A fancy e-mail just arrived in my inbox, which is 94 percent full right now, saying that the PC version of Call of Duty: Black Ops is now available for pre-order on Steam. Hilariously, they’re charging $59.99 for the game, which may be acceptable if you’re gaming on a PS3 or 360, but is patently ridiculous on the PC. Have to pay for that non-existent PC license fee, I see? No, this isn’t merely a complaint post; it has a far nobler point. Fallout: New Vegas came out on Tuesday and it shipped with Steamworks, Valve’s platform to handle achievements, updates, and the like. Fallout 3 didn’t use Steamworks, but instead used Games For Windows Live, which is pretty much universally loathed.
Call of Duty: Black Ops, too, will use Steamworks. Its immediate predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, also used Steamworks, which, to be honest, the realization of which nearly killed this post. But I soldier on.
So as Microsoft is trying to better its position in the digital delivery world, is it simultaneously losing ground to Steam?
(Never mind the abysmal name of the Microsoft service, Games for Windows — LIVE. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, no.)
Microsoft clearly faces an uphill battle when it comes to establishing itself on the PC digital delivery front. This is probably for two reasons: one, Steam is already the firmly established, and aside from one or two legitimate complaints—let’s say you bought a retail copy of Fallout: New Vegas one day before the official release date. I don’t know, maybe you know the guy at GameStop. Well, you wouldn’t be able to install the game because Almighty Steamworks throws up the error message, “Sorry, chico, the game isn’t out yet.” Despite the fact, of course, that you’re holding the install disc in your hands—it’s going to take an awful lot to knock it off its perch.
Reason number two: Microsoft has all but abandoned PC gaming. What was the last big PC game it published, Gears of War three years ago? Halo 2 came out only a few months prior. Fable III is scheduled to see a PC release at some point. But for PC gamers who like to hold grudges, might they say, “Oh, now that you’re done diverting resources to that Xbox of yours you start paying attention to us again. How convenient.”