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.
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.
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.