Microsoft’s “Games for Windows” Takes Center Stage at E3 2007

SANTA MONICA, Calif., July 10, 2007 – Last night at the company’s E3 press briefing, Microsoft unveiled a lineup of nearly 30 new titles that will carry the Games for Windows brand, as well as strong support for the Games for Windows – LIVE online service from three top game publishers: Eidos, THQ and SEGA, which have committed to developing Games for Windows – LIVE enabled titles. Additionally, Microsoft Game Studios unveiled plans to bring “Gears of War” and the hit “Viva Piñata” to Windows XP and Windows Vista gamers this year as Games for Windows branded titles with LIVE support.

PressPass spoke with Kevin Unangst, global director of Games for Windows, to talk about what Games for Windows means for consumers and Microsoft.

PressPass: What is Games for Windows?

Unangst: Games for Windows means two significant things. First, it’s about treating Windows as a first-class gaming platform in every possible way – from our technology investments, to branding and marketing, to our global retail presence. Second, when consumers see a game carrying the Games for Windows brand, they will know that game delivers higher quality and better compatibility on both Windows XP and Windows Vista, as well as supports the new safety and gaming features in Windows Vista. In a nutshell, it’s about showcasing what’s great about gaming on Windows and raising the bar for consumer expectations for PC games.

I’m very proud of the strides we’ve made in marketing the PC as a gaming platform in the last year. As a part of our Games for Windows initiative, we’ve been working with retailers worldwide to improve the experience consumers have when shopping for PC games – meaning first-class branding, better visibility for PC games in the stores, and even interactive demo stations at hundreds of storefronts. This effort has already rolled out at 10,000 retailers across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. The results benefit not just Microsoft, but our many industry partners, and of course, consumers.

PressPass: What are the major announcements Microsoft is making for Games for Windows at E3?

Unangst: We are announcing nearly 30 new titles that will carry the Games for Windows brand, including some of the most anticipated games of 2007 such as “Gears of War,” “Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts” and “Kane and Lynch.” These join many already announced and eagerly awaited titles “Crysis,” “Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures” and “Hellgate London,” and will bring the portfolio of titles carrying the Games for Windows brand to more than 60 by holiday 2007.

We also announced that three top third-party publishers – Eidos, THQ and SEGA – are planning to release titles that take advantage of our online gaming service, Games for Windows – LIVE. This is just the start – we expect a dozen LIVE-enabled games on shelves by the end of this year. Anyone who loves first person shooters will be excited to hear that one of the bestselling Xbox 360 games of 2006, “Gears of War,” is coming to Windows with full support for Games for Windows – LIVE along with five brand new campaign chapters.

PressPass: What does a Games for Windows branded title mean?

Unangst: Whenever you see the Games for Windows logo on the box of a game, you know that that game has met requirements for quality, compatibility and safety. Games that carry the Games for Windows branding have met a comprehensive set of criteria in these areas, and as a result, deliver higher quality experiences on both Windows XP and Windows Vista. For example, branded games don’t install drivers that could potentially destabilize your system. They’re also tested to support widescreen displays and all of Windows Vista’s gaming features, including the Games Explorer and Parental Controls. Some take advantage of DirectX 10 graphics (as well as offering DirectX 9 and Windows XP options) and support for Games for Windows – LIVE.

Our goal is to help consumers easily identify games they can trust to provide the best overall experiences, while increasing their confidence in buying games. In fact, we already know that consumers appreciate this consistency because more than 2 million Games for Windows branded titles have already been sold.

PressPass: Does the Games for Windows branding bar have a certification program?

Unangst: We have a quality checklist and a set of technical guidelines games must meet before they can carry the Games for Windows brand. We work closely with the world’s leading game publishers to ensure these games meet the bar. Also, we don’t charge publishers a fee or royalty to carry the brand. For us, it’s about constantly improving the overall gaming experience.

PressPass: How do you determine which publishers to work with?

Unangst: As with any strong portfolio, we not only want to have first- and third-party triple-A titles, we want to make sure that all gamers can find something that they will love. Those who enjoy first person shooters can’t wait for the action and stunning DirectX 10 graphics of “Crysis” and “Gears of War”; gamers who spend their time playing massively multiplayer games are eagerly looking forward to “Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures”; while kids (and kids at heart) will love playing new games like “Viva Piñata” on Games for Windows – LIVE.

PressPass: You mentioned it before, but what is Games for Windows – LIVE, exactly?

Unangst: Games for Windows – LIVE is the Windows counterpart to our Xbox LIVE online gaming and entertainment network for Windows XP and Windows Vista. PC gamers can now easily find, connect and communicate with other gamers on Windows or Xbox 360, have great multiplayer experiences, and enjoy a consistent experience and simplicity of use that Xbox gamers also enjoy – and since LIVE is a unified service, gamers can use the same gamertag, profile and friends list across both our gaming platforms.

