Microsoft has announced that Games for Windows Live, an extension of its popular Xbox Live service tailored for the PC market, will debut on May 8 with the launch of the Windows Vista version of Halo 2
, offering free Silver accounts for basic PC play and subscription-based Gold accounts allowing play across both PC and Xbox 360.
Though Halo 2
will see the launch of the service, Microsoft has confirmed that subsequent releases Shadowrun
, set to launch in June and later in 2007 respectively, will be the first games to allow users of both services to play games across both platforms simultaneously.
The free Silver accounts for Windows Live will allow for PC-only multiplayer and browsing of Windows Live PC games, while Gold memberships will net players all of these features plus multiplayer matchmaking, TrueSkill matchmaking, multiplayer achievements, and the ability to play games against other players across both Windows and Xbox Live.
Explaining this in an interview with Gamasutra, Xbox Live general manager JJ Richards brought up the potential benefit that a single unified platform offers game developers. “For developers, they don't want to do the work twice, and at the same time they want to target the biggest audience possible. This will let them bring out their products across both platforms at the same time.”
However, he balanced this statement by adding, “For some games or features it might not make sense for things to be mirrored across both,” noting that some games are bound to have feature sets unique to one platforms or the other. “An example is with Halo 2
, which will for the first time include a map editor, which is much easier to work on using a PC,” stated Richards.
He also offered one possible example of a strategy game, wherein a PC game and Xbox Live gamer might control different aspects of the same game. “For example, in a RTS you might have a PC player controlling the generals and making the upper level decisions, while the console gamer might control the foot soldiers from a more action type perspective.”
The news marks the first official development to be confirmed by Microsoft since its E3 2006 unveiling of Live Anywhere
, a network infrastructure that aims to allow players to communicate and interact seamlessly with the Xbox 360, Windows Vista PCs, and Windows Mobile and Java-based mobile phones.
Richards told Gamasutra, “Interestingly, we have discovered that about 70 percent of PC gamers are dual gamers, and they have voiced an interest in taking their experience with Xbox Live to PC games. They want to continue with that experience once they get kicked off of the TV or when they are just taking a break. Windows Live lets them stay connected to that community.”
“If you think about the vision we set out at the last E3, Windows Live the first bridge in that vision,” continued Richards. “We're bringing together those 6 million global Xbox Live users with the biggest community of gamers in the PC.”
The firm announced during GDC
that more than 6 million gamers worldwide are using Xbox Live for the Xbox 360, a milestone reached 4 months ahead of the company's June 2007 goal.
Microsoft is developing the service so that it will allow players to not only communicate between the devices, but also share information, in much the same way Xbox Live links together users of the Xbox 360.
In fact, when questioned about how the newly announced Windows Live service will connect with Xbox Live, Richards responded, “What we have here is a single service for one price across both platforms,” adding that there will be no additional cost to those who are already Xbox Live Gold members. “Basically, for those players who are already Xbox Live subscribers, their world just got better, as they won't have to pay anything extra.”
One of the chief features of Xbox Live is its ability for players to communicate with each other over a single unified network, a concept that Microsoft hopes to carry on with its Windows Live initiative. “We will continue to offer consumers choice,” stated Richards. “We'll leave it up to the developers as far as how and what types of voice chat will be available in certain games.”
He continued: “For the service itself, we have private chat among players in voice and text for free with Silver memberships, with in-game voice chat for Gold.” Other features touted by the Silver level service include the use of a single gamertag, profile, and gamerscore across both Xbox and Windows Live services, as well as single player achievements and a common friends list across both platforms. “In addition, a player's reputation also follows them across platforms as well, reflecting a good or bad reputation on both,” added Richards.