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How Microsoft could make a big impact in PC gaming

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#1 vetJohn Callaham

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 00:32

How Microsoft could make a big impact in PC gaming
by John Callaham

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Jason Holtman, who had worked at Valve for eight years as its director of business development before mysteriously leaving the company in February, is now Microsoft's new leader of its PC gaming and entertainment division. In a quick statement, Holtman said that his plan is to make Windows PCs "a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment."



Will this man make PC gaming big again at Microsoft?

The truth is that the Windows PC platform is already a great one for gaming and other forms of entertainment. The problem is that Microsoft has not lead the charge to make that happen for some time. Instead, it has let other companies, such as Holtman's previous employers at Valve, take the PC game industry out of its old retail box past and into the digital present.

Remember when lots of people were saying that "PC gaming is dead?" Very few folks say that anymore, thanks to the tens of millions of people who use Valve's Steam service to (legally) download games. Gamers also flock to the many small indie game developers and their titles, most notably Markus "Notch" Persson's Minecraft, that have come out of the move from the retail business model to the digital one.

Let's not forget the growing eSports movement that has gained popularity thanks to streaming matches on services like uStream and Twitch.tv. Online multiplayer competitions of PC exclusive games like League of Legends and DOTA 2, among others, sometimes have hundreds of thousands of online spectators.

Microsoft's Windows operating system is still the one that's installed on a vast majority of PCs (sorry Mac and Linux). With that kind of market share, Microsoft has been in a position to be a huge influence on PC gaming in general, in many different ways. Unfortunately, the company has taken more than one bad fork in the road in terms of their PC game support.

So what can Holtman, and Microsoft in general, do to become a bigger force in PC gaming? We think there are a few pretty obvious things they can do right off the bat:



Kill Games For Windows Live

Just kill it. Kill it dead, and then do it again to make sure.

Yes. we know that Microsoft is already eliminating the Games For Windows Live download store next week, but that's due to the fact that Microsoft Points are going away. The service itself, which first launched in 2007 alongside Windows Vista, was ill conceived from the star as a way to turn PC games into Xbox 360 titles, at least as far as the user interface and features. It also tried to charge PC gamers for online multiplayer, as it does for Xbox 360 gamers, but after tons of protests Microsoft changed its mind and made online play on GFWL titles free.

Even with that welcome change, GFWL still suffered from many bugs and installation problems and, despite more than one attempt to revamp the online service, only a few PC titles have elected to use Games For Windows Live for online matchmaking, achievements and more. Valve has been far more successful with its Steamworks tools, which basically offer their own achievements, leaderboards and other online features. In fact, Microsoft has apparently abandoned its own service and has released a number of PC games, including Age of Empires II HD, on Steam and using Steamworks.

Just this week, Warner Bros Interactive, which used GFWL in both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City for achievements, announced that the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins would dump Microsoft's service in favor of Steamworks. That says it all.

We think Microsoft should put a stake in Games For Windows Live once and for all. Any games that are still using the service should have the option of either moving to Steamworks or simply doing away with their GFWL support entirely. Keeping the service going is just a reminder of bad decisions on Microsoft's part and a clean break is needed.



In a related note, we also think that Microsoft two current free-to-play online games, Microsoft Flight and Age of Empires Online, should shut down at the same time as GFWL. Microsoft has already announced they have no plans to add new content to both games going forward so there's really not much reason to continue to support them as there are tons of other free-to-play games that continue to give their fans regular content additions.

Start developing and publishing new PC exclusive games again

Remember when Microsoft was a huge PC game publisher? We certainly do. Microsoft released acclaimed games and franchises like Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, Close Combat, Crimson Skies, Dungeon Siege, Asheron's Call and many others. Then came the Xbox. Microsoft slowly got out of publishing solid and exclusive PC games for the most part after their console game business started.

Microsoft still has quite a few PC game franchises it could take advantage of if it wanted to. While Age of Empires Online didn't gain much of an audience, we think a new RTS game in the series, made for the hardcore PC gaming crowd, would be far more successful if developed correctly.

Let's not forget the Microsoft Flight Simulator series, which the company unceremoniously dumped in 2009 after over 25 years. The free-to-play game Microsoft Flight was a mere shadow of what the previous franchise was in terms of features and, more importantly, mod support. We think a full fledged return to the Microsoft Flight Simulator series would be a massive hit.

Microsoft also has the money to encourage small independent game developers to make cool PC games that would be directly published by the company. One of the biggest reasons for the huge success of Valve's Steam service is that it embraced the small indie game movement and gave them access to Steam's huge audience. Microsoft could follow Valve's example and in so doing support PC games that might normally not get the attention they deserve.

Redesign the Games section in the Windows Store for Windows 8 to be more keyboard-mouse friendly



This interface is not ideal for keyboard-mouse PC gamers to use.

Hardcore PC gamers still prefer to use the keyboard-mouse controls for both playing games as well as finding new ones to download via Steam, Origin or other PC game download stores. Currently, the Windows Store built into Windows 8 is optimized for touchscreens, and that includes the Games section. We think that Microsoft has the right idea in offering a way for gamers to purchase new titles directly from the store, but the Modern UI interface most likely scares them off.

Our solution is to offer an option for gamers to turn the UI of the Games section of the Windows Store into something that's more friendly to mouse and keyboard users, doing away with the tiles in favor of something that looks like an HTML web page look where users can quickly find the newest and best games without having to move through a bunch of tiles.

