Xbox LIVE has been a stunning, benchmark setting, generation defining success. Games for Windows LIVE has so far been, well, somewhat less so, and has been out manoeuvred repeatedly by rival services including Steam and Xfire. But Microsoft hasn’t given up on it yet, and it has big plans for the coming year. The first phase has been an overhaul of the current GfW LIVE front end to match the NXE redesign, and soon it will be adding exclusive DLC content to its arsenal from big titles like Fallout 3 and GTA IV.
Phase one was the more visual front end update that quietly slipped in a few weeks ago. It transformed the Games for Windows LIVE Home screen into something a little sleeker, with tabs and drop menus to help you find all the most important Friends, Messages, Players and Chat functions. Microsoft also launched the Games for Windows LIVE Marketplace along with a 30MB client that essentially gives you a PC version of Xbox LIVE marketplace.
At the moment, there’s only a vague smattering of demos and videos (Shadowrun and Gears of trailers, plus Kane & Lynch and Quantum of Solace demos), but it’s easy to see the potential for whole game downloads to become available in future.
The next phase is to actually coax game developers into using it. This has been helped considerably by making the service freely available. Microsoft has already dropped the ridiculous notion of charging PC gamers to play online, and it is refunding those that paid for PC only play. However, it has also made it free for developers to implement and it’s happy to host DLC and patches for free as well.
And it looks like this change in tactics is already yielding some results. Fallout 3 and GTA IV will each be using the Games for Windows LIVE service to sell gamers their DLC updates. Now we’re just waiting to see how its rivals respond – more competition in the PC digital distribution space can only be a good thing for gamers, although it will continue to be an absolute nightmare to keep track of your game buddies across eight different services.