Why gamers should be wary of Microsoft's PC gaming push

We know that Microsoft is wanting to commit to cross-play functionality, which is the ability to buy a game on one platform, and have it work for the other. This looks like a big win for both Xbox One and PC gamers alike, but people are still upset about the loss of exclusivity to Xbox One titles. I explained earlier in the week why that's hardly a reality. But there is a good reason to be cautious about this new concept.

As I said before, this looks to be a fantastic idea that will give gamers more flexibility about how they choose to play their games. So why the caution for this new idea? The main reason is that this is not a new idea. I'm not talking about Sony's ability to play games on both the PS4 and the Vita. I'm talking about the time where Microsoft tried to bring together both Xbox and PC, for gaming. I'm talking about Games for Windows Live.

If you're a PC gamer who owned any of the games that used Games for Windows Live, then you probably remember how much of a pain it could be. It started out with the best of intentions. While you didn't get a free PC copy when you bought an Xbox version of a game, there was a time when they offered a discount for buying both at the same time. I believe that for Arcade games, the price was 240 Microsoft Points (yeah, remember those?) for a single license, and 400 MS Points to have the game on both platforms.

That particular functionality was alright I guess, though I can't ever recall a time when I wanted to go ahead and pay an extra 40%, just in case I wanted to play a game on the other platform. It was a nice gesture, but it wasn't exactly a successful idea.

What Microsoft's cross-buy initiative means

So what was wrong with Games for Windows Live? Well, first you needed to login to your Xbox Live account, to play any of the games that had that feature enabled. The interface was clunky at best, and I recall always running into some sort of issue, whenever friends would come over to play games like GTA IV. Sometimes it would need updates that would make you log out, then restart the game, and sometimes restart the entire machine. Then you'd launch the game, only to find out that there was yet another update, and the process would begin again. Meanwhile, the game itself had been up to date the entire time, and it was just GFWL that needed all of your time.

Even when it did work properly, and no updates were required, there were still issues to be contended with. Let's say that you have an Xbox somewhere in the house, and someone wanted to watch Netflix on it, while you played GTA IV upstairs on your PC. This wasn't possible. Why? Because your Xbox Live account couldn't be logged in on more than one device. To get around this, I had to have a separate Xbox Live account for my PC, which defeated the entire purpose of having the Xbox experience on my computer. My achievements weren't saved on my main account, I had to re-add all of my friends that I played with. In short, I might as well have been using some other platform altogether.

After a few years, people grew to hate the service, even avoiding games that used it, just because they didn't want to have to deal with it anymore. I remember when Dark Souls was announced for the PC, it was slated to use GFWL, and people rallied against it. The original Change.org petition still exists, and it closed with nearly 24,000 signatures from gamers who didn't want them to use Microsoft's broken system. It fell on deaf ears.

Eventually, Microsoft shut down the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, and no new games were developed using the service. Around 40% of the games that were released under GFWL moved their online services to use something else, primarily Steamworks. The others still work, as Microsoft has left their servers running. However, I think most PC gamers are thankful that no new games have utilized the broken service for a few years now.

Microsoft has had plenty of time to learn from the mistakes of Games for Windows Live, but that doesn't mean that some of the same issues won't crop up. Since Quantum Break will be exclusive to the Windows Store, that means we won't be seeing it on Steam. Here's hoping that when it makes it out on April 15th that we won't see any of the same issues from the GFWL days.