Microsoft would then have the best of both worlds; it would allow them to sell games directly to the tens of millions of people who have installed Windows 8 while also allowing people who still play games with their keyboard and mouse to not feel left out. As far as the many Windows 7 users are concerned, Microsoft could, in theory, launch a client based on the Windows 8 game store that would offer most of the same features.

Conclusion

These are just a few ideas, and we are sure that Holtman, and Microsoft in general, is considering these and many other options. Our hope is that Holtman will be given the freedom to try some new tactics and proposals that Microsoft has not considered before. At this point, there's nothing to lose and everything to gain in implementing new ideas.

We have our fingers crossed that Holtman will lead a massive charge at Microsoft to make PC gaming a bigger priority. After all, a Windows PC exclusive game that turns out to be a big hit could cause more people to buy Windows 8 desktops, notebooks and even tablets. Microsoft is looking to get more people to upgrade to Windows 8, and this could be their best avenue to make that happen.

Images via Jason Holtman and Microsoft




#2 matt4444

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 00:58

Why should Microsoft "shut down" games because no new content is being created? That is a stupid idea. Lots of people still play and enjoy the games. No new content is being produced for Halo 3, yet that hasn't shut down. I really don't see your logic in this.



#3 Zedox

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 12:23

They need to utilize their Xbox branding (and services) more. I agree with dropping the GFWL and turning it into Xbox (which I'm guessing they are transitioning to) but it's not apparent. I do agree that they need to bring franchises to the PC. Give gamers reasons to choose "Xbox for PC" games over Steam games. Those Xbox One features should also be utilized for PC, grow gaming. Games and cool features will always sway gamers.



#4 HawkMan

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 12:34

Why should Microsoft "shut down" games because no new content is being created? That is a stupid idea. Lots of people still play and enjoy the games. No new content is being produced for Halo 3, yet that hasn't shut down. I really don't see your logic in this.



Obviously it's completely impossible to enjoy a game without new content being added at the very least once every month.

No one still plays Starcraft anymore after all.

#5 coresx

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 13:00

If he does manage to do anything substantial, hats off to him but I suspect he will give it a lot of effort, see his ideas twisted, ripped apart, out right refused by the executives further up the tree and Microsoft caught between focusing on the Xbox One, just like Xbox back in the day which lead to a lack of interest and outright insanity in their PC games vision as they tried to apply the console strategy to PC gaming. Microsoft just can't think a different way, it won't be allowed to happen. I see Jason Holtman leaving frustrated after a couple of years.



#6 68k

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 13:03

I'd like to see the return of some of the "Microsoft Home" series and "Windows 8 Plus!"; fully updated for Windows 8, free, and with internet connectivity. I'm thinking of alternatives/competitors to Wikipedia and IMDb.

http://en.wikipedia..../Microsoft_Home

http://en.wikipedia..../Microsoft_Plus!

 

Microsoft have to reestablish their gaming brand. Perhaps they should release some new gaming hardware (similar to what they had back in the late 90s) alongside some new games.

 

I find Age of Empires Online too "comical". The original AoE series (I and II) was more "serious" - part of the reason for it's success (all age groups enjoyed it). When I watch an action movie, I'm not happy when half of the movie is actually a comedy.

 

In regards to Flight Simulator: there are now better programs (than it) out there, however not many combat variants (none that are playable without a joystick). I can kind of see an action-packed combat flight simulator series being successful (but it must be easy to control via mouse and keyboard, and straight to the action/not be a history lesson).



#7 Sadelwo

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 13:38

 

Let's not forget the Microsoft Flight Simulator series, which the company unceremoniously dumped in 2009 after over 25 years. The free-to-play game Microsoft Flight was a mere shadow of what the previous franchise was in terms of features and, more importantly, mod support. We think a full fledged return to the Microsoft Flight Simulator series would be a massive hit.

 

 

Microsoft screwed themselves with flight. Only Hawaii as a scenery, basic prop planes and no SDK. How many websites and companies sprang up over a decade to support Microsoft's flight simulator series with thousands of sceneries, aircraft and visual mods to enhance the game and appeal to fans. With Flight's release Microsoft basically told these die hard supporters to screw off as only first party DLC and the game to be opened up at a "later date". Really? For at least a year Microsoft expects people to pay $5 for a first party aircraft with no virtual cockpit when I get freeware planes for FSX with a virtual cockpit? They tried to appeal to casual gamers (nickel and dime possibility) with Flight, ticking off the people who supported them for a decade. Namco also tried to "appeal to casual gamers" by making "Assault Horizon" which was sacrilege to the Ace Combat Franchise. With "Infinity" it seems Namco got their senses back, Microsoft should take note.  Not every game will sell like Call of Duty. A Civic may sell more than an S-class, but that doesn't make the Civic a better car.

 

 

 

In regards to Flight Simulator: there are now better programs (than it) out there,

 

 

 

X-Plane is catching on in the Flight simming community, and the fact that it uses open GL and not limited to Windows gives it an edge as well. Some people only boot to Windows to play games, they do everything else in an alternate OS, the more games they like that run OGL, the more people become unchained from Windows. Microsoft needs to get it together. They just need to update FSX with Flight's graphic engine, release it with an SDK and watch the success. One can only hope.  



#8 Hahaiah

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 14:27

Whatever he does, let's just hope it's done right.  Avoid the money grab initially and just get some interest going.  LISTEN to what users say for a change and actually implement a few things.  It's a perfect time to get it right.