Presspass: Why is Games for Windows – LIVE an in-game only experience?

Unangst: The first iteration of Games for Windows – LIVE is in-game only, similar to when we launched Xbox LIVE some five years ago. Games for Windows – LIVE launched in May with “Halo 2” and “Shadowrun” for Windows Vista. Of course, what’s great is that the LIVE service constantly improves. We’ve got lots of exciting things planned for future updates to the service.

In fact, we just recently announced that Chris Early, formerly general manager of Microsoft’s casual games business, has now taken the reins as general manager of Games for Windows – LIVE. With his previous experience as chief operating officer of GameSpy, his involvement with Mplayer and Xfire, and his passion for online gaming services, we’re really excited about what the future holds.

PressPass: Why would I pay for something that I can get at no charge with other services?

Unangst: This is a misconception we’re working hard to correct. There is no charge for Games for Windows – LIVE membership, and it offers a multiplayer experience PC gamers expect while introducing completely new functionality to online gaming on Windows. A no-charge Silver membership offers PC to PC multiplayer play, in-game voice chat, cross-game chat, single-player achievements and a unique identity across multiple games.

We do offer a paid Gold subscription that adds features you can’t find on other services, like cross-platform with the Xbox 360, enhanced matchmaking to find gamers of the same skill or rank and the ability to earn multiplayer achievements. Anyone who already has a Gold membership on Xbox LIVE automatically has a Gold membership on Games for Windows – LIVE with their same gamertag. It’s the same network. And for gamers who aren’t Gold already, the subscription is about US$4 a month – and works on both Xbox 360 and Games for Windows- LIVE compatible games.

PressPass: Can you elaborate on what Windows Vista’s gaming features are?

Unangst: Sure – we’ve built Windows Vista from the ground-up with gaming in mind. We wanted to create a platform that significantly improves the gaming experience for everyone, from the mom who plays “Bejeweled” to the most avid late-night “World of Warcraft” player.

Games are played on Windows by more than 200 million people around the world. Given that, our first priority was making it easier to find games that are installed on your Windows Vista PC – so we created the Games Explorer. No more hunting through multi-level menus to find the game icon. The Games Explorer is right on the “Start” menu next to Music and Pictures. It’s not only a convenient place to find and play games, but you can also learn about your games too. The Games Explorer displays high-resolution box art graphics for each game along with useful information, such as the game publisher and developer, when the game was last played, and the game release date and rating.

For parents, we built a set of tools to help them monitor and manage computer activity in their home. Windows Vista’s Parental Controls give parents the option to actively determine which games are appropriate for their children. Parental Controls let parents select which games can be played based on region-appropriate rating systems, such as the ESRB in the United States or PEGI in Europe. Parents can also allow or disallow access to games based on game descriptors such as “drug reference” and “violence” or allow or disallow games on a case by case basis. Parents can even decide when they want their kids to be using the PC using the built-in tools.

DirectX 10 is another great improvement that we introduced with Windows Vista. DirectX is the graphics engine for Windows, and DirectX 10 along with new DirectX 10 hardware allows developers to create jaw-dropping graphics on Windows Vista. Games are more detailed and realistic. Landscapes come to life. We also redesigned the video driver technology in Windows Vista to make it more stable and crash-resistant while taking advantage of all the new DirectX functionality.

PressPass: We’ve heard about DirectX 10 for quite some time now, but where are all the DirectX 10 games?

Unangst: We’ve given developers an entirely new canvas upon which to create, and that takes a bit of time. The great news is that games that take advantage of DirectX 10 are starting to hit the market. “Company of Heroes” was the first DirectX 10 game available on the market through a downloadable patch released in May. There is also a line-up of DirectX 10 titles ready to hit store shelves this fall and winter including, “Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures,” “BioShock”, “Crysis,” and “World in Conflict.” And with both AMD and NVIDIA delivering many choices for DirectX 10 cards, including new laptops with integrated DirectX 10 capabilities, this technology is changing the way gamers look at gaming graphics.

PressPass: Why are you investing so much in retail when earnings have shown a drop in retail sales and a rise in online purchases?

Unangst: Online is definitely a great and growing way to distribute games. But consumers love to shop at retail, and when you have a first-class gaming platform, it needs to have a first-class retail experience. That’s why we’ve worked with top retailers around the world to bring consistent signage, interactive kiosks and marketing support to Games for Windows.

PressPass: Any hints on what we can expect in the future?

Unangst: Along with all the fantastic announcements we’ve just made here at E3, we’re really excited for all the great things still to come. Like Windows itself, our Games for Windows effort constantly improves. There’s never been a better time to be a Windows gamer.

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