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Games for Windows - Live

Opinion: Good or bad for PC gaming?

Games for Windows - Live, eh? Why, when we've been happily playing online PC games for years, do we need Microsoft to come along with a standardising service like this, some of which you have to pay for? Hell, I'm not going to touch that with a 10-foot barge pole, it's a complete pile of dog turd. Or is it?

Now that the dust has settled following Microsoft's announcement on Games for Windows - Live and it's all had a chance to sink in, you know what? On the whole, it's no bad thing.

Ultimately, where the big plus points are scored is in choice. Microsoft hasn't been stupid enough to attempt to charge PC gamers to play PC-to-PC online through Games for Windows - LIVE. In fact, two-thirds of the features that'll launch with GfW- Live in May come under the Silver level of service, meaning they're free (as long as you own Windows Vista, ahem).

Under Silver, PC-to-PC multiplayer is accompanied by the likes of integrated voice and text chat, single-player achievements and common user details across Games for Windows - Live and Xbox Live.

Microsoft is aiming to have Games for Windows - Live and Xbox Live eventually share the same feature set. "...our goal is to... get to a place where Games for Windows - LIVE is exactly the same experience that you get on Xbox 360 Live", Rich Wickham, director for Games for Windows, told me in a recent interview.

"So downloads - free and probably paid as well - other kinds of transactions, the movies... All the things we offer today ultimately are things we're trying to offer on Games for Windows - Live as well."

Unsurprisingly, the main talking point of Games for Windows - Live's Gold level of service, which costs 40 quid a year, has been the cross-platform multiplayer gaming aspect that lets PC gamers battle Xbox 360 gamer online. Cross-platform is accompanied by other Gold-unique features that include matchmaking - good for noobs - multiplayer achievements and "Gameplay on reserved Gold servers".

Thank goodness, then, for the free features of the Silver level, because I just wouldn't pay for what Gold offers. Not currently, anyway.

I'm just not convinced of the value of Gold as it'll stand on launch (are you?) in May. Sorry Microsoft, but there it is. In addition, firstly Shadowrun and UNO are the only two announced games so far to support cross-platform, and secondly I think Microsoft is going to have a hard time persuading PC gamers to embrace PC-Xbox 360 multiplayer.

Personally, until I see that killer PC and Xbox 360 game that I SIMPLY MUST play cross-platform, I'll be saving my money. A subscription to Gold isn't essential, after all.

Delivering an online service for console has worked brilliantly for Microsoft with the Xbox brand, but it'll prove a far more difficult task bringing Live to the PC platform and breaking into an online scene that's existed for many, many years.

However, in terms of the free level of service at least, ultimately I don't see there being any real reason to shun Games for Windows - Live. But whether as a standard it'll actually do anything to truly advance PC online gaming, we'll have to wait and see.

Have your say below.