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.