In September 2010, Microsoft Games Studios’ general manager Dave Luehmann made the following statement: "Other companies should look to Microsoft for leadership, but I’m not sure they do. It is our job to lead the way on PC,"
They should look, and God knows they have tried. But all they got back was a blank stare, one of utter indifference.
Here are 9 ways in which Microsoft failed PC gaming.
9. DirectX 10
DirectX has long been the grease between Windows and PC hardware. It enabled developers to focus on creating games rather than having to struggle with driver support for sound cards and testing their game on every single graphics card on the market. Without doubt, DirectX was the most important thing ever to happen to PC gaming and it put gamers in a good place.
At least, it did until Microsoft decided to use DirectX 10 as a way to force gamers to buy Vista. Counting on our dependence on DirectX, Microsoft refused to release DirectX 10 for Windows XP, then the platform of choice for most PC gamers. Vista was a truly lousy OS but if you wanted the latest graphics, you needed to ‘upgrade’ to it whether you wanted to or not.
Microsoft’s defense for this move? They said that making DirectX 10 available on XP would be too complicated as the two operating systems are too different. We almost believed them, until an adventurous software developer started to port DirectX 10 to Windows XP. He almost had it working when Microsoft’s lawyers banged on his door with a cease and desist order, leaving gamers stuck between a rock and a hard place.
8. Fable, Halo, Alan Wake, Age of Empires
Microsoft has fumbled many PC releases of fan-favorite games ever since they launched the Xbox. Whenever the choice came up between releasing a game on both PC and Xbox, or use it as an Xbox exclusive, the PC lost out. The times that it didn’t, PC gamers got shafted with an inferior release.
Alan Wake’s PC release was pulled mere weeks from the game going gold, a choice that baffled everyone playing the game as it was clearly meant to be played with a mouse. The opposite was true for Halo 1 and 2. Shoddy control schemes and outdated graphics, it would seem Microsoft wanted the PC releases of these two games to fail. And let’s not forget Age of Empires, a franchise with a huge fan base, but on the 'wrong' platform and ultimately killed because strategy gaming just doesn't work on a console. If it doesn't work on Xbox, it has no value.
Nothing, however, compares to how Microsoft botched the Fable franchise. Fable was released for both Xbox and Windows and a success on both. The Windows release of Fable II, however, was not. It was cancelled for the sake of having an Xbox exclusive. Disappointed fans thought the franchise lost forever, but in their infinite wisdom Microsoft decided to release Fable III for PC again. Excuse me? I’m not going to watch Star Wars Episode 6 without having seen 5 either, am I?
7. Failing to give PC gaming a common voice
One of the reasons why consoles do so well, is that there is a single, powerful entity marketing the platform as a whole. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft each back their platforms with huge marketing budgets and use every major game release as an excuse to sell not only that game but also their platform as the best device to play it on.
No one is doing this for PC. Microsoft made a lackluster attempt with Games for Windows Live. Without serious budgets, it was doomed to fail from the start. Feeling unsupported in their PC gaming efforts, large publishers started to look towards Xbox, Wii and Playstation to get the backing they needed to sell their games, a trend that only now is starting to turn around, long overdue and no thanks to Microsoft.
6. Pulling the plug on Windows & Xbox inter-connectivity
In 2010, rumors started surfacing about a ‘secret’ Microsoft project that would enable multiplayer gaming sessions between PC and Xbox gamers. The project didn’t last too long. As soon as they had the technology working it was clear that PC gamers - using mice rather than controllers - wiped the floor with Xbox gamers.
I’m sure the people working on the project would have liked to continue, but its goals clashed with that of Microsoft’s overall strategy to put Xbox first and foremost. Had they persisted and found a way to work around the control issues, it would have given publishers an incentive to develop games for both platforms, possibly even choosing the Xbox/PC combination over a PS3 offering, simply because of having a large, unified platform to work with.