Look, I’ve been covering PC games for eleven years. Until I reached the broader shores of The Escapist at the start of this summer, I was covering PC games almost exclusively. It is, understandably, a subject that I’m very interested in, both personally and professionally. Out of sheer necessity, I eventually stopped being angry at Microsoft for its lack of support for PC gaming. Since Windows is, in essence, the primary platform for PC gaming, it seemed like a missed opportunity for the software giant, and perhaps even a discouraging sign for other publishers who are considering whether or not to publish games for the PC.
Then I moved on to a new kind of disappointment. Having assumed that Microsoft was all but abandoning the platform, I found a new dislike for the company’s repeated insistence that it was, in fact, not abandoning the platform, but was fully committed to supporting it. To date, these claims have been, well, not exactly lies, but at least untruths. Based on recent evidence, it doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon. When Kotaku linked to an internal Q&A document this summer, in which Microsoft claims that Windows gaming is “an incredibly important part of Microsoft’s business,” and “Microsoft has a vested interest in using it as a platform for amazing first party content,” I was unconvinced.
To me, it’s a bit like Duke Nukem Forever; just assume that it’s never coming out. That way, it will be a pleasant surprise if it does eventually come true, but not a source of frustration in the meantime. If Microsoft ever gets its act together enough to support the platform it has controlled since we crawled our way out of the primordial DOS soup, then I’ll start to pay attention again.
Last week, John Funk wrote a story about the delay of the PC version of Fable 3. The title had been promoted by Microsoft as yet another proof of its renewed commitment to PC gaming, so it was a bit worrying that it was delayed, particularly since the Xbox 360 version wouldn’t be delayed. So now the bright and shining example of Microsoft’s commitment to PC gaming wasn’t going to be available in a PC format to gamers who wanted to play it the day it came out. Regardless of the reason the PC version was delayed, (which is obscured by the marketing message), it was another opportunity to see just how thin Microsoft’s commitment to PC gaming actually is.
The company never seems to tire of making claims that Windows is the most popular and potent gaming platform on the planet, but given the company’s lack of first-party offerings for the platform, those claims seem like mere marketing hype for the “Games for Windows” brand. You can’t fault Microsoft for promoting the GFW message, particularly as other major developers are migrating towards Steamworks, but the absence of any concrete evidence of Microsoft’s own commitment to PC gaming is telling. Why wouldn’t a company go with Steamworks when it provides the very things that Microsoft should have been providing all along? Compared to Steam’s consistent copy-protection system, digital delivery service and community features, Microsoft’s Game Advisor and performance- ranking seem inconsequential.
The lack of software support is just as galling. Just take a look at Microsoft’s PC output since 2005, during which the company has produced no new IPs for the PC. Its only potential winner was Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, but Sigil eventually decided to sell it to SOE instead. That just leaves four PC exclusives over the last five years, all of which were sequels. Dungeon Siege, Age of Empires and Flight Simulator saw new installments. Only Big Huge Games offered anything substantially original by reworking its Rise of Nations into the unfortunately- neglected Rise of Legends. Toss in half a dozen expansions (mostly for Zoo Tycoon 2), year-old ports for Xbox 360 hits like Gears of War and Fable, and a nearly three-year-old port of Halo 2, and that’s the extent of what Microsoft has offered to PC gamers over the last six years.
And the saddest part of all this is that it all happened before 2007. The only PC-related action we’ve seen from Microsoft since November of 2007 is the release of Tinker. Well, that and the closure of Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios and Flight Sim developer ACES, who followed FASA and Digital Anvil into the abyss.
For nearly three years, Microsoft Game Studios has made promises but done nothing to assure PC gamers that it intends to support PC gaming. In the meantime, companies like EA, 2K, Ubisoft and Activision have delivered several new high-profile IPs. New hits like Spore, Crysis, World in Conflict and the continued success of the Warcraft and Civilization brands show that committed companies can make, market and monetize properties exclusively on for the PC. There’s no shortage of opportunity for Microsoft but, with Cataclysm, Diablo, The Old Republic, Civilization V and SOE’s online offerings set to be released in the near future, Microsoft will find itself frantically playing catch-up as it tries to make good on the promises it has been making, and ignoring, for the last few years.
So what should Microsoft do? Would I be happy if the company at least stopped making promises it wasn’t going to keep? Well, that’s second best for me. What I’d love to see is Microsoft reclaim its position as a top tier first-party developer and publisher of quality games on the platform that it already dominates in the productivity market. The PC I’m using, and the very program I’m using to type this, is chockfull of productivity software that’s so well marketed and designed that no other developer has much of a chance to grab my attention. Let’s see Microsoft do the same in the videogame space again.
Just don’t make me any promises about it.