Microsoft Restyles Games For Windows Live, Adds Downloads

In a slightly confusing press release, Microsoft is trumpeting updates to its Games For Windows Live service, several of which the company announced months ago. The release actually says the company "today unveiled significant updates," which I misread as "today made available." So, fool that I am, I clicked over to the service's official website, clicked the Games For Windows - LIVE - Software link, scanned down from "You can enjoy the free service even when you're not playing a game by launching the Games for Windows - LIVE client," and quickly realized a link to download said client was nowhere in site.

Turns out the client isn't available yet, and today's announcement really is just that: An announcement. But not even quite that, either, because half of what it covers is retread. That half involves the interface, which Microsoft revealed this summer it was retooling -- wisely -- with PC gamers in mind. Instead of an ugly, slightly blurry rectangle cribbed from the Xbox 360's "guide" overlay, GFW Live now descends from the top of the screen and looks like a naturally occurring extension of the Vista GUI, not a shotgun marriage between a TV and a PC. It's purportedly "optimized for use with a keyboard and mouse, and built from the ground up with PC gamers in mind."

The other news, slightly more provocative, is that Microsoft plans to offer downloadable content as part of a "Live Marketplace" component in early December. In the press release, they describe that content as "game trailers, demos and add-on game content such as extended chapters and new characters." Bethesda's already on board to offer unspecified extras for Fallout 3. No mention of full games, or competition with GOG, Steam, Direct2Drive, etc.

So from confusing, to coherent, and -- stick with me -- about to get confusing again.

Chatting with Shacknews yesterday, GFW Live's general manager Chris Early responded to a question about the company's thoughts on using the client to distribute full PC titles. Chris responded "Clearly it's on our road map," which Shacknews read as headline-grabbing confirmation.

Except that's actually not Microsoft's first public confirmation of its DLC "road map." Microsoft Senior Global Director of Games For Windows Kevin Ungangst already said almost exactly the same thing several months ago when I asked him more pointedly: "Do you plan to offer full downloadable games for sale as an alternative to retail?"

Kevin's response:

If you look at the trend in the PC market, offering digital distribution in any form is where the growth is, where the long-term revenue opportunities are for publishers. And so clearly with Marketplace, we're taking a pretty big first step, enabling game content, add-ons, demos, trailers, all those pieces. That is digital distribution. Certainly full game distribution is on our roadmap , and I think is a natural evolution, but not something we plan to deliver in the fall update of Games For Windows Live.

So full downloadable games "on the roadmap" = old news. Also: Still largely speculative news until it's really and officially announced, which between Kevin and Chris's comments, it hasn't been.

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