Microsoft has been touting an Xbox-Live-like service for PC gamers ever since the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2006, when Bill Gates introduced the notion of Live Anywhere. The proposed service would connect mobile phones, PCs, and Xbox 360s with a universal account that logs gamers' stats, displays friends lists, and sends messages between devices.
Today, Microsoft officially announced the PC portion of Live--called Games for Windows - Live--and its release date. Beginning May 8, Windows Vista gamers will be able to start collecting achievements and tallying a Gamerscore (or add on to what they've already earned on the Xbox 360), put together friends lists, and send text and voice messages, just like Xbox 360 owners.
The Games for Windows portion of Live isn't a separate account--it's actually an extension of the overall Live service. As such, those who already have an Xbox Live account will already have a Games for Windows - Live account at no extra cost.
The pricing will remain the same for the two-tiered service, with Silver memberships being free and Gold memberships staying at $49.99. However, there will be some differences in privileges, as illustrated below.
Unified with Xbox Live account
Private text and voice chat
PC-only multiplayer, including browsing a list of active PC games
Gold benefits (includes all Silver benefits)
Multiplayer matchmaking with friends
The first game to take advantage of Games for Windows - Live will be Halo 2, which will also be released on May 8. Following shortly after that in June will be FASA Studio's Shadowrun, which will be the first game to allow Xbox 360 and Vista gamers to play with or against each other. Later this year, Microsoft will also release the Xbox Live Arcade hit Uno for Vista, which will also allow cross-platform play.
Games for Windows - Live won't launch with a comparable Marketplace feature, but Microsoft plans to extend the features and functionality of Live over time. "Right now, we're focusing on what matters most, which we really think is gaming," marketing manager for Xbox Live Aaron Greenberg told GameSpot.
The look of Live on Vista will be familiar to those who have experience with Xbox Live and will include the same look and the ability to use the guide button with an Xbox 360 controller for Windows. "All the community features that we're used to on the Xbox will look and feel the same on the PC," said Greenberg. "That's the idea of this being one service and one look and feel."
Microsoft hopes that having two connected branches of Live--one for the Xbox 360 and one for the PC--will encourage developers to think differently about how they make games. Kevin Unangst, director of Games for Windows, offered the example of a PC gamer, outfitted with a mouse and keyboard, serving as the decision-making general of a real-time strategy game while Xbox 360 owners play as the grunts on the battlefield.
When asked about the May 8 launch of Games for Windows - Live paired with the spring Xbox 360 dashboard update, Greenberg would only say that Microsoft considers Games for Windows - Live a part of the update, and that Microsoft would have more information at a later date.