With Microsoft announcing a stunning 50-plus launch game titles for its upcoming Windows Phone smartphone platform, many gamers are wondering about the company's support of Windows-based PC gaming. And you don't have to dig too deep to realize it's a lot of talk with very little substance.
Microsoft now supports three major gaming platforms—Xbox 360, Windows, and Windows Phone—and each is backed by the popular Xbox LIVE online gaming service (on Windows only, it's called "Games for Windows - LIVE" for some reason). But saying that Microsoft "supports" Windows games is a bit of stretch: The company has done little or nothing to promote the platform over the past several years. The last new game to bear the "Games for Windows" branding dates back to 2007, when Microsoft briefly and temporarily tried to push Windows Vista as a games platform.
Well, Microsoft is back ... sort of. This week, the company announced a whopping two new video game titles for Windows. Sadly, both are retreads of some pretty crusty Microsoft game franchises. These are Microsoft Flight, an unexpected new version of the Flight Simulator product line, which dates back to the Mesozoic Era, and Age of Empires Online, the latest milking of the 1997 original. (Microsoft will also release a third, previously announced Windows game this year, Fable III. As you can tell from its name, this too is a sequel.)
Microsoft knows it has let Windows gaming wallow in the corner while the Xbox 360 received all the gaming-based attention for the past several years. And despite the further bifurcation of its resources with Windows Phone, the company pledges it will do better by Windows-based gamers this time. Really.
"Reinventing these iconic franchises with social, shared experiences at their core marks the beginning of our return to PC gaming in bold new ways," Microsoft Game Studios VP Phil Spencer said. Those are bold words, but it's hard not to compare this sad stable of sequels with the remakes Microsoft delivered to the PC in 2007. That year, it delivered back-catalog Xbox games such as Halo 2 and Gears of War to attention-starved PC gamers.
"Windows is an important space for us, so we need to invest our first-party IP in it as much as anybody else," Microsoft Games Studios General Manager Dave Luehmann admits. "We can't really ask other companies to step up if the first party isn't stepping up."
This isn't stepping up, however. Stepping up is announcing a slate of new XNA titles, similar to that announced for Windows Phone, and providing not just tools but incentives for developers to create cross-platform games that run on Windows, Windows Phone, and the Xbox. Stepping up is announcing full support for the Kinect in Windows 7. Right now, there's little evidence that this isn't just 2007 all over again, with Microsoft throwing PC gamers the minimum while its attention is really focused solely on another platform—this time, Windows Phone.
What's interesting about this neglect is that the PC still has a lot to offer from a gaming perspective. Looking only at the controller schemes, the PC's mouse and keyboard are as different from the Xbox 360's controller as they are from the multi-touch screen on Windows Phone devices. With proper attention, each platform could receive very specific support for game types that are best played on the particular controller schemes, in addition to the aforementioned cross-over titles.
And Microsoft's gaming attention—such as it is—is even further diluted when you consider that the company also delivers more than 900 online games through MSN games, and several games that are designed specifically for the Windows Live Messenger instant messaging client. These titles are almost universally targeted at casual gamers, and not the more dedicated gamers that would seek out more traditional gaming platforms. But they're yet another reason for PC users to ignore PC gaming. Just like Microsoft does.