MS Putting Renewed Focus on Windows Gaming

With the bulk of the planning complete for Xbox 360, Microsoft is giving Windows gaming the attention it deserves. Games for Windows will be built up as a brand similar to how MS has promoted its Xbox brand. Publishers are already preparing games to showcase the capabilities of Windows Vista, which debuts in late 2006. We speak with Product Manager Kelly Stanmore about MS' focus on Windows gaming.

With all the talk of Xbox, and more recently Xbox 360, it's easy to forget that Microsoft's efforts in the video game industry began with Windows gaming. Apparently MS has been so caught up with its console business that it's almost been ignoring its Windows gaming business. That's all about to change, however, according to British trade publication MCV, which was privy to the details of an 18-month plan to establish Games for Windows as an attractive platform in advance of the launch of Windows Vista next year.

"We're putting the 'game' back in Windows," Chris Donohue, group manager for Windows gaming and graphics told the site. "We're over the hump with Xbox 360 so now ready to build Windows as a platform."

From under investment to big investment

Product Manager Kelly Stanmore said, "It's our biggest ever investment in Windows gaming." No figures were discussed, but you can bet that when a gargantuan company like MS makes its "biggest ever investment" in something that it's going to be a lot.

According to MCV, Microsoft admitted that it's been "killing PC gaming." However, when GameDAILY BIZ contacted Stanmore for comment, we were told that the accuracy of the quote is currently being checked.

"What we have said in the past and what I was trying to say [to MCV] was that we realize we have under invested in Windows as a game platform and are excited to work more closely with 1st and 3rd party game publishers in order to promote Windows as one of the best gaming platforms available," Stanmore explained. "Microsoft as a company is extremely committed to the gaming space, with the combined strength of Windows, Xbox, MSN Games and Microsoft Game Studios; we offer customers many different experiences and ways to enjoy their games. It's an exciting time to be working in gaming at Microsoft with the upcoming launches of Xbox 360 and Windows Vista."

Online gaming, digital downloads have been key

While the Windows gaming business has seen approximately a 10 percent decline at retail, Stanmore doesn't believe that statistic is a true indicator of the overall picture. "Windows gaming has actually been growing year over year and in fact is estimated to reach $9.16 billion in total worldwide revenue by 2009. However, most reported revenues focus only on retail sales, which doesn't give an accurate look at what's happening in the market," she told GameDAILY BIZ.

One sector of the market that has really helped Windows gaming is online titles. "While sales may have been declining at retail, revenues for Windows gaming have actually increased with the surge in online gaming. Currently, gamers are moving more toward digital downloads, subscription-based fees and online upgrades, as shown by the popularity of titles such as World of Warcraft and Half-Life 2. We expect a great deal of growth in this area and we are excited to be a leader in the online gaming revolution," Stanmore said.

Publishers preparing Games for Windows lineup

In the same way that people view PlayStation or Xbox as a brand, MS would like Games for Windows to be viewed in a similar light. To help speed this process, many PC game publishers will start incorporating the Games for Windows branding onto their retail boxes. In addition, a number of peripherals will be cross-compatible between Xbox 360 and Games for Windows, including the Xbox 360 controller.

"Windows has been a great gaming platform for at least 10 years since DirectX came onto the scene, and the platform continues to evolve through the innovations of our users -- from community created mods to online gaming. But there are things we can do to make it even better, from simplifying how certain types of games are played with the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, to making it easier to keep track of your games and update them easily from inside Windows Vista. With the inclusion of DirectX 10, Windows Vista will take advantage of every advance in hardware to always deliver the most cutting edge graphics for gamers. Our game publisher partners are an enormous part of this initiative and we are looking forward to launching Windows Vista with a coordinated lineup of titles that will showcase what the new operating system can do," concluded Stanmore.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.