Microsoft puts PC game downloads in the browser

Microsoft is getting its games on-demand service into gear with an overhaul of its digital games marketplace that lets users buy games without a software client, and without having to use Microsoft Points.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Games for Windows logo

Microsoft wants to let PC gamers know it's still serious about delivering game software and is putting that idea to the test with a new system that places fewer roadblocks in the way of getting gamers connected to digital game downloads.

Today, the company is announcing a new online store that will let gamers buy digital copies of games--old and new--from just their browser. The site, which opens up on November 15th retains the Games for Windows Marketplace moniker, but is an online version of the store that's long been available through the company's Games For Windows Live software client--albeit with a few tweaks.

Users can browse this catalog of around 100 games, find out more about them, then make a purchase that downloads right in their browser. The client software is still needed for large game files, as was to explained CNET in an interview earlier this week with Xbox's group project manager Peter Orullian.

"For people who have the client--the client will morph into a tool they might use for different reasons, but if mostly what people were using the client for was just to go and purchase the games, that's what we've solved, because a lot of those people have said, 'It's just extra work,'" Orullian said.

Games for Windows Marketplace.
A mock-up of Microsoft's Games for Windows Marketplace Specials page, which will feature games that are on sale. Microsoft

Another step Microsoft has removed from the PC game buying experience is the need to buy games with Microsoft Points--the tech titan's virtual currency. If users have points in their account from Xbox or Zune marketplace transactions, they can still use those, but there is now an option to just pay with a credit or debit card. When asked if that had been a point of contention from within Microsoft, Orullian said it wasn't.

"I work really, really closely with the business manager [of Microsoft], and not once did he ever express any angst on this. So what I know on this is that this is feedback we had, and we wanted to have a simple way to purchase, and we just kind of marched set drum. We never had any kind of fight on that," Orullian said.

Besides the purchase option, Microsoft is using the refresh of the online games marketplace to change what kind of information can be presented to users. That includes things like add-ons, which if they're a part of the catalog will be included not just on the game page but at the point of purchase. This comes into play with games like Bethesda's Fallout series, which has a large amount of downloadable content. Now you see these downloadable items not just when you're exploring the game on its information page, but when you're just about to buy it--something the company is banking on as pulling in extra buys in the same way a user would buy a candy bar at a grocery stand checkout.

The new marketplace also takes advantage of RSS feeds from developers, so shoppers of the site can see the most recent updates of news items from a particular developer. Orullian explained that this would be otherwise unfiltered, except for something like a sale of game through another online games distributor, which would not show up.

Along with game information and add-ons, Microsoft is also using the refresh as a way to present game promotions. Much like Xbox Live, Microsoft will be offering promotions like a game of the week, and time-specific promotions. "If we can find a great number of zombie games, we'll bring them together in a zombie cluster," Orullian said. "It's something we haven't seen in the PC space. The appetite we've seen for it on the console suggests it will be successful."

Today's updates are part of a continuing effort by Microsoft to stay in the front line of the PC games downloading scene where third-party companies like Valve and Stardock have taken considerable marketshare by iterating their online marketplaces and software clients at what can arguably be considered a faster pace.