Vista Gamers to Get Xbox Experience

Coming closer to founder Bill Gates’ goal of providing gamers the chance to play online almost anywhere, Microsoft said Wednesday its Games for Windows Live will be activated May 8.

When that happens, people playing PC games on computers running the new Windows Vista operating system will enjoy many of the same online experiences now available to Xbox 360 gamers using Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform. Those with Xbox Live subscriptions will be given free admission to Games for Windows Live.

To further pump the excitement, Microsoft said it will release a Games for Windows Live version of “Halo 2” on the same day, although it won’t be a “cross-platform” experience. That will come in June when the company plans to roll out a game called “Shadowrun,” which Microsoft said will be the first game to allow Vista players and Xbox 360 gamers to play with or against each other.

Later in the year, Microsoft plans to release “UNO,” a game that will also support cross-platform play between Windows and Xbox 360.

Anytime, Anywhere

Gates has said he wants Microsoft to erase barriers preventing gamers on various platforms, such as PCs, Xboxes and cell phones, from interacting and playing together.

“The significance here is they finally announced a date and revealed details,” Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming at Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “Bill Gates started talking about Live Anywhere last May and obviously their long-term strategy is to enable online gaming for all different platforms with a unified experience. This is just the first step toward a goal of bridging the PC and the console.”

“[Parks Associates has] been an advocate of the concept of what we call pervasive gaming, enabling cross-platform gaming capabilities,” Cai said. “We haven’t seen a lot of those services and features offered by gaming companies, and Microsoft is definitely trying to lead in that space.”

In announcing an introduction date for Games for Windows Live, Microsoft Entertainment Executive Peter Moore said it has taken a while to erase the walls between online PC games and online console games.

“Five years ago, we began building a service that now defines the bar for online gameplay,” Moore stated. “The benefits of expanding Xbox Live to Games for Windows titles is twofold: We’re bringing together two communities that share a passion for playing online games, and we’re enhancing the online experience for PC gamers who have long desired seamless game and voice connectivity — it’s a win for everyone.”

Two-Tier System

Microsoft said it will charge the same 2-tiered (“silver and gold”) pricing for Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live: silver memberships are free and gold memberships cost US$49.99.

The free subscription gives gamers a single “gamertag,” a common gamer profile, common “gamerscore,” single-player achievements, private chat via text and voice, a friends list and online presence and PC-only multiplayer gaming, including a list of active PC games.

Gold memberships “include all standard silver benefits, plus friend and skill matchmaking, multiplayer achievement tracking and cross-platform gameplay,” said the company.

Good for Microsoft

Microsoft’s cross-platform, online endeavors aren’t exactly groundbreaking, Ted Pollak, gaming market analyst at Jon Peddie Research, told TechNewsWorld.

“Basically, this is a new service that lets PC game players connect with friends on Xbox,” he claimed. “That’s great if you like the games that Xbox 360s can play. But PC gamers have been playing multi-gamer games for a long time. … To me, this is definitely something that’s good for Microsoft, but I don’t think it’s going to hugely impact anything,” Pollak added.

It will likely help sell Xbox consoles, since those who don’t own gaming consoles but play games on PCs will be motivated to stick with Microsoft if they buy a console, according to Cai. Additionally, the move will help Microsoft sell more advertising for the Xbox, he suggested.

“Microsoft has a fairly strong advertising strategy for gaming media,” Cai noted. “But if you look at the online console penetration now it’s only about 6 million users. The audience base is not large enough for a lot of large advertisers. If Microsoft can get more people to the Windows Games Live platform, they can quickly ramp up the audience space and have a better story to tell to the advertisers.”

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