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[QUOTE]Microsoft refunding gamers, Games for Windows Live goes free

By Frank Caron | Published: July 23, 2008 - 07:06PM CT

PC gaming wasn't a huge factor at this year's E3, but it seems that Microsoft was merely biding its time before making its big moves to try and perk up the waning PC gaming market. The company made a variety of positive announcements at the GameFest technology conference in Seattle this week, including the announcement of DirectX 11 and the removal, and in some cases refunding, of subscription fees for Games for Windows Live.

DirectX 11 will build on the groundwork of DirectX 10 without staggering the market as did its predecessor. DX 11 will fully support Windows Vista, as well as future versions of Windows, including all DX 11 hardware features. More importantly, DX 11 will be compatible with DX 10 and 10.1 hardware, as well as the new forthcoming DX 11 hardware. Noteworthy improvements with the APIs include GPGU support "that lays the groundwork for the GPU to be used for more than just 3D graphics," as well as multithreaded resource handling and tessellation support.

"DirectX 11 will be coming when the next version of Windows ships, and it will be available for Vista at the same time," said Kevin Unangst, senior global director of Windows gaming, in a call with Ars earlier today. "Of course, developer SDKs, and so forth, will be available in advance of that. Details are still being disclosed to developers now."

Microsoft is being more careful with DirectX 11 when it comes to pushing out the technology to consumers. Many criticized the way that DirectX 10 staggered the PC gaming market as it attempted to lure gamers to switch to Vista, and that's something the company doesn't seem to want to repeat. "We're giving the developers the early look," said Unangst. "With DirectX 11, we don't have to make the same platform shift [as we did with DirectX 10]."

While DirectX 11 will mean big changes for developers now, gamers will immediately benefit from the company's newly announced revamps of the Games for Windows Live platform. Most notably, the Games for Windows Live service is now free for all preexisting GFWL titles, and will hold all forthcoming titles. This service used to cost $50 a year, as it does for the sister Xbox Live service, and includes platform-wide TruSkill matchmaking, cross-platform play with the Xbox 360, voice and text chat, and integrated community features, such as the gamercard and integrated friends lists. This change comes as the result of criticism of Microsoft's for-pay service which was launched at a time when comparable and arguably superior services already existing for PC gamers were already available for free

"The work that we did over the last year was important. We launched Games for Windows Live: we took the plumbing from Xbox Live and then applied to the PC world," Unangst told Ars. "People liked achievements, automatic updates, friends lists, and so on. We wanted to do new things, like cross-platform gameplay. We've had a number of partners sign on. But I think what we learned over the last year is that services play a big role in how Windows gaming is evolving and moving. We talked to publishers and developers of PC content, and for the gamers, multiplayer is a baseline expectation on Windows. So we decided to make the decision now for free Games for Windows Live. "
Refunds for early adopters

But that's not all. To reward those gamers who have been with the service from the beginning, Microsoft will be giving refunds to gamers who have been subscribing to the Games for Windows Live service specifically. "Yes, there will be a benefit for customers who purchased gold subscriptions on Windows," said Unangst. "Proactively, we will be offering refunds for those with Windows-specific Gold subscriptions. Customer service has already begun to get communications prepared."

In addition, Microsoft plans to launch a Windows Live equivalent of the Xbox Live Marketplace. PC gamers will be able to access free and for-pay downloadable games, trailers, demos, and more. This will give developers and publishers a new outlet for content, leveraging Microsoft's reach, which will complement continued improvements of the Games for Windows Live APIs behind the scenes and the elimination of licensing fees for developers leveraging the platform or royalty fees for using the brand.

The marketplace will include "exclusive content optimized for [the platform]." And, though "there will be some overlap" between the Xbox Live Marketplace and the GFW Live one, "the portfolios and catalogs will cater directly to the specific audience." Unangst used Fallout 3 as an example of a game that would have content on both.

PC gamers and developers weren't the only benefactors of the company's string of announcements. Microsoft also revealed that the Xbox Live Community Games initiative, which it announced at GDC earlier this year, would be taking on a whole new importance. Independent developers will be able to set prices for their content when the service launches later this fall, allowing them to reap the benefits of a closed distribution system and the muscle of Microsoft, as well as up to 70 percent of the profits.

This is potentially something that the new Windows-based Marketplace may also eventually integrate. "The primary focus of the Games for Windows Live marketplace is to extend the game experience and offer additional game content," Unangst explained. "That doesn't preclude us from distributing community games in the future. The infrastructure is certainly there. We're just not ready to talk about that part of the roadmap yet."

When asked about how Microsoft expects Xbox Live gamers to respond now that the equivalent service on Windows is free, Unangst explained that the value of the two similar services was different for each audience. "It's all a part of that philosophy of designing what's best for each of our customers. On the Windows side, we're meeting the demand of the PC gaming audience," said Unangst. "But we're also adding more and more value for Xbox Live Gold with things like NetFlix integration, party chat, and so on. That's more and more value for what is already a very good deal. I'm an Xbox Live Gold Subscriber, I pay my monthly fee—what's it, $5 bucks a month? Now you get the same kind of value for the Windows. They are linked, but they are distinct services."

Unangst was resolute in his stance that PC gaming remains a big focus of Microsoft, in spite of claims to the contrary that have resulted from the successes of the Xbox 360. While much of the press has been critical of the PC Gaming Alliance and the overall strategy towards furthering the PC gaming industry, Unangst was adamant in saying that rumors of PC gaming's death have been greatly exaggerated.

With regard to questions about the move to DirectX 11 and how that affected the PCGA's attempt to open up PC gaming to the masses, Unangst spoke carefully. "You can look at the mission and the intent of the PCGA at a broader level," he said. "It's not about technology adoption, it's about having an industry forum that has the dialogues about PC gaming. We have members of the hardware community and the software community that are a part of that. We have constructive discussions. We all have a shared interest in seeing that PC gaming stays at the forefront. "
Looking ahead

So what's the next step for Microsoft now? "It's a question of what starts today," Unangst said. "The industry is moving towards digital distribution in a big way. Once people stop looking at NPD and US retail sales as the sole barometer of PC gaming strength, they will realize that PC gaming is growing exponentially. There's no question that the industry is healthy."

"[Microsoft's new developments] are the indicator of the continued investment," concluded Unangst. "We're going to go and invest in PC gaming in a big way. First we did the retail and the branding and the marketing, then we did advertising, and now you're starting to see the fruits of our technology advances. We've been listening to the industry and saying 'what do you want from us to make the platform better?'"

With these new initiatives, Microsoft is doing exactly what many had hoped it would do: working harder for PC gaming. The company is putting more resources, more time, and more money into further expanding the way that gamers play on their Windows boxes. Games for Windows Live is now far more relevant than it was as a paid service, the company's continued focus on bringing more games to the platform and offering more tools to developers big and small is admirable, and the enthusiasm of its important PC gaming executives is there. Maybe PC gaming isn't dying after all. [/QUOTE]

Well its a start, if they would expand silver/free alil or at least give more points and stuff to gold.


Ah modern gaming its like modern film only the watering down of fiction and characters is replaced with shallow and watered down mechanics, gimmicks and shiny-er "people".
Incoherence is my friend and grammar my bane, which is the fulcrum of suffering I place upon others!:ZippyDSMlee

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