Games for Windows: A Work in Progress


Microsoft’s Digital Distribution service and PC game brand recently relaunched as part of Microsoft’s new push into PC gaming. The Games for Windows brand first launched in 2006 alongside Windows Vista, with a download service and client launching in ‘08. It’s garnered a bit of a bad rap amongst gamers for high prices, limited library and a clunky client. Is the new and improved Games for Windows any better, and if not what is still missing?

The main reason I’m doing this piece is because I snapped up their cheap copy of Viva Pinata (75p, can’t go wrong) yesterday and it was a pain. Which it shouldn’t have been. Today, there’s another deal I’m looking to get: Blacklight: Tango Down (of which we’ve just reviewed the PSN version). Along with Viva Pinata, it’s also one of their crazy deals they’ve been doing since the relaunch.GFW-1

This brings us to issue one. I found out about the deals via Twitter. So I pop on the client and, well, there’s nowhere for deals. No indication that anything is on sale. Nope. For that you’d have to visit their website. This is not good. Compared to Steam or Impulse, where as soon as you load the client, their current deals are right there on the front page. One thing to note though is both Steam and Impulse have their client’s front page as the website store, whereas the GFW client is presented quite separately from this.

Now, since I already know of the deal, it’s not too much of an issue. However, with no quick and easy way to find what is cheap, it means that without exterior services alerting me to the deals, or constantly checking the GFW site, I wouldn’t know about them. (Blacklight is on Day 4 of their deals, I only knew of these offers by Day 3 on the Viva Pinata sale).

So, I go to track the game down. I’ll just type Blacklight in the search bar and …oh, there’s no way to search. The catalogue on GFW isn’t too huge at the moment, which has for the past 4 years been one of its main critical flaws, but a lack of search is a major oversight. It’s such a simple thing, but oh-so-useful. It would probably comfortably fit next to the “My Account” button. Left with no other option but to track it down manually I’ll just go to the Shooter genre and fish it out there. Oh ho ho. There are no genre categories. No search, no categories. Effectively, the only option to find a game is to scroll through their entire catalogue of games. There’s a lesson taught in web design, that if a customer can’t get what they want in 5/10 seconds then they’ll leave. Now, I kinda really want Blacklight, but up to now it’s taken substantially more than 5 seconds. If it were a game that would be the same price on other services, I’d have left long ago.

So, after manually going through their entire catalogue (it was on page 7 of 8) I eventually get to Blacklight. Now, here lies a pretty big glaring issue, that smart-eyed people will have spotted on the first image when I mentioned the inability to tell what’s on sale. Just look again:


There is no marked price on any of their games. All of those games could be £100 for all I know. I’d have to click-through onto every single one to find out how much it is. This is a store, and none of the items have display prices. How did this ever happen?


Now, clicking through shows the price, and the games profile page is one of GFW’s strong points. It’s clearly laid out, it has ratings shown quite prominently, price, system requirements and game information. It could probably drop the repeat of the price, download button and game blurb but other than that it’s all quite neat.

So I hit download (which has a small password confirm pop up, which only after I’d hit enter did I notice it was for ‘’. *sigh*.) From here I can use my card details, which are already plugged in, which is something I like. Makes impulse buying so much easier. Works out good for both me and the companies that do it. I agree to the XBOX Live terms of use (another sigh) and confirm my purchase. See, once you’ve finally gotten to your game, buying it and parting with your cash is such a streamlined process.

Downloading is all pretty simple: pause, unpause, watch the numbers go up as it downloads. Pretty basic stuff. I won’t bore you with a screenshot. Big annoyance is the absence of minimize to tray; something that would be nice for a program you’re not doing much with for the time it takes to download.

Games For Windows has some embarrassingly obvious issues that I’m amazed are still around since the service launched, or were even in the original launch at all. The lack of quick navigation around the store and no prices are major oversights. As it tries to compete in a world dominated by Steam, they really need to get the basics down before they try to actively compete. A good week of deals only goes so far in garnering a customer base. If Microsoft think all it takes to win over new customers is cheap games, which do admittedly help go a long way for Steam, then they really need to have a major rethink of their business strategy.

Games For Windows

By Dean Bowes

Founder of the site. Based in Britian I'm primarily a PC gamer, looking to spread my wings to the best the games industry has to offer.


  1. I so very much want GFWL to become a good competitor for Steam, but this article hit the nail on the head.

    The lack of minimize to tray is my biggest pet peeve with it. Seriously, what kind of download manager doesn’t let you minimize it to the tray?

    The rest of the problems are so overwhelming that I forgot about them, if that makes any sense. It’s so hard to use the thing to actually buy games that I just use the website instead, and then launch the client to download the game I just bought. Because I never use the client, only the website, I kind of forgot that you even CAN use the client, and how much of a hassle that is.

    1. I’d much prefer for them to either align the two to be more similar, or scrap one in favour of the other. The client is woefully inadequate, but if it’s just a ‘download manager’ for the website, then it’s just not needed. However if they want to be up against Steam then a client, with a full set of features a website can’t achieve, is needed.
      They have the money, the publisher contacts, but I don’t think enough of the drive.

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