Now, for the last week or so, I've been fairly "doom and gloom," but I want to call out some positives coming down the path...namely, Microsoft's "Games For Windows" push.
"Games for Windows" has been around for awhile, and it essentially is a means for developers to get a logo on their machine that says, "Yes, I will work on Windows." That's it. With the upcoming arrival of Vista, however, "Games for Windows" is going to take on a whole new level.
"Games for Windows" consists of two parts: the logo and the push.
The logo program has been around since Windows 95, but started getting more of a games focus around mid-2004, and enforcement for use of that logo has been getting more strict as time goes on. Essentially, there are a set of rules that developers need to follow to get the "Games for Windows" logo.
Most of the requirements are fairly straightforward. Some can get waived depending on your distribution platform, although those waivers are going to be going away as well.
The main goal is to try to get games to have a standard way that they work with Windows. They want faster installs. They want save games to go into your "My Documents" folder. They want file access to occur according to a proper security policy. In other words, they're trying to get a little bit of console TCR's into the PC business, and that has to be a good thing from a support standpoint.
A secondary goal is to make it so that Microsoft has to create fewer shims to keep games working in newer versions of Windows, but that's beyond the scope of this discussion.
The other part of "Games for Windows" is the push. Remember when I was saying that we have to pay graft, er, market development funds to stores so they won't bury us with the rest of the products that never sell? Well, Microsoft is essentially saying, "Hey, you make things easier for us, and we'll help out by paying the graft for you."
Microsoft is going to be dumping loads of money out there, trying to show that Vista is a better OS for gaming, trying to get people to upgrade their systems to handle Vista, get Vista sold to more people, etc. And games help sell upgrades. If Microsoft can point to a few shelves as well and say, "And these games will work great with Vista," hey, all the better, right?
Starting with Vista, the "Games for Windows" logo is going to be a cherished item. "Look, these guys made sure their game worked with Vista and I'm not going to need to worry about 94 'user access protection' dialog boxes popping up every time I try to save." If you care about the experience of your users, pay attention to this closely...if your user has to enter a system password just to save their game, chances are that they aren't going to be happy with you.
In short, this is going to be a good thing. It will reduce support costs, help reduce the amount of money that it takes for PC titles to break even (slightly), and provide a more consistent experience for the end user.
Could we ask for more? Sure...but this is a great start.