Why Games for Windows Marketplace and Not Steam?

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Games for Windows Marketplace

Microsoft's Games for Windows brand undergoes a makeover on November 15, but it's already had several, none of them particularly successful. Games for Windows feels like an emasculated version of Xbox Live, and it's an even tougher story when you compare other Windows gaming storefronts.

Why, given that, would you buy from the Games for Windows store, with more broadly stocked alternatives like Direct2Drive or Steam?

I spoke recently with Microsoft PC and mobile games product manager Peter Orullian about Games for Windows Marketplace, a partial service reboot that enables direct purchase and download of games through a browser, client-free. In this followup, Orullian explains why the company's recent "doubling down" toward Games for Windows initiatives amounts to better days ahead.

Game On: I've talked to you guys over the years about Games for Windows, and every time there's something new, something's changing, but where the promises are always big, the results are kind of prosaic in terms of the number of games available. Why would I use a service that offers 100 games and not Steam, which offers upwards of 1,200?

Peter Orullian: We built the latest version of Games for Windows based on feedback, so we're primarily focused on ease of use. What we've found is that it's kludgy to launch a client just to make a purchase, so we think that's compelling.

There is a disparity in the number of games, but the approach we're taking is to select the games we think matter. I don't know if your audience is interested in every single game that every game store might have, but I'd say take the 80-20 rule, where 80 percent of interest and purchase is on a very small amount of what's available. Our focus has been on a really great portfolio, which isn't to say we have them all yet. We're continuing to add those.

GO: But you're Microsoft. Why don't you go over to the folks selling their games through Steam and say come on over to Games for Windows?

PO: Well I think we are doing that, but there's only so many games you can ingest in a given day or week. Our portfolio will continue to grow. It's the same thing we did on the Xbox 360. When Xbox Live Marketplace launched, the PlayStation 3 was out there with a gazillion games and PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility, and we went forward with a set of really great titles. That was our business approach, and it's the same one we're taking with Games for Windows Marketplace.

We're not going to add lots of resources just to ingest everything. That's not the approach we plan to take. What we will do is add new titles all the time, so the planned approach is curation. Why are we not going and getting everything? I think part of it is we're not sure that you need everything. I would argue that there's a lot of games on a lot of stores that are creating a lot of noise on the digital shelf.

It really speaks as well to the UI. If you take a look there, we did a lot of usability around the intuitive nature of seeing and discovering games. We're very straightforward in that regard. For us, it's about the games that matter to gamers, and then putting those on the site in a way that makes them really easy to find and purchase.

GO: I can't speak for my readers, but what sold Games for Windows to me was the Live angle, and yet we've only seen a couple handfuls since the service launched back in 2007. I have an Xbox 360 Gamertag, I like to collate achievements from both platforms, but GFW Live games are like an endangered species. I mean, you've got scads of Xbox 360 games with Windows counterparts that lack the same basic Gamertag features. Why don't we see more cross-platform Live-enabled games?

PO: When you say cross-platform, are you talking playing from console to PC?

GO: No, although that's definitely a sidebar. I just mean the Gamertag metrics and friend sharing.

PO: I think what is fair, is that while we've been in the space, we really are doubling down now. Though I'm here to focus on the store, what I can tell you is we really spent a lot of time talking to the services team on the console, and looked at the path they've taken, and our Games for Windows services team is now on that path.

The analogy I use is, when the console launched, it didn't have the Live service. A year later it did. And then all of the rich networking stuff that only existed in-game, gamers were like, let us stay connected when we're in the dashboard and we enabled that. That ongoing refinement is something we're going to do on Games for Windows Live. The service you see today is not an end state.

In terms of getting additional developers, obviously it is their choice, to adopt the service. I can say it's one of the things we've definitely started to evangelize, so in the same way you're about to see a step change with the store, the service is definitely headed down the same path, and in an aggressive way, too.

GO: In December 2009, you offered around 30 Live-enabled games. You've added nearly a dozen since. That's going to increase appreciably?

PO: Yeah, it really is. I think we have a history as a division of getting into the kind of space that's healthy. Some of the things I'd illustrate in our evolution and how we think about a destination online with our PC games store is being open to selling more than just our own GFW-brand titles. Some publishers are going to choose the branding, but ultimately we want to be open for gamers to be able to browse and shop, and that's the same approach we're taking with the service.

GO: Thanks Peter!

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