I want to like Microsoft's Games for Windows. The application costs me nothing. It has a sleek ice-blue overlay that's visually elegant and less obtrusive than Steam's "default on" pop-up dialogue boxes. It consolidates my Windows and Xbox game accounts and lets me access services folded in to augment demonstrative, supplemental, and social content. It's a one-stop shop for updates, downloads, and topical news.
And yet it's missing something. Something elemental. Something essential.
Like the games.
I've opined about this before, but the problem with the Games for Windows pedigree is that it's a Lamborghini in a land without fuel pumps. Since it's debut two years ago, the LIVE component's only inspired 24 games, nine so far in 2009 -- the sort of year-over-year improvement that'd might've been impressive three or four decades ago. Sure, the "Games for Windows" brand gets slapped on two or three times as many titles, but it's functionally superfluous. It's like putting a sticker on a cut of beef that reads "meat."
Have a look at Wikipedia's list of 2009's Games for Windows lineup. I'm interested in the games that aren't LIVE-enabled. Majors like F.E.A.R. 2, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor, Empire: Total War, Prototype, and The Last Remnant. Note ones like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Mini Ninjas that fully integrate with Xbox LIVE, but lack similar functionality in the Games for Windows versions. Why have perks like achievements for your game's console version, then leave them out of the Windows one?
Windows 7 is just around the corner (it's at retail on October 22nd). If we believe the PC Gaming Alliance, PC gaming is thriving. Last week, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc blogged about enhancements to the Games for Windows Program designed to improve the service by making it easier for developers to pass certification.
According to LeBlanc, the new technical requirements include:
- Create an easier game installation experience.
- Support both 32-bit and 64-bit Platforms.
- Support Ratings and Parental Controls in Windows 7
- Game titles populated in the Game Explorer.
- Enhanced game update notifications for game titles.
- Stability, security and compatibility against commonly known issues.
Missing in action? "Simplify/Incentivize Games for Windows LIVE integration."
Until Microsoft gets serious about this missing link, it's selling a sticker with meaningless guarantees. I know: It's making the Windows gaming experience "easier, simpler, and more reliable." Great! Except for the part where Windows gamers already expect that stuff. You don't get points for scoring par, right? And you won't sell a service (to gamers like me, anyway) without as least bringing it up to speed with its console counterpart.