Today Microsoft released a downloadable, stand-alone client for Games for Windows - Live.
Weighing in at a meager 30.4 MB (download), gamers can access the Live service (now v2.0) using the new client without installing a Live-enabled game or booting up the Xbox 360. The client supports both Windows Vista and (surprise!) Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed. Gamers will also need a broadband connection, a Windows Live ID, and this hotfix for those using Windows XP. If not already present, the installer will also download and update the Microsoft .NET Framework to v3.0 (also XP-related).
"You can enjoy the free service even when you’re not playing a game by launching the Games for Windows – LIVE client," says the website. "The client gives you access to a wide range of downloadable content, from game demos to see if a purchase is in your future, to videos to check out the latest trailers of upcoming titles. This will also be where you’ll want to go to pick up the latest premium downloadable content that will add new experiences and gameplay to your existing Games for Windows – LIVE titles."
While nowhere near as flashy as the Xbox 360’s new dashboard (aka the NXE), the PC client screen is broken down into four sections: Home, Marketplace, My Media, and Settings. The Home section offers the latest Live news, Marketplace updates and a few Tips and Tricks. Marketplace is the place to shop for add-on content, download videos and demos, purchase Microsoft Points and more. The My Media area displays content such as downloaded add-ons, demos, and videos, while the Settings menu handles folder management and profile management. As of this release, Microsoft has not integrated any kind of messaging client, achievements listings, or friend notifications and lists.
To accompany the new client release, Microsoft is offering PC gamers a chance to check out a playable demo of Viva Piñata. The file weighs in at a hefty 1.3 GB, and provides gamers the opportunity to visit Piñata Island and transform a barren plot of land into a blooming paradise fit for curious Piñata animals. "Enjoy a vibrant world where you create and customize your own environment to attract and care for wild Piñatas. As your reputation and garden grows, you attract new, more exotic Piñatas, each with their own unique style and personality. You can even buy houses with your Piñatas!"
Previously, Games for Windows - Live existed within the games it supported. However, with the new stand-alone client, the service still doesn’t require a monthly fee for PC users. Games for Windows - Live actually became free back in July; once that happened, Microsoft refunded the money to those gamers who paid for the Windows-specific gold-level subscription. But with the community aspect stripped away from the new stand-alone client, gamers now experience Live more from an online venue standpoint rather than from a thriving society aspect.
Still, with PC gaming currently at one of its lowest points ever, it seems that Microsoft’s client is a little too late. Hopefully titles like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV will kick things back into full gear, especially for the struggling PC side of Live. Perhaps, in the future, Microsoft will integrate community-oriented features for those who actually subscribe to the Gold service. But unless that happens, the new stand-alone client will more than likely remain shadowed by Steam and other PC-gaming related services.
Currently Live supports eight games: Fallout 3, Gears of War, Halo 2, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Quantum of Solace, Shadowrun, Universe at War and Viva Piñata.