft Points. After passing Microsoft’s battery of trials (note: I still haven’t said “finally”), you’ll be deemed worthy of downloading Operation Anchorage. Oh goodness, what’s this? Why, has this amount of ridiculous hoop-jumping necessitated a paragraph break – the first in “Five, or Four, or Whatever Things About’s” history?
Jump past the break to, er, find out? Really though, I think the answer's kind of obvious.
The PC gaming market isn’t exactly known for clear skies and inviting waters, so one can only imagine that attempting to ford the ol’ river during these harsh economic times would likely result in an unceremonious game over. And so, we speculate, went Microsoft’s logic when it quietly told Games for Windows Live general manager Chris Early to take a hike.
When contacted by Venture Beat, Microsoft simply replied that Early’s time at the software company “has come to a close.” Apparently, he fell off the giant's back along with 1,400 other unfortunate employees.
Frankly, no matter how you look at this, things seem dicey for GFWL. If its head was deemed so non-essential as to be lopped off, you have to wonder how much longer its deaf, dumb, and blind stump of a body can continue to stumble through the buzzsaw forest that is Microsoft in its current state.
As always, we wish Early the best of luck (though technically, this is the second time we’ve done it) and hope he lands in a place where he’ll be able to more effectively pick off the buzzards that everyone seems to think are swarming PC gaming these days.