Experienced Points: Games for Windows Die

By Shamus
on Aug 20, 2013
Filed under:
Column

Slight spoiler for my article this week: I comment on the Games for Windows LIVE situation, and I predict that the service won’t be going anywhere any time soon. A few hours after I submitted the column, I saw this news story with a rumor that, contrary to what I wrote, Games for Windows LIVE may indeed close.

At this point I’m not sure if “closing” means they will end multiplayer, or if it means actual, permanent death for a bunch of single-player games. If it’s the latter then Microsoft is insane, for all the reasons I outlined. Anyway, keep in mind that the article was written before this rumor appeared.

It’s actually a scary thing to me. I own both Batman games, FUEL, all three Fable games, Fallout 3, and GTA IV. I know Batman and FUEL need GFWL to save the game. I dunno about the rest.

While the closing of GFWL would vindicate everything I’ve ever said about online activation – going all the way back to my first tirades on BioShock when the blog was young – this is not an area where I wanted to be proven right. I’d rather have people call me paranoid and keep our games than be smug while significant titles vanish into BitTorrent.

Trying to look at this rumor in the best possible light:

Maybe they will patch out GFWL before taking it down.

Maybe they will actually be handing off these titles to a new platform they’re launching.

Maybe the “closing” only refers to multiplayer stuff and the authentication crap will continue to “work”.

Maybe the rumor is just a rumor.

Again, they hired a guy and seem to be investing in the PC space. It would be nuts for them to burn this bridge right now.

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20201353 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Deoxy says:

    “No comments whatsoever.”

    Really? I haven’t seen that on here in AGES – lousy for me, great for you. Keep up the good work, I suppose – off I go to read the article…

    Edit: OK, now I’ve read the article and the linked Xbox One article, and there STILL aren’t any other comments? What, did I wake up 3 years ago or something?

    • MichaelGC says:

      Any chance we could paraphrase all of that with ‘FIRST’? No? Sorry. I’ll get me coat.

      Anyway, I’m pretty sure they’ll issue a patch which will work for around 60% of people and then roll out a full-on replacement which will work for an entirely different but obviously somewhat overlapping 60%.

      • KremlinLaptop says:

        It’s a very fancy way of saying “First!” though, and thus a bit more socially acceptable. Like jamming a trumpet in your butt before you fart — it makes it seem classy, like something you could do while dining with the Queen.

        • Deoxy says:

          Besides the “First!” aspect, it also subtly both congratulates the host for being so popular and mourns the loss of the smaller, more manageable community that existed before said popularity. Those of us who primarily read this blog during short breaks at work really lose out in such over-populated situations.

        • Fleaman says:

          I must confess that I am so socially awkward that I did not even know that it’s classy to fart through a trumpet at a queen.

  2. burningdragoon says:

    I cannot imagine that Microsoft would be even close to dumb enough to completely shutdown a service, locking people of their games, so soon to them launching a new console. You’d have to try pretty hard to come up with a worse PR move than that.

    • Shivoa says:

      I’m reading of companies preparing patches to move over anything which they have any love for (ie ongoing sales via Steam make it worth keeping available to buy) a bit like how Company of Heroes 1 had to move to keep online only for solo functionality too in some cases.

      Games like Fallout 3 just work if you can’t connect to GfWL so other than having a pointless UI that could be patched out it won’t really matter but games that encrypt their saves to the GfWL user (and worse, don’t even have a non-encrypted save path, eg Gears of War) need to get patched to keep on being sold. The Bioshock 2 DLC (Minerva’s Den) has been appearing the the Steam registry dives for the last few months and that sort of thing could be the norm for the next year if everyone is trying to make sure they keep the long tail of these things now the GfWL store doesn’t accept new money and they’ve been warned the auth servers go offline in 11 months.

      As the linked article points out, a MS site has given an official warning that was hastily taken down. Was this the wrong date or just the wrong time to tell us the date they already know internally for the closing of servers?

      • Felblood says:

        I wonder, is this a whistle blower, using access to official channels to lend credence to his leak?

        –or is this a disgruntled, soon-to-be-former employee, using his official access to spread toxic misinformation?

        –or did MS sign off on this patch, and then realize that it included data that was not cleared for release, and therefore had to be pulled? This is the mostly likely story. Which makes MS being both incompetent and shady, Occam’s favorite. That makes me sad.

        I favor the idea of one man making a bold gesture, right or wrong, over a whole group of people being both evil and stupid.

