Games For Windows Live Gold – Now Free

By John Walker on July 23rd, 2008 at 12:49 am.

The imagination behind this name still overwhelms me.

Well here’s a spot of news. Games For Windows Live Gold accounts are now to be free. According to a 1Up report, Microsoft announced today that PC users will no longer have to pay for a Live Gold account to be able to access the cross-platform shenanigans of their multiplayer gaming. Which can only be delightful news to the 360′s paying suckers.

1Up go on to say that MS are planning a GFW Marketplace, aping the Xbox Live Marketplace, also offering various downloadable bits and pieces from demos to extra gaming content. Which sounds awfully similar to, er, the rest of the internet.

Games For Windows has been a strange idea since the start. It’s certainly a nice thought that we can more simply judge if a game will work with our PC, but the numerical system hasn’t exactly caught on, and the lack of a shift over to Vista means it’s pretty meaningless to most players. If anything, GFW seems to be viewed as a disturbing ghettoisation of the PC world, adding Microsoft branding to games and little else. Microsoft are clearly attempting to loosen GFW’s collar and tie a bit, also planning to make it simpler for developers to integrate with the system.

It’s hard not to roll your eyes at asking PC gamers to pay money for access to forms of multiplayer gaming – something that’s been free on the machine since the beginning of time. Perhaps mad with greed after seeing the success and uptake of the 360′s Gold memberships they couldn’t see why another gaggle of gamers wouldn’t want to fork out. And clearly they haven’t, and as such Microsoft are giving up on the daft plan. However, GFW Marketplace, at first glance at least, does seem to suggest the same muddled thinking is at work. A place where we can download demos and additional content for PC games?! What an innovation! (Entertainingly, if you search Google for “games for windows marketplace” the top result reads: “Windows Marketplace: An error has occurred.”)

Presumably the sensible move for a GFW Marketplace would be a major overhaul of the almost unknown digital distribution platform at Windows Marketplace, with which inevitably Microsoft would hope to rival Steam. But that’s my speculation.

Meanwhile, now you’ll be able to play all those 360/PC crossover games… um… shit, I’m sure there are some. Well, if you can find any… SHADOWRUN! That was one. But that was rubbish. Er, Universe At War? It’ll do. So yeah, get on your Universe At War multiplayer and start jeering at the 360 players who are paying! Man, that would have been a lot simpler if anyone cared about PC/360 crossover play.

Cheers to Mikael for the tip.

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65 Comments »

  1. MetalCircus says:

    Online gaming is so overrated to be honest. I guess i’m the only one who thinks that. Get some mates you acctually know, set up a network over Hamachi, and let rip instead. Playing with a bunch of bloody nobodies tends to lead to internet idiocy.

  2. nakke says:

    Sucks for both guys paying for it thus far, I guess.

  3. Nero says:

    Yeah I wonder how many PC gamers got a gold subscription just for this. I know I would never do that. I’ve always said that I don’t want xbox 360 and PC (or Windows) to become one. And the marketplace, doubt I will ever use it only maybe if they bring XBLA titles to PC, though most seems to be crap some might be interesting.

  4. Al3xand3r says:

    It sounds like they’re trying a Steam/Impulse like approach now and more competition is always good, as long as their moneyflow doesn’t render them a monopoly.

    The marketplace’s “free stuff” sure sound redudant to most of us, but Steam has that stuff also.

    Perhaps Microsoft emphasises them under a different light. On Steam it’s ease of use, browse games you can buy, and easily get their demos first. Microsoft’s approach is more of the mainstream/casual/console gamer who doesn’t know too much about PCs, much like all their products, Windows included.

    I think people are too pessimistic over these changes which can only lead to good things as far as I can see, unless they’re all shoddily executed, which I guess they might be. In which case we can keep ignoring the service, much like we have until now.

  5. RichPowers says:

    “In which case we can keep ignoring the service, much like we have until now.”

    And that’s what I’ll keep on doing. Given MS’s past business practices, it’s reasonable to view anything they do with a hefty dose of suspicion.

  6. Abe says:

    Free multiplayer for the PC? Genius! I think this is what the platform needs to really break out.

