Vista gets Live-wired for PC games in May

Free Silver membership of Microsoft's Games for Windows Live includes some online play; Gold includes cross-platform play.

Microsoft on Wednesday officially announced the PC portion of Live--called Games for Windows Live--and its release date.

Windows Vista gamers, like Xbox 360 players, on May 8 will be able to collect achievements and tally a "Gamerscore," list friends, and send text and voice messages.

Microsoft has been touting an Xbox Live-like service for PC gamers ever since the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, when Chairman Bill Gates introduced the notion of Live Anywhere.

The proposed service, Gates said, would connect mobile phones, PCs and Xbox 360s with a universal account that logs gamers' stats, displays friends and sends messages between devices.

Because Games for Windows Live is an extension of the overall Live service, those with an Xbox Live account will already have a Games for Windows Live account at no extra cost, Microsoft said.

The pricing is set to 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. Gold memberships include all standard silver benefits, plus friend and skill matchmaking, multiplayer achievement tracking and cross-platform gameplay.

Coinciding with the May 8 release of Games for Windows Live will be a compatible version of Halo 2 . Following the May events, Microsoft's Fasa Studio in June plans to release a game called Shadowrun that will be the first to allow Xbox 360 and Vista gamers to play with or against each other. Later this year, Microsoft plans to release the Xbox Live Arcade hit Uno for Vista, which will also allow cross-platform play.

Games for Windows Live aren't set to 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," said Aaron Greenberg, a marketing manager for Xbox Live.

According to Microsoft, the look of Live on Vista will be familiar to those with experience on Xbox Live, and it will include the same ability to use the guide button with an Xbox 360 Controller for Windows.

"All the community features that we're used to on Xbox (will) look and feel the same on the PC," Greenberg said. "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.

Tim Surette of GameSpot reported from San Francisco.

 

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