      • burningdragoon says:

        Ok, wow, I should’ve read the other news post too. That’s crazy.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Let’s not forget this is the company whose head of XBone (now with Zynga) had the following solution for anyone without a decent internet connexion:

      “Buy an XBox 360.”

    • PeteTimesSix says:

      You (and Shamus) have far more faith in microsoft than I ever could. Does that make me a cynic?

      • burningdragoon says:

        Maybe, though hearing that the full shutdown is coming in about a year, I wouldn’t be as surprised if the bleep the GFWL games into nothingness. Either the Xbone is a winner by then, so it wouldn’t matter as much, or it’s a disaster, so it wouldn’t matter as much.

  3. Felblood says:

    Can anyone produce a link to the supposed screenshot, that backs up this rumor?

    I can’t seem to land a copy; has my search-fu grown so weak?

  4. Knut says:

    Microsoft has closed DRM servers before: MSN Music store DRM server was closed on August 31 2008. Prior to this, Microsoft recommended it’s customers to “burn the .wma files bought there to CD, then rip them back to MP3s”.

    Granted, GFWL is a more popular (in number of users) service, so it’s a bigger chance they will be kept running longer.

    (edit: the store sold .wma files, not .mp3)

  5. Retsam says:

    Am I one of the few people here who’s never used Origin or GFWL? I think as far as DRM services go, I’ve had to put up with the Ubisoft equivalent, UPlay, maybe once for a game I played for a few hours? (From Dust, I think)

    But yeah, I’m guessing this is mostly just a reflection on the fact that I don’t really play very many big name games. And the few that I do play tend to not have DRM. Perhaps, this is because I play a lot of strategy games, and these tend not to have DRM?

    Granted, this may change if I get the Origin Humble Bundle, which I likely will. Assuming I decide to play Battlefield 3 or Sims 3 any time soon… (or Dead Space 3, but that one’s not incredibly likely)

  6. papersloth says:

    Have you seen this, Shamus? It’s some evidence supporting the theory that they might just take the whole thing down, and some patching is already going on. No hope for Dark Souls being patched like that though.

    Then again, there’s still no Halo on Steam despite some folks digging up its database entries a while ago.

  7. Robyrt says:

    What I’m really worried about are the games without major companies behind them to patch together a non-GFWL version. Dark Souls, for instance, already has an incredibly shaky PC port and a low budget. It’s unlikely that they could migrate over to Steamworks in any reasonable fashion, despite a rabid fan base and a steady sales volume.

    • Naota says:

      Indeed, Dark Souls’ multiplayer is a huge part of the game, and couldn’t even function without the risible GFWL. It would all but kill the current PC community – coop and pvp – and leave players with what’s effectively less than half a game compared to what they bought in good faith less than a year ago.

      There are games where losing the multiplayer would just be a minor distraction, but in Dark Souls it’s a constant near-integral part of the experience. Managing your human state (read: your connectivity to the online features of the game, both helpful and harmful to your avatar) is one of the central challenges, and a huge part in what keeps people playing what’s effectively a static campaign over and over again.

      If GFWL dies and no successor emerges to link the clients, it consigns Dark Souls’ soul to the abyss.

    • Humanoid says:

      Actually, Dark Souls appears to be one of the first movers in this regard – a since-deleted post stating that it’s getting patched over to Steamworks.

  8. AJax says:

    On a more positive note, games like Bioshock 2 and the Batman games are in the process of patching in steamworks and ditching GFWL.

    That leaves with games like GTA4 and Dark Souls with pretty healthy online communities still going strong. I think people will still have the ability to play them offline but the online functionality of those games will be up in the air.

    • Volfram says:

      That’s great, because I haven’t played Batman: Arkham Asylum since MS altered their TOS to include the “You can’t sue us for anything ever” clause.

      Bought Arkham City on Xbox because it doesn’t have to connect to the internet to recover my saves for me. Would have bought it for PS3 except there was no way to do that without giving money to Sony.(who were running their “We hate customers” campaign in full-swing at the time)

  9. burningdragoon says:

    Also.

    I just read the official support FAQ for just the closing of the Marketplace, which says this:

    Will I be able to purchase Games for Windows Live games in other marketplaces now that Games for Windows Live titles are no longer available on Xbox.com?

    Games for Windows Live titles published by Microsoft are no longer available for purchase from any marketplace. For other titles, please check directly with the title’s publishers.

    I don’t how many games that is, but it doesn’t sound like they are surviving once the plug is pulled.

