Thursday, July 24, 2008

Microsoft makes Games for Windows Live free, will sell game downloads

Microsoft announced late Tuesday that it would no longer charge Windows gamers to connect to one another for multiplayer gaming, and this fall will launch an online store for downloading PC games.

All users will be able to access the Games for Windows Live, which is similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live -- service at no cost. Microsoft said that the decision to remove the pay tier came after discussions with developers and fans led it to believe that multiplayer gaming should be free.

Gamers had to pay $7.99 monthly in order to gain full multiplayer support for their purchased games. That business model was criticized by many gamers, and developers worried that it would affect sales of multiplayer games.

The company did not say if slow uptake for the service played a role in the strategy shift, although Microsoft currently offers Xbox Live "Silver" to all console owners, and competitor Sony similarly offers free multiplayer gaming on the PlayStation 3.

However, the decision to make the Windows side of Live free will not affect Microsoft's Xbox Live business, which would still retain a "Gold" pay tier. The company said it will continue to build on the current system, adding more functionality that will deliver added value to subscribers.

While Microsoft says its Games for Windows Live service will still differ from Xbox Live, one area where they will become more similar is the addition of a Marketplace. Starting this fall, PC gamers will gain access to both free and pay content.

The company is so far staying mum on any content deals it has signed for the new Marketplace, promising further announcements closer to the launch date. Microsoft plans to provide a standalone software client that users can download to browse the Marketplace, which will also be accessible via the Web.

Like its Xbox sibling, the Games for Windows Live Marketplace will offer downloadable game content, videos, demos, trailers, and even sell full titles. Microsoft will be competing with already-established players in the market, including Valve's Steam and Stardock's Impulse.

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