Some people have wondered why we're yet to write about Microsoft's recently-announced relaunch of Games For Windows. I wondered too, and eventually settled on it being something to do with just how tainted that name is now. After all these years of confusing marketing and frustrating attempts to regulate multiplayer, so many PC gaming brains either skip right over it or focus into some manner of cranial snarl at its mere mention. Well, let's resist that impulse and strive for a little understanding.
Here's the plan: Microsoft are rebooting Games For Window again, but this time around it's about trying to make that strange, cludgy brand be associated with something other than irksome sign-in screens. How are they doing it? By putting its Marketplace element head-to-head with Steam.
Well, inevitably they're claiming that's not their plan, and that they're offering an entirely different prospect, but it'd be madness to pretend this digital distribution store for contemporary PC games had any other target for regicide. The headline news for the overhauled Games For Windows Live Marketplace (that being the game-selling element of the sprawling GFW brand) is that it will no longer be shackled to titles which use the still superlative-inducingly irritating Games For Windows Live multiplayer/community/savegame-imprisoning tech. Yep, normal, unLive PC games will be allowed into this new Microsoft store. It's very much a separate entity from Live, in fact.
It's promising flexibility too: less rigid program shells than Steam, and cheery support for whatever DRM-nastiness each publisher or developer wants or doesn't want. So it could well turn out to be more palatable for those who can't abide Steam: unless, of course, publishers take it as carte blanche to load on even more copy protection.
The other Big Wow points are that a client will no longer be mandatory - in most cases sales and downloads will be orchestrated via a browser. In addition, you don't gave to buy those silly Microsoft Points: direct credit card sales are supported.
So, all the proprietary guff is gone, and Microsoft are instead offering us something... Normal. By their control- freak standards, that's revelatory.
The degree to which this will be a bona fide backing down remains to be seen - one of the other recurring themes in the three million and seven interviews the new GFWM boss Peter Orullian (who, tellingly, headed up a lot of the Xbox Live Marketplace stuff) is that Microsoft are apparently "doubling down" on the PC as a gaming platform. We've heard them bang on about how they still love the PC a bunch of times in the past and it's not really turned out to have meant anything, but I do start to believe they could mean it this time. With Apple on the ascendant in gaming-land and Facebook and Steam both having pretty tight grips on key aspects of PC gaming, perhaps MS are finally compelled to truly fight their old corner again.
We'll just have to see how this new store pans out when it launches in mid-November. Will it display resolve and consideration, or will it be another bloated half-measure? Twinned with that is the pre-order exclusive they've mentioned, and which everyone in their right mind is expecting to be Fable III. Will it be cheaper than retail, will it be a proper PC version and not full of Xbox iconography and Live nag screens? If Microsoft want our faith in this new store - if they want us to consider upping sticks from tried and tested alternatives - they need to earn it. I'm very curious to see what they do.
There isn't, you'll note, an interview by us - which is odd, given Microsoft have been cap in hand to a whole host of multi-platform game sites with this one. Blowing RPS' own trumpet (missus) makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but that probably the world's biggest PC gaming blog hasn't heard directly from anyone at Microsoft about this "doubling down on PC gaming" plan can't help but speak volumes to me. Hmm. Again, let's see what November brings, anyway.