    • Taellosse says:

      What that almost certainly actually means is that those titles published directly by Microsoft will become available in whatever store system they launch to replace GFWL (it’s probably going to be XBox branded, rather than Windows branded. Unless they plan to just put them into the Windows 8 Store). There will probably be a bit of a delay while they roll that out, but I doubt very much that Microsoft is simply going to stop selling everything they published prior to this month.

  10. Raygereio says:

    I can easily see GFWL’s marketplace closing down and Microsoft stop offering the service to developers and publishers.
    Being a proud member of the PC Master Race I haven’t paid much attention to the Xbox One, so I don’t know how much damage control Microsoft managed to do after their E3 disaster. But I reckon some of the suits at Redmond might have woken up and remembered the PC market they abandoned years ago.
    Thing is, Games For Windows Live is unsalvageable. Even if all the service’s problems were fixed overnight and Bill Gates himself would come over to your house to give you puppies and kittens for each game you bought over GFWL, gamers would still cheerfully continue to hate it. The name has generated so much frustration and hatred over the years that it’s just unusable at this point and anyone even remotely marketing-savy has to realize that.
    If Microsoft wants to make a serious come back in the PC market and they don’t want to get laughed at, they will have to kill off GFWL first and make it very clear that whatever they’re going to do is in no way a continuation of GFWL.

    However, I can’t imagine Microsoft closing down GFWL completely. At the very least the authentication servers will stay up so that games will continue to be playable.
    Like Shamus, I almost wish Microsoft would do something so monumentally stupid though. The Internet-outrage would be amazing to behold and I will get to act smug because I’ve prepared myself for this occasion and got cracks for all GFWL, Steam and other online-authentication requiring games I own.

    Mind you, I’m working under principles such as common sense. Something which people working on a decision-making level in corporate enviroments tend not to have. So it could be that this is Microsoft shrugging at the PC market and concidering it to be lost cause for them. Or worse: they think shutting down the GFWL service will drive people towards the consoles and the XBox one in particular.
    Who knows.

    • Steve C says:

      If Bill Gates came over and gave you puppies and kittens, next year he’d claim that he owns the rights to the offspring of any new puppies and kittens created. And then he’d drown them all, including the parent pets while calling you a thief.

      And related to the above, MS is going to kill GFWL and all associated game libraries. They did it with the Zune for music, they’ll do it again with your puppies. I think there was something before the Zune too. People trusted MS after the Zune and used GFWL. People will trust MS after GFWL and be burned on the next thing too.
      Don’t forget history. Microsoft = dead puppies.

      • ima420r says:

        I hadn’t heard what happened to Zune so I looked it up. I found this link about Zune services being shut down. At least the media still worked after things went down, you just can’t download them again or relicense them.

        I am afraid about this happening with all my xbla games, you never know when a hard drive will go kaput or a system will get fried.

  11. Taellosse says:

    Don’t you have the Fable games on Xbox? As far as I know, Fable 2, at least, never came out for PC. 1 and 3 did, but they never released 2, despite originally promising they would. Or, if you DO have Fable 2 on PC, can you tell me where/how you got it? I am rather fond of the Fable series, despite it’s many warts, and would like to have it available to play still once I retire my 360 in the probably-not-too-distant future. I picked up the original on Steam when it went on sale this summer on Steam, and figure I’ll get 3 eventually, once it’s really cheap.

    • Shamus says:

      You’re right. I played Fable 2 on the 360.

      Huh. Totally forgot.

      • Taellosse says:

        Probably easy for you to do. As I recall, you’ve got (or at least had) your console(s) hooked up to your computer, so you play(ed) everything in the same place.

        Dang. I had some small hope that maybe there was some sort of ju-jitsu I could do that would let me have Fable 2 on PC. Ah well.

  12. Spluckor says:

    Couldn’t they patch all the games that require GFWL so that they don’t have it anymore?

    • Adeon says:

      Yes. The issue is the time and effort required to create the patch. Even assuming that the developer is still around unless the game is still selling they don’t have a financial incentive to spend the time making a patch (as opposed to working on their next game). No doubt some of them will if they consider the goodwill from fans to be worth the cost but some will probably end up not being updated.

  13. Taellosse says:

    I tried to post this a couple hours ago. It got (again, inexplicably) caught in moderation, and when I checked back later it was gone. If it’s in the mod queue and just awaiting approval, I apologize for repeating myself.

