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Microsoft poised to CTRL+ALT+Del Games for Windows
Microsoft poised to CTRL+ALT+Del Games for Windows
August 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft

August 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft
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    15 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



Sometimes when your computer's bogged down and sluggish, the best course of action is to just restart the whole damn thing.

Signs are pointing to a similar reset happening at Games for Windows, a program that was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to digital PC game sales, cross-platform socializing and PC game quality standards.

This week, Polygon reported the website for Microsoft's Age of Empires Online stated that Games for Windows Live, the online initiative of Games for Windows that focused on online play and socializing for PC games, would shut down:

Games for Windows Live will be discontinued on July 1, 2014. Although it is available through Steam, Age of Empires Online requires features of the Games for Windows Live service. You can continue to enjoy all the features of Age of Empires Online as the service will remain 100% operational until July 1, 2014 when the server will shut down.

With that wording now removed, we reached out to Microsoft reps who didn't deny the shutdown date for Games for Windows Live:

Yesterday, an Age of Empires support web page communicated that the free to play Age of Empires Online will be discontinued on July 1, 2014. We believe in Windows/PC gaming and have long-term plans to grow our support. We expect there to be transitions as we build out new investments, but we remain committed to bringing first party gaming services and games to Windows for years to come. We will share more details in the future.

This non-committal statement about GFWL comes off the heels of Microsoft announcing the impending doom (this week) of Games for Windows Live Marketplace -- an eyebrow-raising move that leaves the company that owns Windows with no serious answer to Steam.

There will be few tears shed if Microsoft goes through with canning Games for Windows initiatives. While cross-play between PC and Xbox 360 players was a nice feature of Games for Windows Live, it was rarely ever supported, and the extra layer of interface proved to be more annoying than helpful. Game developers we've spoken with found that getting the "Games for Windows" seal of approval was a hassle, and there was little motivation for them to comply to those standards on an open platform, anyway.

At least we've got Steam, right? Speaking of which, amid these changes to the Games for Windows program, Microsoft said this month that it hired Jason Holtman, a Valve veteran who was a key figure in Steam's success.

He told GamesIndustry.biz, "I think there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft to deliver the games and entertainment customers want and to work with developers to make that happen." Our curiosity is piqued.

In order to fulfill the Windows PC game opportunity -- one that involves the ownership of the OS that millions of PC games are played on -- it's best for Microsoft to CTRL+ALT+Del its PC game ecosystem, do everything possible to cater to PC game developers, and play some serious catch up in the content and distribution wars.


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Comments


Chris Oates
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Microsoft is going to bring up the task manager and shut down a rogue process in its Games for Windows? Isn't that the only reason people use Ctrl-alt-del today?

Chris Oates
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And on topic of the contents and not the jokey title, MS still has a way to sell PC games direct to to customers, the Windows 8 store, which I would guess already has far more daily active users than Games for Windows ever did.

Kris Graft
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Fair enough, re: the Windows 8 store... But that's Windows 8-exclusive, terrible with discovery, and a mix of Windows 8 and desktop apps. A storefront and social layer that caters to players a la Steam (that's friendlier than GFW) would show that Microsoft is taking PC gaming seriously.

John Maurer
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In older console systems it would shut-down the system, it still works in Ubuntu as a log-out short-cut, the author (an now apparently myself) is just showing their age. Be nice to us old folks, we've got the best stories

Chris Oates
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I'm an "old guy" myself, just pointing out that times change ...

Chris Oates
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I don't disagree that the current Win 8 store has some issues (8.1 is definitely a step up) but I don't see MS making an entirely new service just to cater to older OS versions when they have been on a mission lately to reduce product overlap. I expect that they will simply come up with a gamer-centric interface to the existing windows 8 store. It won't win them any fans among those who declare that they will never use Windows 8, but it's the choice that makes the most sense long-term.

Dane MacMahon
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This will be interesting in that a lot of games are tied to the service, and a lot of online content. Rumor is some developers are planning to switch that content and service to Steam or elsewhere, but I imagine a lot of it will simply vanish. How will the market respond to the first big example of a PC DRM platform ending and taking content down with it?

I hope they revolt and start considering how much they actually "own" on Origin and Steam and others, but... probably not.

Kevin Alexander
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I had a Nintendo eat my Zelda game when I was 8...

I'll never forget that day.

