Big Download chatted on the phone earlier this week with Microsoft group product manager Peter Orullian about the upcoming changes for its PC game download service. However before we get to his comments and the specifics of the changes that will be made to Games For Windows Marketplace let's go back in time to see how it has evolved to its current point.
In May 2007, the first version of Games For Windows Live was released. PC games that had Games for Windows Live features enabled had an in-game UI that looked and acted much like the interface (at that time) for Microsoft's Xbox 360 console. PC gamers didn't care for that interface (in fact there were other issues with Games For Windows Live but that's a whole different article). In November 2008, Microsoft launched a revamp of the Games For Windows Live interface, making it more useful for mouse and keyboard players.
In December 2008, the first stand alone software client for Games For Windows Live was launched but it was very bare bones in terms of features and it also didn't support the download of full PC games.That was finally added to the software client in December 2009 with the addition of the Games On Demand feature. PC gamers could purchase and download Games For Windows and Games For Windows Live titles including some that were exclusive to the service such as the PC port of Gears for War. In June 2010, Microsoft started adding older and non-Games For Windows PC game titles to the Games on Demand service
Orullian told us much of the changes have been based on feedback from Games For Windows Live users. He said that those users have told the team that they would prefer not to use the client software to purchase and download games. So Microsoft is turning to a slightly more traditional web-based store for gamers to download and purchase titles. The client software isn't going completely away, however. Orullian told us, "It's going to be used for a download manager for those games that have really large file sizes." Also the client software can also be used if players get a new PC and want to re-download previous games purchased from Games For Windows Marketplace.
You can see how the new web-based Marketplace will work in the above video (by the way, Microsoft tells us that the video and the screenshots included in this article are mock-ups and should not be considered to be how the final version will look). The look of the site itself reminds us of the interface of the newly revamped GoG.com site. While gamers can still use Microsoft points to purchase games as they did with the client, the new web site will also support credit card payments. Over 100 games will be available to purchase on the site and more will be added every week. Indeed, Orullian strongly hinted that there will be some more interesting PC game announcements and reveals when Games For Windows Marketplace launches on November 15. There will also be weekly price cuts of one or more PC games on the web site, which is something that Microsoft has already started with its client software Games On Demand service.
One big advantage that Microsoft does have in comparison to some of its competitors in the PC game download space is exclusive access to games from Microsoft's older PC game catalog. For example, on the November 15 launch date PC gamers will be able to download Fable The Lost Chapter from Games For Windows Marketplace. Orullian told us that other Microsoft Games Studios-published PC games of the past will appear on the service and upcoming Microsoft PC games like the highly anticipated Age of Empires Online will be available for purchase and download only through Games For Windows Marketplace.
In the past few months, Microsoft has made it a point to say and even show they are now on track to not just promoting PC gaming but actively publishing new PC game titles such as Age of Empires Online and the PC port to Fable 3. The upcoming launch of the Games For Windows Marketplace web site seems to be a part of those plans. However, Microsoft still has a ton of catching up to do if it wants to compete with all of the other PC game download sites and services. That certainly includes Valve's Steam service. Earlier this week Valve announced that Steam now has over 30 million registered users. Steam also uses its own client software for its PC game downloads, something which Microsoft is now moving away from with its new approach to offering PC game downloads.
In our phone chat with Orullian this week, he seemed confident that Microsoft will be able to compete with Steam and the other established PC game download sites and that he and his team will continue to take feedback from gamers on what features they will add to its own service in the future. The Games For Windows Marketplace web site may or may not be a step in the right direction but no matter how Microsoft approaches this market, the fact is that Valve and its Steam service have a huge head start in terms of features, users, publisher agreements and game development tools. Microsoft, and indeed every other company that runs a PC game download site, have a lot of catching up to do.