Lots of people are asking me what I think about the fact that Games for Windows LIVE is shutting down. I've been a reliable critic of the platform since the beginning, so maybe people are hoping I'll dance on the grave of GFWL, or reveal that this closure is just yet another stroke of incompetence or treachery on the part of Microsoft.
But the thing is, this news isn't nearly as exciting as it might sound. GFWL isn't shutting down. The marketplace is. I know it's confusing to people, because with Steam the store and the platform are the same thing. But with GFWL the store is basically a horrible broken webpage (at least, last time I tried to use it) and the platform is a difficult and obtuse little hanger-on that runs on top of your game.
The closing of the marketplace is not a big deal. It barely worked and I doubt it did all that much business. Most people didn't buy games through the marketplace. Instead, they bought the game in the store or on Steam and GFWL came along for the ride.
But! If they're closing the market, maybe this is just a precursor to shutting down the service itself? Is Microsoft going to shut down the whole show, thus killing off every game that uses it? The list of games is indeed huge, and if GFWL really did vanish then every single one of those games would stop working properly. Both of the Batman Arkham games. Grand Theft Auto IV. All the Fable games. Fallout 3. Dark Souls. The list goes on. Imagine a world where all of the non-pirated versions of those PC games stopped working. Forever.
These are major titles and it would rock the industry if they really vanished. I'd almost love to see them do it, just to see the fallout. (Not that I'd actually want to see the games vanish for legitimate users.) If Microsoft actually pulled the plug like this, it would vindicate every paranoid thing people said about the Xbox One. It would vindicate every objection to DRM. It would generate an unending torrent of bad press and ill will. It would generate a deluge of support hassles for Microsoft. It would make people feel like they were fully justified in pirating games. (And I'd agree.) And some of those people might just keep on pirating in the future, either because of convenience, savings, or out of a sense of spite against a publisher that tried to rip them off.
It would be a losing scenario across the board. If GFWL really did go belly up and orphaned the titles that depend on it, everyone would lose. The only way this could possibly seem acceptable to Microsoft - even in the short term - was if they were pulling out of the PC games market and putting all their chips on the XBox One. Given the wonky start that the XBox One has, this seems really unlikely.
But I don't expect anything that dramatic. Microsoft just recently hired Jason Holtman, former director of business development at Valve software. This is a pretty big signal that Microsoft isn't abandoning the PC, but investing in it. You don't trade for star players if you're planning to shutter a team, after all.