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Gaming In The Age Of Vista: An Interview With Microsoft's Rich Wickham
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Gaming In The Age Of Vista: An Interview With Microsoft's Rich Wickham


June 4, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next
 

Defining Online

The question then, is how will Games for Windows – Live work in the future? “What you need to do is keep an eye on this space,” says Wickham. He stresses that they’ve gone “from zero to launch in 14 months for what we call Games for Windows – Live.”

It’s not going to be the same as Xbox Live from day one, Wickham warns. “We’ve spent years and years and years making Xbox Live what it is. But we’re playing catch-up, and we’re putting a lot of resources against that.”

“You’re going to see us continue to make that service better and get closer and closer to what we have on 360,” and ultimately, he hopes, offer the same service. And when the question of subscription fees comes up: “Let’s be crystal clear about what the subscription fees for Live on Xbox and Live on Windows really are. Because I think there’s a lot of confusion out there, and I want to make sure we’re clear on what’s in and what’s out.”

The differences between Gold and Silver on the 360 when it comes to Live? Those are not the same differences on Windows. On Games for Windows – Live, there is multiplayer, there is voice, there is text chat. All of those are in the Silver tier, which is a non-subscription, completely free tier. If you buy Halo 2 when it comes out, or if you buy Shadowrun, you will be able to have a multiplayer experience with voice and text chat integrated into the game for free. However, you do not get matchmaking of any kind, achievements, or cross-platform gameplay - you need to pay for those with Gold.

 

Microsoft's Games for Windows - Live showpiece, Shadowrun

Consumers expect a certain level of sophistication, of course, because you've been able to do that on PC games for many years now. But Wickham believes that consumers will be “really surprised by the quality and integration that we bring for free.” Many PC games have multiple pieces of online middleware powering them, with, say, a GameSpy client, with Ventrilo voice client, and an Xfire matchmaking and chat client.

“[Games are] not going to have to do those things when it comes to Games for Windows – Live,” Wickham states - because those features will be integrated into the infrastructure. “I think it’s a lot more seamless,” says Wickham. He personally uses Xfire, and finds it hard to frag and chat at the same time. “An integrated experience is going to be better.”

If you’re already an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, you’ll automatically be a Games for Windows – Live Gold Subscriber. “That fifty bucks that you paid on Xbox Live covers [your PC, too.]” says Wickham.

Microsoft has announced over six million Xbox Live subscribers, and Wickham reports that “our internal research shows that somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy percent of our Xbox gamers also play some form of games on the PC.” The first ten million 360 buyers tend to be core gamers, so it’s not surprising there’s an overlap. So there's a start to an installed base there, at least. As Wickham says, “Let’s just put it out there. We just gave Xbox 360 gamers something by launching Games for Windows – Live and allowing them to use that Gold subscription that they have, for free, on Windows.”

And this is fair enough for existing subscribers. But how about those PC-only gamers? How can it be justified to them right now, with very few games available for Games For Windows - Live. Wickham admits that only a small userbase will be interested in Gold, at first. “I think the service will bear itself out over time. I think the value will be there.”

When Epic’s Mark Rein had commented on the subscription of around $50 per year, news spread across the internet. Wickham addresses this issue, as well. “If you go back and look at what Mark has said on the 1UP podcast, and when he has spoken in the press, you’ll see that his real comments are not about Games For Windows – Live, and particularly the Gold subscription service, are not nearly as close to complaints as you might think they were based on what you read in the headlines on Joystiq and Kotaku or anyplace.”

Wickham continues: “In this case, he’s been misquoted as saying ‘subscriptions are crazy,’ or something like that. Again, there’s a lot for free, even more for pay, and basically, I think the key message here is we’re giving you the choice. When you buy Halo 2, you can go play multiplayer. For free.”

However, it's still a difficult sell for Microsoft to persuade developers to integrate Games for Windows - Live into their games, given that they then have to gate a number of the multiplayer features, particularly matchmaking, that they would otherwise be able to include for free. There are also unaddressed ramifications for clan servers, so it will be interesting to see how third-party support for Games For Windows - Live grows.


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