Input personal information about a higher rate does cash advance cash advance strike a positive experience even weeks.

Home > Uncategorized > Late for the Party

Late for the Party

I finally signed up with Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live, two and a half years after its roll-out. Now, it’s a given that Microsoft knows how to throw a party; despite this, I never found myself yearning to line up for GFW Live. To be honest, I never even really knew much about it aside from presumed similarities to Xbox Live (Gamerscore-type stuff), and the Games for Windows branding (Gamerscore-type stuff, but on PC). Well, I recently installed a game that required an account (TimeGate’s Section 8), and was abruptly tossed into the Live arena. I found the initial experience familiar, and funnily, a tad bewildering because of that familiarity.

I’ve been a Steam user since it was rolled out in 2003, and since then, can sum up my firsthand experience with the Xbox Live service with a big fat goose egg. I realize this can create biased expectations on how a gaming service or portal should look, feel, and function. So imagine my surprise to find a lot of overlap between GFW Live and Steam in terms of services and features:

  • Distribution portal — You can use Live’s marketplace to purchase and download first- and third-party games; it also allows you to access patches and additional content. However, extra content doesn’t seem to be free. (Section 8‘s map pack costs points, which you can either earn, or purchase.)
  • DRM — Live-enabled games require you to sign in to play, giving publishers a way to permanently tie their game’s registration key to you via your Gamertag. This makes for far better copy protection than those anti-consumer DRM schemes that limit the number of installations, or stealthily install spyware on your rig. However, I’ve yet to find out, firsthand, whether Live-enabled games can be played offline. It seems that you need to create a “local” Live profile to do this (yes, it’s a local live profile), and none of your in-game accomplishments can be merged with your “online” Live profile. In Steam, I’m pretty sure you can just “disconnect” your singleplayer game and play it offline, which is far more user-centred.
  • Up in the clouds — I first tried to play some of Section 8‘s singleplayer campaign, but was informed that without an established Live connection, none of my progress or settings would be saved. I assume the wall that Microsoft immediately places in front of you will be the same with other Live-enabled games, even those with a stronger singleplayer component. I see the benefits of putting user data in the cloud, but I’m not quite yet a willing participant. It’s nice that Steam offers the option of retaining player settings in its own cloud.

Overall, I don’t think these similarities are a coincidence. Since the v3.2 client I installed was released but a couple of months ago, I looked to see what was rolled out for past releases. Some of the changes showed how strongly this service was evolving from something console-centric to, dare I say, PC-appropriate:

  • Fees? — I spat drink on my screen when I found out GFW Live initially carried subscription fees, not unlike the Xbox Live services. Maybe you can milk those 360 players, who were thrilled to have online gaming in 2005, but it doesn’t surprise me that PC gamers found this preposterous. Microsoft dropped the fees about a year after launch, which roughly maps one month to each of the 12 steps to sanity.
  • UI widgets — Although I’m getting more used to it, my initial impression on the GFW Live overlay is that it seemed chunky: text, surrounded by lots of empty space, on a fat button. I felt like I was at a kiosk at the cineplex, mashing my thumb on an oversized “NO POPCORN THANKS” rectangle. The design felt reminiscent of something optimized for use on a distant TV screen, and easily navigated and activated with a Doritos-grease-stained analogue stick and a fat X button. The thing that scares me is this UI was the result of a revamp to a less console-oriented redesign.
  • Collecting gold coins — As I played a bit of Section 8‘s singleplayer storyline, I’d get the occasional notice that I’ve earned some player pellets. So these are those Gamerpoints I’ve always heard about. You earn them by playing, and you don’t seem to earn many of them. I believe there are people in China do this for a living, except they earn real money to feed their families instead of save up for map packs that should be free. I can see this as one console-style feature (another example being Achievements), that will influence PC gaming instead of vice versa.

At this stage, Live is on a track that IMHO seems pretty typical for a Microsoft product: roll out something that’s underwhelming, refine it by implementing some of the competition’s ideas in a more heavy-handed manner, and eventually, through smart business positioning, become an irresistible force. Now, keep in mind that Steam was a flimsy shell of a portal when it was first rolled out, and remained that way for quite some time. (I think their Friends service was down for what felt like eight months.) But now, seven years later, Steam really feels solid as a platform, complete as a delivery service, and reasonable as a copy-protection scheme. I no longer see it as a hoop I must jump through in order to play Counter-Strike.

I’m sure there’s a similar future for GFW Live. Regardless, it’s clear it started out trying to ham-fistedly transplant the features and UI from their console framework to PC, and have since made modifications or additions to suit this different audience. Because of this, I can’t help but feel like an afterthought compared to my 360-playing counterparts. So while GFW Live will soon continuously run alongside Steam and Xfire on my desktop, I’ll probably find myself a proponent of the games played on the platform, not the platform itself.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.