Ever since finding massive success with the Xbox 360, Microsoft has given Windows gaming as much focus as a four year old would to a book of theoretical physics. Even when Microsoft has tried to work on Windows gaming, it has done so half-heartedly, birthing well-meaning failures like Games Explorer on Windows 7 and pure, unadulterated rubbish like Games for Windows Live. Just when PC Gamers everywhere had almost given up on Microsoft doing anything for Windows gaming, a bunch of recent developments have made us stop and take notice and very warily draw the conclusion that Microsoft may just have some new stuff planned for PC gamers.
So, what are these developments that may just make Microsoft a good guy (or at least not the worst villain ever) in the eyes of PC gamers?
Microsoft hires an ex-Steam executive to focus on PC Gaming
Okay, I may be jumping the gun here, but the fact that Microsoft hired Jason Holtman, the former head of business development at Valve this week, seems like a pretty big deal for Windows gaming. In his words, Holtman was hired to focus on “making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment.” At his job with Valve, Holtman was responsible for liaising with game studios and developers, bringing their games to Steam and looking after digital sales, which means he was an important factor in Steam’s success.
At Microsoft, Holtman will hopefully be looking at bringing more and more developers towards making games for Windows. Yes, it’s likely that with Windows 8 being so tablet-friendly, Microsoft may want more developers to make games with a focus on touch input, but they also can’t ignore the vast majority of PC users who use Windows 8 on machines with no touchscreens. At any rate, more games made for the PC is not a bad thing, even if they start incorporating things like touch controls, because it helps to introduce developers to the awesome ecosystem that the PC offers.
A Halo game has been launched for the PC, six years after the last one
There are some things PC gamers have learnt through experience- JRPGs will never be launched for PC and neither will a Halo game. Well, surprise, surprise- Halo: Spartan Assault, the latest Halo game, is out now for Windows 8 PCs and has been getting respectable scores from reviewers. Halo is the most premium gaming title in Microsoft’s stable and it has guarded the series’ exclusivity jealously by restricting game launches to only the Xbox 360, with even an RTS game like ‘Halo Wars’, which would have been perfect for the PC, never launched for Windows.
By launching Halo: Spartan Assault for WIndows 8 PCs, Microsoft has revealed that it is taking PC gamers (or at least Windows 8 users, who may also want to game) seriously. And with the reported commonalities in the process of developing for an Xbox One game and a PC game, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more Xbox exclusives also coming to the PC.
Microsoft is slowly killing off the bane of PC gaming- Games for Windows Live
At one point Games for Windows Live looked like it would be a great platform that would help connect PC and Xbox gamers, but boy, were we wrong. Microsoft soon announced that, just like Xbox Live, PC gamers would also have to pay $50 annually to be able to multiplayer in games that incorporated GFWL, and things just continued on its way downhill after that. GFWL soon emerged as one of the most hated things in PC gaming, forcing users to deal with an obtuse, unwieldy, unnecessary layer of DRM that added absolutely nothing to the games.
GFWL has been on course to an ignominious death for a while now. It’s actually rare to see a game that still uses GFWL, and the last notable one was Dark Souls, launched last year by a Japanese developer who had little or no experience with PC gaming. Microsoft has now announced that it’s killing off the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, the digital store where you could buy content for your GFWL titles and maintain an Xbox Live-like profile. This is one of the last nails in GFWL’s coffin and I won’t be surprised if the news of GFWL’s demise soon becomes a non-exaggerated reality.
When GFWL does actually die, Microsoft will be free to focus on a new way to improve the gaming experience on PCs. And if it decides to take on Steam and Origin (and Uplay) in an attempt to become the most attractive destination for PC gamers, it will be forced to revamp its approach to Windows gaming and PC gamers.
As Microsoft continues to figure out the best way to cater to PC gamers and popularize Windows as a platform that’s not just for office PCs, nothing’s certain except for one thing.
It’s going to be hell of an interesting time for PC gamers.