Despite creating the operating system that most of us play our PC games on, Microsoft doesn't have the best track record of supporting the platform with its own games. In act, sometimes it feels like the company is avoiding the PC on purpose to make its consoles look better.
In an interview with PC Gamer, Microsoft Xbox head Phil Spencer promised further support of the PC platform. Part of the reason for this new support is that the Windows 10 operating system is on the horizon. Microsoft needs to get people onboard and part of that process is showing PC players that they haven't been forgotten.
"The charter of Microsoft Studios is to develop games that showcase the best of every Windows device," Spencer told PC Gamer. "You can absolutely count on us to invest in games for the PC. While we want to break down the walls between platforms, we also know that certain games are optimized for certain devices."
"Our vision is to unify platforms so gamers can play the games they want on any Windows 10 device – PC, Xbox One or otherwise," he added. "That can come in the form of game streaming to a Windows 10 PC from Xbox One or simultaneously shipping games on both platforms. For developers, Windows 10 brings one core operating system, one application platform, one gaming social network, one store, and one ingestion path across more than one billion devices. Getting the platform and service ready and shipped are our first priorities. You'll hear more about specific game titles and partnerships as we move forward."
Unfortunately, players have good reason to be cynical when it comes to Microsoft's promises about the PC platform. The company has promised - again and again - that it will support the PC, only for gamers to end up disappointed. Spencer even admitted that Microsoft understands the perspective of those who believe PC gaming isn't important to the company.
These four words will tell you most of why Microsoft has an uphill battle when it comes to PC players: Games for Windows Live.
In 2007, Microsoft announced Games for Windows - Live to coincide with January launch of Windows Vista. It played off of the successful Xbox Live subscription service for Xbox and Xbox 360, with shared gamertags, achievements, and a $49.99 annual fee for Gold-level. Games for Windows promised easier browsing of available games, support for the Xbox 360 controller, improved online and cross-platform play, Xbox Live-style voice chat, and Tray and Play. The latter feature allowed players to put a game disc in their PC and have it install in the background while they played.
"The complexity of what we're proposing to do with Games for Windows Live is something that my studios and Microsoft Game Studios are focused on first, learning some of the challenges, learning some of the obstacles to successful deployment of the service," Microsoft Interactive Entertainment corporate vice president Peter Moore told 1UP. "I want to drag you back up to 30,000 feet and the overall strategy behind this, which is building a broader community around gamers regardless of the device that they're playing on; the ability to access Xbox Live whether they're at work, whether they're on the road, in their hotel room on their laptop, whether they're at home in front of their TV. We think that's as important as cross-platform play."
Games for Windows didn't quite take off as some developers didn't see the real need to come under Microsoft's banner, especially with Valve's Steam service being the preferred choice of PC players. Beyond that, many of the features touted were rarely used by Microsoft. Tray and Play only worked with the PC version of Halo 2. Cross-platform play only worked with Halo 2, Shadowrun, and Uno. Later in the same year, Microsoft did port Gears of War to PC, but that was a full year after its console brethren.
"Windows gaming is set to see one of its best years ever," said Moore in a press release. "With an incredible range of phenomenal titles, amazing hardware and the rapid adoption of Windows Vista, Windows gamers will remember holiday 2007 as a landmark year for PC gaming."
As part of its landmark year, Microsoft shut down FASA Studio, the PC-centric developer of MechWarrior 4, MechCommander, MechAssault, and Shadowrun.
In 2008, Microsoft dropped the annual subscription fee for Games for Windows Live, revamped the horrible GfW desktop client, and announced the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, a client-based online store to purchase for GfW-supported titles from. At E3 2008, the company proudly announced that "PC gaming is not dead" during a Games for Windows event.
"The big picture of the PC gaming market is unparalleled growth," said Windows gaming senior global director Kevin Unangst in a press release for the event. "Compelling online experiences, industry-leading graphics, high-quality games and innovative hardware are driving that growth, and we're proud to partner with other leaders and showcase the best of Windows gaming at this event."
The problem was, Games for Windows Live was still struggling. Sure, some publishers and developers were using it, but Valve's Steam remained the superior choice for most PC players. Microsoft was simply late to the party with an ill-fitting suit. Later in the year, the company confirmed it was shuttering Ensemble Studios, the development house behind the popular Age of Empires series.
Microsoft kicked off 2009 by shutting down Aces Studio, the team responsible for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Despite another PC studio closing and the continued floundering of Games for Windows, Microsoft said it was still committed to PC gaming.
