5. Not dealing with DRM
While DRM in gaming is slowly but surely moving towards “always on” and “online activation” DRM schemes, things used to be a whole lot worse for gamers. Intrusive DRM methods like Securom, SafeDisc and StarForce became household names and were feared and avoided by many gamers. The result? Fewer sales and a serious hit on the reputation of PC gaming.
Only one company could have supported PC game developers in their quest to find a good DRM scheme, and that was Microsoft. They already gave developers a single platform to develop for with the release of DirectX and could have devised a DRM method that would be acceptable to both gamers and developers alike. Pushing such a DRM scheme through Windows Update would have shown true leadership by the software giant and taken away a big obstacle standing in the way of the growth of the PC as a gaming platform.
4. Underestimating Apple
Unix and its Linux siblings have always been the underdog on the desktop market and would have remained that way had Apple not chosen to move away from proprietary hardware for Macs. It required a new direction for their OS and they picked Unix as a base for Mac OS X and the Intel platform for their hardware. Suddenly, *nix based systems were rolling out of the factories at great speed and today over 10% of the world’s desktop run on Mac OS X or Linux.
That is a large enough market for PC developers to make their games available for. This is a good thing for Max OS X and Linux but the jury is still out on the impact on PC gaming as a whole. I’m not necessarily against diversification, but the fact of the matter is that diversification is in most cases the same as fragmentation. A fragmented market becomes more difficult to service, just ask any 'mobile' developer about developing for Android and iPhone. No, PC gamers would be better served by a strong, single platform, backed and kept healthy by Microsoft with a vested interest in PC gaming.
3. Games for Windows Live
As part of an effort to pull PC gaming from the slums, Microsoft released Games for Windows Live in the spring of 2007. Touting it as the best thing to happen to PC since DirectX, gamers laughed at the new service for being too late to the party and went on to play their Steam-powered games. Their laughs died a quick death when some of their favorite franchises were released with Games for Windows Live support rather than Steam support. Struggling with the services’ clunky interface, its intrusive in-game overlay and the (by PC gamers at least) hated Microsoft Points payment system, frustrations ran so high that there was little left to laugh about.
Later iterations of Games for Windows Live left gamers cold, ultimately leading to the complete failure of the service. The newly announced Xbox Live Arcade addition to the upcoming Windows 8 will likely mean the end of Games for Windows Live. Had Microsoft cared enough about PC gaming, Games for Windows Live could have been a serious competitor to Steam, giving that platform a run for its money.
2. PC Gaming Alliance
Formed in 2008, the PC Gaming Alliance vied to promote the PC as a gaming platform. Focusing on areas such as piracy, marketing and retail sales, the ideals of the organization are admirable. Ideals, however, are not always enough to make something happen.
Microsoft was one of the original founders of the PC Gaming Alliance but jumped ship early this year. Their motivations for doing so unclear, it stands to reason that it has something to do with the fact that all the organization has achieved so far, is produce some statistics on PC gaming in general and repeatedly saying how healthy it is. I have little hope for the PC Gaming Alliance itself, but am appalled at Microsoft’s inability to mould it into the platform champion it could have been. Clearly a missed opportunity and one that Microsoft held all the cards for. If properly managed, it could have reinvigorated PC gaming years ago.
Arguably, Steam has single handedly saved PC gaming. It successfully addresses the issue of DRM in games and offers a unified platform for publishers to market their PC games on. With over 35 million active users, it has become - the - voice of the PC gaming community and is responsible for an estimated 70% of the total digital PC market worth 4 billion dollars in sales.
And then to think that Microsoft could have had it all...
Gabe Newell, founder of Valve and ‘father’ of Steam, originally worked at Microsoft. At some point he offered the idea of Steam to Microsoft, hoping their marketing power would boost the platform into existence. Microsoft scoffed at the idea, leaving Mr. Newell to find a different way to make his dream a reality.
It is fortunate that he did, as Microsoft’s obvious years-long disdain for PC gaming would probably have meant an underwhelming experience for a Microsoft-built Steam. It seems likely, though, that a supportive Microsoft could have given Steam a major push early in its life. Had that happened, there is no doubt in my mind that the phrase “PC as a gaming platform is dying” would never have become so popular.
Reading back, it is difficult to take Microsoft seriously when they say that they will invigorate PC gaming with Windows 8. They have promised to do so before, but their heart was never in it. Instead, they have held back PC gaming. Why would it be different now? I’m certain that the recently announced Xbox Live Arcade integration in Windows 8 will happen but if all it serves to do is allowing gamers to play Xbox Live Arcade titles bought with those annoying Microsoft Points, it will not achieve its goals.