Three of the biggest PC releases from the past two weeks – Batman, Resident Evil and Red Faction – all have one thing in common, Games for Windows Live. Three of the biggest PC releases in the past couple of weeks all use Microsoft’s PC interpretation of the impressive Xbox 360 Live system. Surely this should be a great time for PC gaming with these top titles using a system designed to improve the gaming experience for PC users, unfortunately it is not so. Games for Windows Live is flawed, there is no denying it. The requirement to be signed into the service to save your progress in some titles is perhaps the most significant problem with the service. A good friend of mine had played two hours of Red Faction: Guerrilla recently, when he came to save his progress he was told he had to sign in to Live. He hit a problem when it turned out Live required updating, after following the update process hoping that he would then be able to save his progress he was informed his computer needed to restart for the update to be applied. Two hours of gameplay down the drain because Games for Windows Live doesn’t allow offline/online integration. My friend promptly uninstalled the game after releasing what had happened, and I am sure this is a problem that many others have experienced.
Personally I have had my fair share of problems with the service, most notably an inability to sign in to Live despite full internet connectivity and the correct log-in details. It is extremely frustrating to have to restart a game like Fallout 3 several times just to be able to access my saved games. This is coming from a service which lists, amongst others, ‘Quality’ as a key aspect of what the Games for Windows brand means. A quality service would not present so many problems to the user, a quality service would not require users to pay for DLC using Microsoft points when Steam allows you to, in some circumstances pay in your own currency, but at the end of the day using real money, not Microsoft points. For further analysis of the awful payment system, just read about Greg’s problems with Fallout 3 DLC.
The sad thing is that if you ignore that little word ‘Live’, Games for Windows is a great idea. It brings PC releases under a unified banner and helps to establish the importance of PC games in the wider gaming market, it also ensures that all titles released under the Games for Windows banner work on 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows, they support Xbox 360 Control pads and provide widescreen compatibility. It is hard to comprehend how the basic Games for Windows service promises so much, yet when the Live element is introduced so much trouble arises. In a world where Steam and Impulse offer almost everything Games for Windows Live does, and more in a much more user friendly environment with less problems it makes you wonder why developers insist on adding Live to their games. It doesn’t help us, the end users one bit. To top it all off Bioshock 2 will be using Games for Windows Live.