Taking aim (well, kind of) at online game distributors like Direct2Drive, Impulse, and Steam, Microsoft says it'll sell downloadable PC games online starting November 15. The company already allows players to purchase and download full PC games, but required they do so using a locally installed software client.
The announcement amounts to a bifurcation of the Games For Windows transactional architecture. Until now, if you wanted to buy a copy of Fallout 3 or BioShock 2, you had to download the Games for Windows client and click through its proprietary store to complete your transaction and initiate the download.
With what Microsoft's calling Games for Windows Marketplace (cribbing from its console analogue, Xbox Live Marketplace) you'll now be able to simply click through the Games for Windows website and download games directly--no client required.
But can't we already download PC games client-free from online vendors? Of course. Gamestop, Good Old Games, and Direct2Drive have supported the practice for years.
So what gives? Does adding an online store really deserve a blizzard of stories that amount to "Microsoft raises online transaction profile to par"?
I put the question to Microsoft PC and mobile games product manager Peter Orullian, who told me Games for Windows Marketplace is just the next step in a series of changes that actually began about 18 months ago, when the company "doubled down" and announced games like Age of Empires Online, Microsoft Flight, and Fable III (the Windows version).
Orullian started as managing editor for Xbox.com, helped launch digital distribution on the Xbox console, and eventually "moved over to launch the entertainment portion of [Microsoft's] digital distribution business when [the company] started doing film and TV and music videos."
"Concurrent with that we created an entire engineering crew, a pretty sizable group called the Windows Gaming Experience group," said Orullian. "They approached me to come over to the new team, and then the last piece has been the marketing angle, which includes spinning up digital distribution. I came over to the team, and one of the first things we got into flow was the development of a new marketplace."
This summer, the company quietly began selling games without the Games for Windows branding, including Assassin's Creed II, Borderlands, Deux Ex, and Silent Hunter 5.
"The store grew quite a bit at that point, and it became a direction we've continued since and will continue forward as we launch the new site," said Orullian. "When the new site goes live, we'll have 100 games."
Next: 100 games vs. Steam's "over 1,200"?
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