  7. Andrew Wills says:

    I’m perpetually baffled by EA and Microsoft’s attempts to mimic Steam. Do they really think that an almost featureless system that charges you to play games online, or renew your games after X months, could compete against a system that does nothing of the sort and regularly gives away additional content?

    I’m not normally in favour of monopolies, but in this case, I genuinely wish EA, MS and any others would just give up and go to Steam.

  8. terry says:

    Is this move not connected to the fact that no-one would pay for Live Gold accounts when there is a superior alternative which may or may not be owned by a rotund character?

  9. Leeks! says:

    Now I can sign up for a GFW gold account, and turn up my nose at my 360 alter-ego just like I’ve always wanted! Hooray!

  10. malkav11 says:

    I don’t. I wish that they’d offer their games on Steam, and Valve do the same with their games on other digital distribution systems, and so on, so that digital shopping has that whole competition-and-choice thing going on that retail shopping has going for it. DD is never properly going to get off the ground if everyone has exclusive titles that nobody else does. You hardly ever see this in the retail market for good bloody reason – it’s anti-consumer.

  11. Chemix says:

    Well, this will be good for Universe at War players like myself, might just have to reinstall that title.

  12. redrain85 says:

    Instead of dicking around and trying to rip everyone off (customers and publishers alike), this is the way GfW Live should have been in the first place.

    It’s obvious that it’s been a huge flop, hence MS finally smartening up and making some desperately needed changes. Too bad it’s two years, too late.

  13. Flint says:

    MetalCircus: no, you’re not the only one. I can’t find much joy in playing with strangers either.

  14. PleasingFungus says:

    MetalCircus: Depends on the game. TF2 (and most other FPSes): Yes. RTSs: No. Not sure why, I’ve just had much better experiences that way.

    Actually commenting on the post itself: Ha! Ha! Windows Live! Gold! Ha!

    On the checkbox: ooo, exciting!

  15. Real Horrorshow says:

    Hey, if they put cross-platform on more games and we own the shit out of all the 360 people, maybe it’ll convince them that PC is supreme.

  16. Serious J says:

    Whoopy? They would have to pay me to get me to touch that abortion of a service.

  17. redrain85 says:

    I’ve been reading the inevitable “when will Xbox Live become free” posts, across the intarwebs. All sorts of angry 360 owners, crying foul.

    I see a lot of comments that read like “why are 360 owners subsidising PC owners on Live”. Oh, I dunno. Maybe that’s because PC owners buying Windows have been subsidising the cost of the 360 hardware, to the tune of $4 billion for the last three years? Turnabout is fair play, though this hardly makes up for it.

    They complain about PCs being too expensive, and now they don’t want to pay the $50 a year either. Cheapskates. You saved your money by not buying a gaming PC, now suck it up.

  18. RichPowers says:

    Luckily 360 users can just use one of the many other online matchmaking services…oh wait.

    Windows may be a bloated mess of proprietary code, but it’s still a fairly open gaming platform when compared to consoles.

  19. hoohoo says:

    shack interview with everyones favorite unangst.

    http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=946

  20. DSX says:

    If the trend of making up for horrible marketing ideas continues, perhaps they’ll give release Directx 10 for XP now {insert sarcastic laughter}.

  21. aiusepsi says:

    What’s interesting in this is that GFW Live is actually ahead of many competing platforms in a couple of areas, and now it’s practical for games to actually use them.

    Mostly in terms of things like Matchmaking and Trueskill. If you look up some of the original Microsoft Research papers on Trueskill, it’s actually pretty interesting.

    They use a neat bit of statistical mathematics and pseudo-Bayesian logic to keep track of a particular player’s mean skill level, as well as the value of the system’s uncertainty about that skill.

    It’s all really cool stuff that means the system can do interesting things regarding its adjustments of your skill level based on your play in teams, or in straight head-to-head duels. It’s really top-notch stuff that competitors are going to have a hard time trying to replicate.

    It’s not a fairly mechanical feature like achievements!

  22. Frank says:

    Even free, they’ll need some more, and better, exclusives before I’ll install it. (Exclusive = not on any other digital distribution service) I’d be pissed if they pulled that off, though.

  23. RichPowers says:

    Microsoft’s bags of money = they can pull it off, Frank.

