During an interview at Microsoft's spring showcase, Microsoft's senior producer of interactive entertainment business Kevin Unangst admitted that Games for Windows – LIVE had a rocky start. He blamed the service's original focus of serving as a partner to the console version rather than as a stand-alone service for the PC.
As it stands now, Xbox LIVE for the Xbox 360 console comprises of multiple components whereas the same components are broken up into several clients on the PC. As an example, users must download and install the Zune client to purchase music, movies and television shows. The games aspect is an entirely different client, offering strictly gaming content such as videos, demos, add-ons and full games. Xbox LIVE offers both in one solution while also adding services like Netflix, Facebook and more in the process.
But the biggest factor in the overall failure of Games for Windows – LIVE is the lack of fantastic titles. "The service started with the right intent, which was to bring Achievements, friends, multiplayer gaming and matchmaking in a really great way to PC," he said. "I think because it was designed originally as a partner to the console service more than the PC service, we had a rocky start. We also didn't back it up with the most important thing, which is doing fantastic games to take advantage of the service. A network by itself isn't valuable - there needs to be great games to take advantage."
Unangst said that the platform will evolve thanks to the input from developers like Lionhead and Gas Powered Games. In the interview, he referenced the way Microsoft and Bungie collaborated on Halo and what the Xbox LIVE service needed to make the shooter such a classic hit. Now he has the two studios laying down their requirements for the PC arm of LIVE, and the changes could mark an new direction for the service.
"The Age of Empire team has got a lot of great input and the same can be said for Lionhead, who said 'we're going to build Fable 3 on the PC' and know what they want out of the service," he said. "I think the underpinnings are great, I think it's going to continue to get better. We're also seeing developers get back to development. Epic did a great job of promoting Live with Bulletstorm. They're pleased with the platform and the service is going to continue to get better over time."
He also noted the launch of the new Games for Windows – LIVE Marketplace which now sells both LIVE-enabled and non-LIVE PC games. The stand-alone client has also received an overhaul, sporting a better interface and a larger collection of titles. But there's no social element, no way to chat with friends who may be signed onto LIVE from another PC or Xbox 360 console – that's probably saved for the stand-alone Windows Live Messenger chat client.
Ultimately Windows-based users should have one client that combines LIVE with Zune, a one-stop desktop shop that offers movies, TV shows, music and games all in one place as seen with Xbox LIVE. Unfortunately, that may never happen.