The Biggest Failures of 2009

Written by Joe Martin

December 28, 2009 | 11:12

Tags: #2009 #event #fail #flight-sim #flop #games-for-windows #gfwl #larrabee

Companies: #bit-tech #christmas

Joe – Games for Windows Live

Games for Windows Live, if you’re fortunate enough to have never used it, is Microsoft’s too late and too lame attempt to reinvigorate the PC gaming market with a bunch of internet buzzwords. Games on demand! Virtual currencies! Friends lists! Matchmaking! Exclamation marks!

Microsoft bills it as a “phenomenal gaming platform”. Everybody I know thinks of it as nought but an attempt to emulate Steam, executed very badly.

The biggest problem with Games for Windows Live is that it usually doesn’t work very well, if at all. Auto-patch downloads are tediously slow, game matchmaking is haphazard at best and the interface looks about as appealing as scrapings from underneath a public toilet – all pointless curves, odd sized buttons and drop down menus that make your game stutter.

And yes, Games for Windows Live does predate 2009, but it’s only lately that I’ve been forced into using it quite so much as more games jump on the Games for Windows branding bandwagon. Among the titles I’ve played this year have been Resident Evil 5, GTA IV, Batman: Arkham Asylum and some new Fallout 3 DLC. I’ve had problems with GFWL in every single game, whether it’s patches that won’t download, DLC that breaks the game or the pain of having yet another layer of enforced social networking plastered onto a game that I’d much prefer to play than to type about. G’ah!

The Biggest Failures of 2009 Games for Windows Live
Games For Windows Live

What really irks me about GFWL isn’t the fact that it’s littered with bad design choices and technical problems (Lesson 1: Don’t make me quit mid-game in order to download an update for something I haven’t even attempted to use) – it’s that it represents such a missed opportunity. It’s been around a year or two now and it’s only just getting features like an online store – and even then, the store is ruined by only having a handful of games and at prices higher than any other outlet.

Microsoft is a big company with a strange, two-way stranglehold over much of the games industry through DirectX and the Xbox. It’s also got bigger coffers than a chain-smoking 80 year old with whooping cough and a collapsing lung. There’s absolutely no reason that Microsoft couldn’t have rolled out Games For Windows a long time ago in a form that would actually fulfill it’s aim to revitalise PC gaming. It could have features that work and are stable. It could be a widely adopted platform that is competitive enough to drive the industry forward.

But it isn’t and Steam is and, while it’d be fair to point out that Steam was rubbish to start with too, it’s important to remember that Games for Windows Live has been around for a while now. It’s now in what feels like it must be the fourth or fifth platform relaunch, so it’s not bad-and-getting-better but bad-and-staying-bad. Or maybe bad-and-getting-worse.

The Biggest Failures of 2009 Games for Windows Live
Steam

Even worse though, while Games for Windows Live skips over the best things that Microsoft could bring to the table, it still manages to seize control of the worst things. Thus, it’s a barely functional and unattractive platform that you have no choice but to make use of. Being forced to use Steam to play Serious Sam HD co-op may be a pain for anti-Steam gamers, but at least Steam works as simply and easily as it can. Games for Windows integration in GTA IV can’t make any such claims. It’s awful and you’ve got no choice but to use it, which sounds like the punchline to a Woody Allen joke.

There are only three reasons why Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live platform could be so disappointing. Either Microsoft’s GFWL team is terrible, or they’re good and being hampered by the rest of MS, or there’s no real commitment to making GFWL any good. I’d say it could be that the GFWL team is too small too, but I know that Valve only has 13 people running all of Steam, so the MS team would have to be smaller than the fleas on a flea to make that excuse.

I’ve no idea which reason it is, so you can take a pick for yourself while I go see if there’s anything good going cheap in the latest Steam sale.
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