In 2007, Microsoft announced a new, online gaming service for PC gamers that people could sync with their Xbox Live gamertag: Games For Windows – Live. In theory, it sounded pretty cool. You could get achievements on PC that carry over to your Xbox, you could play with your Xbox friends on PC, and you only needed one username for the two. Some games even allowed for cross-platform play, pitting Windows players against 360 players. Pretty cool indeed.
As it so happened, GFWL (as I will refer it to from now on) was a nightmare. Apart from the initial 50 dollar price tag, the limited availability (the service was only accessible in 30 countries initially, which was then expanded to 41), the horrible inconsistency, the glitches, bugs, and difficulties, GWFL was mandatory. That’s right, folks. Obligatory. Want to play Bioshock 2 or Batman: Arkham City in China? Tough nuggets. We were basically having GFWL crammed down our throats, while Microsoft was punching us in the stomach with every title released that supported it. It may seem to you that I’m being melodramatic. Believe me, I’m not.
I feel like you may not understand exactly why GFWL was so bad. Well, there was the terrible UI, for one. Transitions of three seconds over multiple menus, the difficulties bringing up the thing in-game, the cluttery text and boxes. I could go on. Then we have the DRM. Oh, the DRM. In GFWL, you never owned a game, you had the permission to it. It’s in the terms and conditions. At any point they wanted to, Microsoft could shut down the servers and boot you out of the game. I can’t count the amount of times I was playing a game, then booted back to the menu screen because “Error: Can’t connect to LIVE.” Sure, you can play offline, but if you wanted to switch you have to log out then back in again. Servers down? Booted to the menu. Connection problems? Booted to menu. Your Wi-Fi crashed? Booted to menu. Then we have the CD keys. If you bought a game on a disc (which was sometimes necessary because a lot of the GFWL games weren’t on steam) then you had to put in a CD code. But half of the time, the CD codes either didn’t work, or had to be run through the system up to ten (Yes, ten. No exaggeration.) times before working.
I could go on about the problems with GFWL, but I won’t. Just keep in mind that it’s terrible.
The announcement that Dark Souls was coming to PC was bittersweet, as it was also announced that it would be using the dreaded GFWL. A petition was started to get rid of it that racked up over 30,000 signatures, but the pleas of the people were ignored, and Dark Souls is still using the service which so many hate.
So big news came out in August. GFWL is going to be discontinued! About freakin’ time! Microsoft told us that they were going to slowly remove the service from the games that had it, and that it will be completely eradicated on July 1st, 2014. Good news, indeed. Last year, Gotham City Impostors scratched GWFL in favor of Steamworks, making history by being the first game to do so. Last week, they took off GFWL for Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. This did, of course, coincide with the steam sale for those two games that you may have noticed. Hopefully, Microsoft will speed up the process and get as many games free of GFWL’s tyranny as soon as possible.
The happy news is slightly darkened by the statement that the Age of Empires Online servers will be shutting down coinciding with the shutdown of GFWL on July 1st. This is because AOE:O used the GFWL servers instead of their own. This may not be a big deal to some people, but personally I really like AOE:O despite it’s flaws, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With that said, I should make it clear that I will happily pay that price, if it’s what it takes to close GFWL for once and for all. Beside, who knows, maybe after AOE:O, a fourth Age of Empires game will be in order. We can only dream for now.
The shutting down of GFWL may have a more momentous impact than we think. GFWL was perhaps steamworks’ biggest competitor, and with it gone, Steam will be ready to clear the stage and pretty much monopolize PC gaming. And this isn’t a bad thing. Steam has always had more reliable servers than GFWL, and it’s always been a lot more consumer-friendly. God knows it’s better than it’s competitors, at least in my opinion.
Celebrate! Celebrate all! For the death of witch has arrived, and we shall venture forth into a new, brighter time!