Staff Editorials

Strategy Informer Special (Part One): Games for Windows Live Marketplace
Posted: 22.10.2010 08:05 by Comments: 0
The digital distribution market has done wonders for gaming, especially PC gaming. Cutting out the need for expensive boxed products in retail chains, not only has digital distribution cut costs for publishers and developers, it's also given smaller Indie studios a platform from which to peddle their wares. The current king of digital distribution is undoubtedly Steam - it's integration of store, DRM, social networking and multiplayer making it a popular tool for both consumer and developer.


Not everyone is so gun-ho for Steam, but none of the current alternatives seem to be in a position to compete, but is that about to change? Microsoft revealed to us that they are completely revamping their Games for Windows LIVE Marketplace, turning it into a proper distribution platform and a viable competitor in the PC market.

Strategy Informer was privileged enough to be one of the first in the country to be briefed on Microsoft's new venture, and we spent some time talking to Group Product Manager Peter Orullian about the new Marketplace and its background.

Easy Access

Peter has been working for Microsoft for 10 years now, starting as the Managing Editor of Xbox.com, before moving onto the marketing side of the console distribution business. All of the current transaction based services on Xbox LIVE today are there in part through his hard work, and 18 months ago a new team was set up in order to provide the same evolution within the PC space, especially Games for Windows Live.

One of the first things he explains it us is the site's 'browseability' and accessibility. "You can browse the whole website without having to sign in much like you could Amazon," he explains. It's only at the point of purchase where you will need to actually sign in for the transaction details. The new Games for Windows LIVE Marketplace will be fully integrated with the Windows LIVE ID that spans Microsoft's multiple ventures. "What's powerful here for gamers who are also Xbox gamers, and our research has shown there's a lot of crossover between the two groups, is that they can sign in with that same Windows ID and if they've got Microsoft points associated with that account then they can simply use those to make the purchase." Gamers who don't want to use points, or indeed shell out money for points, can also use normal credit or debit cards.

Degrees of Separation

As you know though, a version of the Marketplace was actually first launched at the tail end of 2009, with a 'Games on Demand' service that followed soon afterwards. At the moment however, a lot is handled by the in-game GFWL client itself, and Peter's team wanted to separate the transaction part of the process and make things more simpler by tying those features to the website instead.

"The client will still exist, but it will evolve into something focused and useful for really large files that are better handled by a download manager, and we'll still do that through the client." You'll also be able to view a transaction history log through the client as well, in case you need to re-download anything. The main point however is that most of the initial acquisition of games and content will now be routed through this new Marketplace.

It's a matter for U and I

Which moves us on to the makeup of the main site itself. We've scattered the images Microsoft provided throughout both parts of this feature, so you can get a sense about what their talking about, but the name of the game here again seems be 'accessibility'.

Peter explained to us how game entries are tabbed, to provide a quick overview of a title without having to actually click anything. This allows them to still present multiple tabs on the homepage but keep things simplistic and aesthetically pleasing without having to clutter up the page with accompanying text. "So as an aside we've actually spent time on how many click actions you need to take to buy the content, so we've spent a lot of time on making sure the site is really straight forward and simple to use."

"Another thing we've tried to do is really make 'content' the hero," he went on to say. Much like the Xbox Live Dashboard can be 'themed' if you purchase special packs, so too is the Marketplace themed depending on where you are. What Peter wants to highlight was that Games dominate the space. At the top, massive banners promote a single lead item, and smaller banners below that promote various promotions, including the already existing Deal of the Week. What's interesting to note here is that Microsoft has actually admitted that there is criteria for what gets promoted - metacritic rating, level of discount. As Peter puts it, "When our users come to visit Deal of the Week, they know they're going to get a great game at a great price." This idea of 'criteria' will also influence what games will actually be on sale in the store in general, but more on that later.

Publisher Control

One of the final points Peter wanted to emphasise, along with the addition of social networking features such as face book and twitter, was the idea of Publisher promotion. Every game will get its own dedicated game page, but every Publisher will also get their own page. "The page is really controlled by the publisher, and the value is that we can focus our reach and interaction with the audience around their games." Not only will the Publisher get space to highlight a chosen title, as well as a full catalogue of games on the store, but there will also be RSS integration so that users can follow specific publishers, and keep updated on the latest releases and announcements. "I think about the Opportunities that it presents, say whenever Capcom releases its next title we work out a deal where they then offer their whole catalogue with us at 25% discount."

Launch

So you've got a brief overview of what the site's about, what about the details? Well, Peter says they're going to continue to be aggressive with getting "day and date" titles as he calls them, and he cites a "wide range of partners" that the team will be working with to bring new games regularly. Unfortunately there's no solid release date yet, only that the service will be launching in "mid-November", although we actually heard reports prior to the interview that the service would be launched November 1st, but we await confirmation on that.

The service will launch with 100 titles, and again Peter mentioned how Metacritic score will factor into this. "The approach we're taking without portfolio is that we're trying to get the best games," he added. After launch , they plan to make new games available for sale each week, as well as promotions, extras etc... they'll also continue their policy of featuring games that aren't integrated with Games for Windows LIVE, and in fact the launch portfolio will feature more non-GFWL games than those that are. What seems to be a core tenant of the entire process is mimicking what's already been done with the Xbox and Xbox 360. "Again these are things that we've done on the console," Peter told us, "We're going to try and bring those practices over to the PC space."

Stay tuned for part two, where we give you the transcript of our follow up Q&A with Peter that came after this briefing.
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