Microsoft today announced the acquisition on unspecified terms of game development company BigPark:
Microsoft Corp. today announced its intent to acquire BigPark Inc., an interactive online gaming company based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The acquisition will bring BigPark’s talented developers into Microsoft Game Studios, where the team will continue development on an exclusive Xbox 360 game. Over the past year, Microsoft and BigPark have worked closely on this project, providing Microsoft with a clear view into the caliber of talent and innovation at BigPark.
Actually, the relationship was even closer than that:
BigPark was founded by Wil Mozell, Erik Kiss, Hanno Lemke and Don Mattrick before Mattrick assumed the role of senior vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. Mattrick’s role as an investor in BigPark was fully disclosed to Microsoft before he joined the company, and his ongoing involvement as chairman of BigPark was approved pursuant to the Microsoft Standards of Business Conduct.
This investment is interesting in view of the way Microsoft has been pruning game developers in recent years including the demise of the Flight Simulator studio in January with the first round of layoffs this year.
Microsoft announced this week that their multiplayer Games for Windows – LIVE service was now completely free. When Games for Windows — LIVE was announced in March of 2007, it was billed as “the extension of the Xbox LIVE games and entertainment network to the Windows platform” and the consumer pricing was the same with a free Silver level and a paid Gold level which allowed cross-platform play among other things.
It is not clear how lucrative that monetization scheme was, but it did draw complaints that Microsoft was charging for what was available free for other PC games. Whatever the reason, it is all free now as an unalloyed loss leader for supporting PC games and Microsoft will be rounding it out with an online PC gaming marketplace equivalent to that available for Xbox LIVE:
Microsoft today announced that its Games for Windows initiative is set to expand with the launch an online PC gaming marketplace this fall. The service will deliver free and paid downloadable game content, along with trailers, demos, and other content comparable to the company’s Xbox Live offerings.
In addition to the added features, the Games for Windows Live interface will also be redesigned to be “much more PC friendly.” Microsoft has not yet specified whether full games will be made available for purchase on the network.
And full game sales are clearly on the Microsoft radar screen according to Microsoft Senior Global Director of Games For Windows, Kevin Unangst.
Scott Hillis at Reuters reports that Microsoft’s Massive video game ad unit has signed a deal with Electronic Arts for ads in their vastly popular sports games. The deal includes the PC and Xbox 360 versions of “Madden” football, “NASCAR,” “Tiger Woods” golf, “NHL” hockey and the upcoming “Skate” skateboarding games. Financial terms were not revealed. While it wasn’t explicitly described as such, this looks like at least a partial continuation of a similar agreement EA signed with Massive last year.
Microsoft Corp. today announced the extension of the Xbox LIVE® games and entertainment network to the Windows® platform, bringing together the most popular online console game service with the most popular games platform in the world. Debuting on May 8, 2007, with the launch of the Windows Vista™ version of the Xbox® blockbuster “Halo® 2,” Games for Windows — LIVE will connect Windows gamers to over six million gamers already in the Xbox LIVE community. Then, launching in June, “Shadowrun™” will for the first time connect Windows gamers with Xbox 360™ players in cross-platform matches using a single service. “UNO®,” releasing later in 2007, will also support cross-platform play between Windows and Xbox 360.
The launch of Games for Windows — LIVE marks a major expansion of the Xbox LIVE service across multiple platforms, uniting gamers with a single identity, a single gamertag, a single friends list and a single list of achievements attainable on the Xbox 360 and a Windows-based PC. Games for Windows — LIVE gamers will be able to easily find and play supported titles online with their friends across a Windows computer or an Xbox 360. As a unified service with Xbox LIVE, Games for Windows — LIVE will be available in every country and region supported today by Xbox LIVE.
Members of Xbox LIVE automatically receive the functionality of Games for Windows — LIVE, using the same gamertag and friends list at no additional cost. For a single, unified service, the pricing of the LIVE services across both Xbox and Games for Windows is identical. In addition, Games for Windows — LIVE introduces the best of Xbox LIVE functionality to please PC gamers, such as in-game voice chat, integrated achievements and dedicated servers. The offering of both Silver and Gold memberships will remain in place for gamers on the Xbox 360 and Windows PC. There is no cost associated with signing up for a Silver membership. Gold memberships will deliver the premium online network experience for $49.95 (U.S.) per year. Current Xbox LIVE Gold members will automatically have access to Gold features on Games for Windows — LIVE titles.
The full press release and the Games for Windows -LIVE FAQ have more details on the difference between the Silver and Gold levels, but the big one is no cross-platform play without a Gold subscription. Unlike Xbox LIVE, Silver level players are allowed multiplayer games, but only with other PC players.
The release materials are also a trifle cagey about what the system requirements are for PC gamers to play, although the three touted titles seem to be Vista only. Benjamin J. Romano clears that up in a Seattle Times interview with Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft’s group product manager for Xbox Live and the new service:
Microsoft plans to have three titles available for the PC online gaming platform in 2007, and they’re all designed to run on its new Windows Vista operating system.
Microsoft sees this as a potential spur to Windows Vista sales. Multimedia improvements in the operating system such as the Direct X 10 graphics engine will entice video-game enthusiasts to the new operating system, Greenberg said.
But the Games for Windows Live experience will not be limited to Vista, he added.
“We’re definitely keeping our options open around bringing this to other versions of Windows as well,” Greenberg said.
Sounds like Real Soon Now to me. Christopher Grant at Joystiq has a little fun with the Vista requirement and the unwillingness of the the editors of the official Games for Windows magazine to upgrade.
Finally, because there are few things more continuously amusing than Microsoft’s Live branding, what’s with the capitalized LIVE? Xbox Live wasn’t capitalized as recently as January in press releases (e.g. here), but apparently some critical branding transition took place starting in March. In any case, it certainly seems less than smooth as does the hyphenated name, “Games for Windows — LIVE.” Of, course, if they left out the hyphen think of the branding crisis that would have resulted from “Games for Windows LIVE.” Then of course there is always MSN Games with its own separate identity and achievement system, but I digress.