  24. Alex says:

    Microsoft’s bags of money = they can pull it off, Frank.

    But are they actually willing to pull it off, Rich? I’m pessimistic. They should’ve done a GFW-for-free thing from the start. The times when MS have presented GFW as a brand the last two years have been lackluster to completely shit.

  25. SwiftRanger says:

    I am not entirely convinced either, not only the subscription was a problem but several bugs/inconveniences as well, hopefully that UI redesign will work out. Does sound like a good reason to get back into UaW.

    Anyway, while it is free now already they’ll have their first major test case with DoW II when it comes out.

  26. Jetsetlemming says:

    News for a reason to give a damn still forthcoming. We’re waiting, ‘soft.

  27. Bhlaab says:

    DirectX 11 Vista only again. That really sucks.

  28. RichPowers says:

    Probably not, since MS ultimately wins by having Windows stay as the OS of choice for PC gaming. Like you said, though, MS’s support of the GFW thing has been laughable and embarrassing. For the record, a GFW brand was a decent idea, but it was all marketing with no technology to back it up.

  29. Bhlaab says:

    The problem with microsoft’s games for windows initiative is a complete lack of initiative. They just don’t care! As long as they have directX and the sweeping majority of the install base they’re golden and it’s obvious that they could give less of a shit about building the gaming PC as a brand with these half-assed features (if you can even call them features) In fact this seems more like an advertisement for the 360 than anything else.

  30. The Letter Z says:

    i HATE the games for windows setup. for Xbox LIVE it works great. but it should stay ONLY XBL. do not mix XBL w/ PC gaming. it will only ruin both.

  31. Robin says:

    *raises hand* I care about cross-platform multiplayer. Obviously it’s not something that would be appropriate for every game (unless PC gamers were willing to use joypads to play FPS games against console chums), but technically it’s not unfeasible any more, especially with PC/PS3/360 games frequently sharing engines. Cross platform GTA4 or COD4? Mmm, yes please.

    So it’s a shame that Microsoft have effectively prevented third parties from implementing anything of the sort for the last five+ years by forcing 360 games to use Xbox Live, with rare exceptions like Final Fantasy XI only grudgingly being allowed if you have a bargaining chip like, well, the Final Fantasy brand. Dropping the subscription fee just means it’s a free-to-use mess of proprietary non-interoperable junk.

  32. AbyssUK says:

    more prove that free doesn’t equal good

  33. eh says:

    I think a game that will make cross platform multiplayer a lot more attractive is Street Fighter 4.

    It will be a blast if they do it right.

  34. rei says:

    It’s not about money (in the short term), it’s about control. MS dreams of dominating PC games the way they dominate everything that happens on their console, and every single person who goes “Well, it’s free now so what the heck, I’ll get it” takes them closer to that goal.

    If you buy into this scheme now, you’d better not cry about it a few years down the line when commercial titles require de facto certification from MS and anything they deem unwanted either dies or has to go indie with zero funding.

  35. espy says:

    I don’t even want it for free, to be honest.

  36. rocketman71 says:

    So, we keep seeing Microsoft’s wonderful strategy defending the PC:

    - Pay the big bucks to get a couple of big games to use GfWL, the worst connectivity API since the old DirectPlay (remember all the issues with Atomic Bomberman or AOE?).

    - Release DX11 again Vista only, to try to move people from XP. Not gonna work. Shadowrun and Halo 2 where embarrassments for Microsoft, and so will this be.

    - Soon, another interview with Kevin Unangst saying how much they’re doing for the PC, while again forcing multiplatform games to release the PC version late so they can rake all the benefits for the 360.

    Microsoft can kiss my shiny ass.

  37. iainl says:

    That’s lovely for the people who only own a PC, but the whole point of the service, as far as I was concerned, was to allow using my 360 Gold Live account on the PC as well, without signing up a second, seperate one.

    I don’t think anyone paid money for a Windows Live Gold account, because it would have been a total waste of money. But now you’ve got a mess where some ‘Gold’ account aren’t really proper gold accounts at all, as they can’t be taken over to a 360 box. Doesn’t that break the entire paradigm?

  38. Raff says:

    Shadowrun is excellent.