"Moving ahead, Microsoft will continue to invest in Windows as a first–class gaming platform through great Windows out of box experiences, our online gaming services including Games for Windows – LIVE, MSN Games, and Messenger games, and through new games for Windows developed by Microsoft Games Studios," an MS representative told Edge.
Windows 7 launched in October of 2009 with absolutely no mentions of gaming in the pre-release marketing. It would go on to be the standard Microsoft operating system for gamers compared to the disastrous Windows Vista; to this day, 55 percent of Steam users still run Windows 7. Still, Microsoft offered the same promises it had before.
"PC games is a place where we are doubling down," Windows group product manager Peter Orullian told Kotaku in 2010. "We have a different vision that runs parallel to what (Steam) is doing. We have a healthy list of features we're going to start bringing out once the store launches."
The store Orullian was talking about was a new web-based Games for Windows Marketplace, which went live in November 2010. Even in its new incarnation, GfW just trudged along in the background, alone and unloved. Launching with Games for Windows Live as a part of your title became a badge of shame; games like Dark Souls and Super Street Fighter IV had players rejoicing when they announced transitions to Valve's Steamworks later.
Fast-forward to 2012, and Windows 8 is everywhere on Microsoft's lips. The new operating system was announced at CES 2011 with a summer 2012 launch waiting in the future. Instead of the classic PC paradigm, Windows 8 offered the app model popularized by Apple's iOS and Google's Android as its focus. You could run old PC applications on Windows 8, but Microsoft wanted people using its new full-screen, mobile-friendly style called "Metro". Microsoft pinned its hopes on Metro games, titles that played well on PC and Microsoft's Surface tablet. PC players that actually used Games for Windows Live started to see the writing on the wall. They began to wonder if Microsoft was going to kill its service with Windows 8's launch.
The company said "no".
"Microsoft continues to support the Games for Windows platform, but we are making new investments in Metro style games," Microsoft told NeoGamr. "We are committed to delivering extraordinary entertainment experiences across devices in a uniquely connected way. Xbox Live on Windows 8 is a milestone in that journey. With the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, you'll get a taste of some of the features we're bringing with Xbox on Windows, but we'll have more to share later this year as we get closer to launch."
A year later, Games for Windows Live was gone.
All was not lost though! Microsoft hired Steam lead Jason Holtman for an undisclosed position, a move that made some wonder if the company had bigger plans to take on PC gaming.
"Yes, I have joined Microsoft where I will be focusing on making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment," he said. "I think there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft to deliver the games and entertainment customers want and to work with developers to make that happen, so I'm excited to be here."
Phil Spencer himself told Shacknews that Microsoft was back to supporting Windows games internally. Everything was coming up aces! Well, not that Aces, because Microsoft already shut them down.
"I think it's fair to say that we've lost our way a bit in supporting Windows games," Microsoft Studios VP Phil Spencer admitted. "But we're back. You'll see us doing more stuff on Windows. We probably have more individual projects on Windows than we've had in ten years at Microsoft Studios."
Unfortunately, Holtman left Microsoft after only six months. During his time there, nothing changed for the company. And despite Spencer's contention, the only major Microsoft-related releases for PC since that interview have been Halo: Spartan Strike, Fable Anniversary, Dead Rising 3, Ryse, D4, Project Spark, Ori and the Blind Forest, State of Decay, Lococycle, and the Extended Editions for Rise of Nations and Age of Mythology.
Of those titles, Dead Rising 3, Ryse, and D4 came to PC year or more after their home console counterparts and were published by their developers, not Microsoft. Recent and upcoming releases like Forza Horizon 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5, and Forza Motorsport 6 seem to be continuing the trend, with no PC versions planned. Fable Legends is the sole major Microsoft Studios game coming to Xbox One and PC.
So when Microsoft promises further support, PC gamers have learned not to listen. The last eight years have been broken promises, poor support, and weak launches. There have been a few highlights in that time, but nothing you could really categorize as Microsoft providing real support to PC gaming outside of simply offering an operating system to game on.
Microsoft, I understand that you're afraid of supporting the PC in any real way because that would make the Xbox One look like less of lucrative platform. You're scared of a situation where gamers picking up a PlayStation 4 and PC, instead of an Xbox One. I get that, but then you should probably stop saying PC gaming is big on your mind outside of Direct X12. Because when gamers hear "support" they're expecting your best. Your best is your frontline games, which aren't heading to the PC in any meaningful way.
Will this time be different for Microsoft? I'd certainly love to play Rise of the Tomb Raider or Halo 5 on PC, but I'm not holding my breath.