Microsoft subtly revealed that Game for Windows Live will shut down in 2014, which could affect the multiplayer, downloadable content, and saves of many titles. Some games, such as Age of Empires Online, depend on the service to function, while others games are less intertwined. While the shutdown is over a year away, it’s good to highlight what the change means and some ways to alleviate the problems.
There are currently over 70 games that use Games for Windows Live (GFWL), with 15 of them published by Microsoft Studios. Among their popular titles include Fable III, Gears of War, and Halo 2. All these games have some type of cooperative or multiplayer aspect, which seems important to preserve after the end of GFWL. Microsoft is expected to roll out patches to either retain GFWL’s functions, and possibly roll them into a new service (perhaps integrating it directly into Xbox Live or the larger Microsoft account).
One thing to keep in mind is that Microsoft doesn’t necessarily have to oversee the preservation of third party games that require GFWL. Capcom has 10 games that use the service, many of which have online and cross-platform capability. Sega and Codemasters also have at least 5 titles that use GFWL for multiplayer and match making. It’s the responsibility of these publishers to amend their dependence on GFWL and patch their games. Questions remain as to when they will do this, and if the updates will simulate everything GFWL offered.
Online cooperative and competitive modes are among the biggest features of many GFWL games. For some games, it includes both match-making and the actual multiplayer sessions themselves, while others use more direct P2P methods to find other players.
Among the most popular titles that could be harmed by the demise of GFWL include Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV, Namco Bandai’s Dark Souls, THQ’s Warhammmer 40,000: Dawn of War II, and Capcom’s Street Fighter IV.
GFWL not only takes care of the full retail game, but also any downloadable content or expansions to the titles. Among the biggest of these are the 5 DLC scenarios for Fallout 3, starting with Operation: Anchorage and concluding with Mothership Zeta.
Bioshock 2’s downloadable single player campaign Minerva’s Den is also intertwined with GFWL, and will require patching from 2K Games to be accessible once the service shuts off. Evidence through Steam’s registry shows that 2K Games is taking steps to make Minerva’s Den playable over Valve’s online service.
Accessing saves and other game aspects
Accessing saved data for many titles requires logging in to your Games for Windows Live account, even if you plan on playing in single player. Some titles, such as Batman Arkham City, instead save to the cloud and allow saving and loading from anywhere even if GFWL isn’t working.
GFWL can also oversee other aspects of the game such as voice chat, friend list organization, leaderboards, and achievements. Many game achievements will need to be completed before the GFWL shutdown in order to boost your Gamerscore across your Microsoft accounts.
Some of the issues related to the inevitable GFWL shut down are already being taken care of thanks to patches and Steam implementation. Batman Arkham Asylum, Batman Arkham City, and Bioshock 2 have already received Steam Achievements, which include ones identical to those found in GFWL.
This is a great start, as Steam is an established and more stable online platform than Game for Windows Live ever was. Among the easiest ways publishers can alleviate the shutdown is to transfer over to the Steamworks API. This tool will allow games fully integrate with the Steam client, and provides access to networking, player authentication, matchmaking, and voice chat. Steamworks also provides the Steam community with friends groups and, as mentioned above, easy roll over of achievement lists. As a final bonus it also can use Steam Cloud to help manage saves and has anti-cheating capabilities.
Overall, Steamworks sounds like a great way to preserve the functionality of many games. Many of the GFWL titles are already available over steam. The biggest question is if and when publishers will adapt, if they opt into some other system, or if they’ll simply let their games decay. Microsoft seems content with Age of Empires Online dying completely when GFWL ends, but what of the rest?
How do you feel about the end of Games for Windows Live?