    -50 points

  39. John Walker says:

    Raff, you’re thinking of Shadow Of The Beast.

  40. Commando says:

    Aren’t the games that they used Games For Windows Live on total multiplayer blackholes? I think you can’t have dedicated servers.

  41. Raff says:

    No, it really is very good. As long as you aren’t wearing your ‘M$ goggles’.

    It was handled cretinously in every regard and everyone reacted accordingly. But underneath all the vista/gfw/fullprice9maps crap it’s a much better game than any elitist PC philistines (or anyone basking in their hits) will ever admit.

    Not that you’re one of those of course! Not RPS, the sole broad-minded PC site on the known internet.

  42. mister slim says:

    After reading that Unangst interview, I’m confused as to how Fallout 3 benefits from the changes to Live Gold. Does this mean we can look forward to cross-platform multiplayer in F3? Also it sounds like MS are trying to sell publishers on the benefits of Massive.

  43. Senethro says:

    As a multiplayer FPS nut, and particularly one for classbased combat with unusual movement mechanisms like gliding and teleporting, I would have bought Shadowrun. I would have leapt at the chance to show those console scrubs that even their auto-aim cannot challenge mouse supremacy. However, Microsoft expected a monthly subscription to unlock the full functionality of the game.

    Aye, that’ll be the day.

  44. Paul Moloney says:

    “Shadowrun is excellent.”

    If you mean the SNES RPG, then hell yeah. I’m really hoping they bring it out on the Wii Virtual Console.

    Does Games for Windows Live offer the XBox Live Gamercard and Gamerscore features, or is it _just_ for multiplayer play? (I’m unfamiliar with either apart from a quick browse of Wikipedia.) I’m curious as some Windows games feature achievements (Mass Effect) for one – does Games for Windows Live display these?

    P.

  45. grumpy says:

    Hey, so Microsoft has realized that demanding money for what all your larger competitors offer for free, is not a very good business model? Impressive. That only took them what, 3 years?

  46. Simes says:

    I guess that explains the Dawn of War 2 thing from the other week.

    Paul: GfWL has the Gamercard and Achievements features, yes. Certainly the Gold account does. Or at least it does at the moment, I’m not sure whether the new free world will make a difference. If you have an XBox Live Gold account that will double as a GfWL gold account and the gamercard and score will be shared between them. The points I got from Universe at War on my XBL tag are from the PC version.

  47. Yann Best says:

    Actually, I’m with Raff on this one: Shadowrun was an excellent little multiplayer FPS. I’d even go so far as to say I preferred it to TF2. Unfortunately, it was hobbled by being sold at full price without being connected to a larger package. But no, it was far from rubbish.

  48. RLacey says:

    I can’t help but feel that the complaints about the lack of quality GFWL titles thus far are somewhat missing the point. If Microsoft make the gold subscription free for PC users (allowing cross-platform play), and they also make integration of GFWL free for developers, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see developers who wouldn’t previously have bothered adding cross-platform play starting to seriously consider it, since it doesn’t cost them anything, and there’s now a potential pool of users.

    And if that leads to more cross-platform titles, great. I don’t see how that’s a problem, even if that vast majority of said titles won’t get it to work properly. It’s not like one has to play cross-platform anyway.

    So, um, yeah. Microsoft are far too late in moving to this system, but I can’t actually see anything bad about it. And I’m slightly surprised that people are complaining about it, unless we’re just going to go with the blinkered position that Valve and Steam are the saviours of PC gaming while Microsoft is just an evil, corporate entity.

    (Apologies for the rant.)

  49. MeestaNob! says:

    This news is probably the best thing after directx that Microsoft have given to PC gamers.

    I applaud them for coming to their senses, but I’m still very much still ‘yay Steam’ rather than this.

    Still very welcome news. I might have to fire up Gears of War and see if anything has changed.

  50. AbyssUK says:

    I forsee Xbox Live becoming free soon, making all its money from game/film/tv downloads. Probs just as sony finally release home… GfW Live if made as powerful as xbox live may just win me over a bit… and I hate microsoft with a passion.

    But again forcing people to go vista for dx11 is just wrong.. i hope game devs start going to opengl etc.. because microsoft just arn’t playing nice.