Bob Johnson
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What's Games for Windows? ;)

Kyle Redd
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Among the titles that are likely to be permanently unplayable, I would guess it will include games that are no longer owned by the original publishers, sold very poorly, or are old enough that not enough of the development team are still around to update them. Here's my list of probable casualties:

Age of Empires Online
Battle vs Chess
CarnyVale Showtime
Dark Souls (Just a hunch. Most people probably expect it to be updated, but FromSoft have already admitted their limited PC knowledge as the reason for using GFWL in the first place.)
Dark Void
Microsoft Game Room
Lost Planet 2 (it's a newer game but may have sold too poorly for Capcom, who has never given great support for its PC releases, to care)
Microsoft Flight
Operation Flashpoint: Red River
Resident Evil: ORC (see Lost Planet 2)
Shadowrun
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes
Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends
Tinker
Tron Evolution
Viva Pinata

Plus there are games that only use GFWL for multiplayer, so the offline portion should still work. Still, for these games I don't expect the MP will get the necessary updates:

Blazblue Calamity Trigger (the developer has limited PC experience and the game has already been "replaced" by a sequel)
The Club
Hour of Victory
Juiced 2
Lost Planet CE
Quantum of Solace
Red Faction Guerrilla
Stormrise
Universe at War

Dane MacMahon
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Several of those games like Dark Void and Dark Souls play in singleplayer with an offline GFWL profile, so those aspects should be unaffected. It's the online features that will vanish.

There are a handful of GFWL games that require an authorization with Microsoft, like Halo 2 or Bulletstorm. I certainly hope those authorization servers will be kept alive, or a patch issued for DRM free installation. If not it's not like cracks don't exist, let's be honest.

The real issue for singleplayer folks is the DLC content. Luckily it seems that content will come to Steam, if the Steam forums are any judge.

Kyle Redd
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Both Dark Souls and Dark Void use Server-Side Authentication, which (as I understand it) means that although you can play offline, you must authenticate a registration key with GFWL when first installing the game. Since those authentication servers are going away, neither game will run if you haven't already registered it to your computer at least once. Or is that not how SSA works?

As far as GFWL cracks go, in my experience they are either hazardous or useless. After purchasing GTA IV, I went in search of a crack to try to get around that game's triple-whammy DRM scheme (GFWL, SecuROM, and Rockstar Social Club - all mandatory).

The cracks that I found all use "obfuscation" to get around GFWL authentication, which caused major problems with my anti-virus software. The only way around it would've been to disable the AV, which I was not at all comfortable doing. Similarly, I've yet to find any crack that does not cause security problems with any of the other GFWL games I own.

Dane MacMahon
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Dark Void uses SecuROM, not GFWL SSA. I'm not sure what Dark Souls uses, I haven't played it yet.

There are a handful of games that require an online GFWL activation, which is what SSA is. It was introduced rather late in GFWL's lifespan though, I believe Dead Rising 2 was the first game to use it. The damage there should be limited, and again I wouldn't be surprised if those authentication servers were left up, or if SSA removal patches were issued.

You mention GTA4, which is a perfect example of some of the misconceptions about GFWL. It was not DRM in GTA4, it was purely a service for the online features of the game. Rockstar Social Club as well. Both could be used offline and never had to connect to the internet. The only DRM in GTA4 is a SecuROM activation.

Kyle Redd
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Dark Void does use GFWL with SSA if you bought it from the Live Marketplace. Although it's likely very few people chose that option, those folks are still going to be out of luck once the service shuts down (unless it's patched, which I very much doubt will happen).

I believe you are correct on GTA IV's DRM, although there are certainly games that do use multiple schemes - both Batman games have mandatory GFWL and SecuROM authentication, for example. Regardless, the point is that getting around them isn't as easy as downloading a simple crack and running the game, which is probably one of the reasons publishers use them. I am not computer-illiterate by any means, and I wasn't comfortable with the process.

Not to mention that you shouldn't have to break the law to play a game you've paid for in the first place. It would be great if Microsoft left the authentication servers running, but I personally wouldn't bet on it.

Dane MacMahon
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Batmans have no mandatory GFWL activation. At least not when bought on a different store.

Anyway you're not wrong, I expressed similar worries above. There are some games and some content that could get screwed here, we will have to see. I just always try to clarify what GFWL is and what it is not when people talk about it. The prevailing internet opinion seems to be you have to be online to save, for example, which is false. Drives me up the wall!

You're not wrong though. Let's see how they handle this.


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