"The store is really going to be a destination for games for PC gamers. Sure, we're going to have Live-enabled titles, and we love those, but that's not all you'll find here," Orullian, a group product manager, told me. He pointed to Amazon as the benchmark in the online retail space and as inspiration for Microsoft's new vision for the Games for Windows Marketplace: a simplified, yet more complete consumer experience; one that looks to remove barriers, provide vital information, such as game pages and corresponding DLC links, and utilize deals and promotions.
"We got a lot of feedback and responding to that feedback, there are some central things we think we're solving with this. The most important thing maybe is bringing the transaction component right to the web. Today you go on, and we have a website that talks about games, then we have a client. Feedback we heard is that's not always the easiest experience, so we're bringing the transaction component right to the web. The client will still exist, but it'll exist to manage really really large files that aren't maybe so easily managed through the web, and it'll be your transaction history; so if you need to re-download a game, you can go and do that. But it's not going to be necessary to go and look at and buy games."
It's all a step in the right direction, but Microsoft is severely behind Steam, which revamped its entire marketplace and client earlier this year. At launch, Games for Windows Marketplace won't support many of the features its biggest competitor does, but Orullian promised me that there would be some kind of rating system put in place, eventually, and that there would be pre-order incentives for consumers. "Definitely you should show up on day one, because we're going to have a great pre-order on a title you may care about," he added. My guess? It's probably Fable 3.
As for the rating system, Orullian said that won't be available at launch. "All of the forums and things like that will continue, and we are looking at other sort of consumer interactions to bring in, but we have a very robust set of things we're launching with. Because our intention is to continue to bring new features, there is a whole set of things that will come later."
"My focus: to evolve the store and help gamers find the games they really care about." - Peter Orullian, Microsoft
What will be available initially are developer pages, which will include RSS feeds for studio sites and social media links. It's not only a good way to house a particular studio's wares all in one place, but it's part of Microsoft's new goal to offer a more user-informed, competent and easier retail experience -- for existing Microsoft gamers and new users alike.
"What's cool is if you happen to be a console game and you have MS Points in your Xbox Live account, or you could be a Zune Pass Subscriber, or you could just have a Hotmail account -- any of those will work to sign in, and then you can spend those points if you have them or you could buy more points. But one of the other things that's new about Games for Windows Marketplace is that won't be necessary. If you don't have those or don't want to do it that way, you'll also be able to purchase games with a debit or credit card."
When Microsoft launched the major Xbox 360 UI reboot, NXE, two years ago, the company saw a huge bump in digital content sales. This was largely attributed to the redesigned Dashboard and Marketplace, which became much more user-friendly -- something Microsoft is pushing for in the overhauled Games for Windows portal. Another key strategy: promotions.
"In August, we launched 'Deal of the Week' -- they do that on the console side, obviously, and I'm going to bring that over," Orullian said. Potential promotions will take into account not only how much particular items can be discounted, but their overall quality. Games for Windows' Deal of the Week won't simply be a virtual bargain bin, but aims to offer hard-to-resist sales that are often grouped into themes (similar to the XBLM strategy). For example, Orullian suggested a possible promotion in which zombie-themed content could be on sale around Halloween. "And that's my focus: to evolve the store and help gamers find the games they really care about."