Games for Windows Live - Steaming Hot or Dud?

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GFW vs Steam

GFWL ranks up there in the list of stupid things companies have done to prove to their consumer bases that they haven’t forgotten about them - it’s definitely top 5 for me. GFWL (the way I’ll refer to Games for Windows Live) was an effort that started a few years ago and has tanked so fantastically that it is worth talking about.

In the beginning, there was Steam. Specifically, Steam the download service that’s sponsored by the PC juggernaut known as Valve (second only to the PC God known as Blizzard). Steam was initially received with mixed reviews and was written off by the press far too quickly. Today, almost every major developer has their games hooked up to Steam, ready to be downloaded directly onto the hard drives of millions of users. The way Steam innovated the concept of the PC game was with large-scale access to downloadable games. Steam was the very first PC client to allow users to download a wide variety of full, A-list, releases to their hard drives at retail prices, without having to visit an actual store.

So, with Steam enjoying life in the limelight, certain companies (we’re looking at you, Microsoft) decided that it’d be nice to get a piece of the pie. So, MS started scheming, and they decided to unleash upon the world Games for Windows Live. GFWL was supposed to be a renaissance in PC gaming the likes of which was seen in the early 90s, before home consoles became much more cost efficient and powerful. GFWL branded games would bring about the end of this whole “PC gaming is dead” talk and would instead invigorate a new generation to go out and spend $700 on a rig when they could just spend $300 on an Xbox (ironically made by MS as well). Suffice it to say, the mythical fantasy of Microsoft’s vision of a future utopia with their GFW: brand leading the charge became a complete dud.

The reasons include multiple failures to launch, and the fact that the more they seemed to push the brand, the more it became clear that people wanted nothing to do with it. Steam was on the horizon and people were excited for the capabilities that came with a free Xbox LIVE-like service that allowed friends to stick together and play together. What was Microsoft doing in the meantime? Asking customers to pay for less than what Steam offered for free.

Ultimately, we come to the modern day - the present era if you will. GFWL has sunk, or is sinking so completely that MS is now resorting to “revamping” efforts to the entire service in a desperate last-grasp attempt to revitalize something that should’ve ended before it began. Steam is so immensely popular now that even EA has jumped on board, and with them, so has the realization from many companies that the PC market can only be dominated by one incredibly fully-featured service for online gaming. The people have spoken, and that service is not GFWL.

And with that, concludes the story of GFWL. I hope that Microsoft is able to retreat and come back a better player, perhaps even offering their branded games on Steam as a sign of good faith. Ultimately, it’s not about who wins or loses, but rather about how many play the game.