    Don’t you have the Fable games on Xbox? As far as I know, Fable 2, at least, never came out for PC. 1 and 3 did, but they never released 2, despite originally promising they would. Or, if you DO have Fable 2 on PC, can you tell me where/how you got it? I am rather fond of the Fable series, despite it’s many warts, and would like to have it available to play still once I retire my 360 in the probably-not-too-distant future. I picked up the original on Steam when it went on sale this summer on Steam, and figure I’ll get 3 eventually, once it’s really cheap.

    ETA Well, at least the filter is consistent, since it has tossed me in moderation a second time…I wish I knew what I keep doing that makes this thing hate me.

  14. Tse says:

    I wouldn’t worry about single player games. As long as Windows still has some piece of GFWL, it will keep on supporting offline saves. I haven’t seen a single game that requires an online save, so all they need to do is remove the GFWL protection, which may be possible by just patching Windows. Losing the multiplayer is a real concern, though.

  15. GreyDuck says:

    I really loved playing FUEL…

    …the handful of times I could work up the nerve to argue with GFWL about letting me login so I could get at my save files. I suspect that eventually I won’t even be able to do that much. Damned shame.

  16. Dude says:

    Do what I did for GFWL single player games. Back the installation files up. Then crack the game.

    It makes sense to me to buy the game, and then circumvent its DRM. It is a dubious middle ground between pirating it and going through the terrible hurdles required to just play some games these days.

  17. Neko says:

    Hey, it’s Microsoft, I’m sure they will handle this in a very professional manner and not accidentally screw something up that ensures people can’t play their games anymore.

  18. BlusterBlaster says:

    Calling it now: the Microsoft GFWL PC games are gone forever, but they’ll let you download them for free on Xbox One. Seems like a Microsoft thing to do.

  19. Disc says:

    It’s going to be on the developers and/or publishers too if they don’t react to it in time.

    Assuming the news gets confirmed before the end of this month, they’ve got a good 10 months to try and fix their games, which from the layman’s perspective would sound reasonable. Reality of it can be very different of course, but should they fail to convert their games over to something else, they’ll take a part of the blame.

    Edit:GFWL does however have an option to create an offline-profile (the only one good thing in it) which I’ve been at least personally always been able to use without problems to play single player games without ever logging on. I missed on some achievements, but I never really cared about them either, so no real loss. Assuming it works as well for the rest of the world, then I think the multiplayer games are the ones really at risk. Can’t really grieve over the feature, since the one time I actually was willing to bother with it, it never worked anyway, so.. good riddance I guess?

  20. Gahrer says:

    I may be a cynic, but I don’t have any problems imagining Microsoft shutting down GfWL completley and killing of all those games. My general impression is that there is really no insult or restriction that the gaming market as a whole won’t accept as long as it is necessary to play new titles. Sure, there may be wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst some hardcore gamers (such as us) but it doesn’t really matter in the grander scheme of things. Most gamers (as far as I can tell) don’t follow gaming news and doesn’t care about these sorts of things enough to actually change their buying habits. Heck, even many hardcore gamers (myself included – I bought Far Cry 3 two days ago) will on occasion fold and suffer the DRM in order to play what we want.
    Thus, it appears to me that the publishers of most bigger titles can do basically anything and still not suffer any significant economic backlash as long as the game in question is reasonably well made and has a recognizable IP. (Just look at Diablo 3 for instance.)

  21. DosFreak says:

    Do some GFWL games still have installation limits?
    http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/pc/FAQ

    Games for Windows — LIVE offers publishers several tools to help secure their games. Microsoft also supports many security features the publishers commonly decide to implement. Choices of DRM and how to implement are purely made by the publisher and developer, and Games for Windows — LIVE simply respects those choices. This may include installation limits, if the publisher feels this is an important part of their game.

    Research:
    Found this:

    http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1651235

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Games_for_Windows_%E2%80%93_Live_titles

    Looks like most games support SSA. Now the question is do SSA or Legacy games require you to connect at least once to a remote server.

    Meh, too much work worrying if a game will work or not when services are shut down. Just purchase and crack your games.

    All of my purchased GFWL games are cracked so I’m good to go. :)

  22. Andrew_C says:

    I’m probably under a misapprehension, but I thought Microsoft didn’t bring the Steam guy on board to improve GFWL, but to improve the whole XBox Live service, which is a bit of a mess to put it politely. GFWL is just a sideline, a minor one at that, and the GFWL website has redirected to the XBox Live website for several years. I would not be surprised if GFWL as a whole is just the first of many excess parts of XBox Live to be cut.

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