Microsoft Games for Windows LIVE multiplayer features now free

Posted by Theo Valich

Redmond (VA) – Microsoft is hosting its XNA Gamefest conference in Seattle, and first news is coming in. Prepare yourself, it's big.

First of all, starting with today, all Games for Windows - LIVE multiplayer services are completely free. Achievements, TruSkill matchaking, cross-platform play with Xbox 360 (on cross-platform games, such as Champions Online) - all of the features that went with GfW – LIVE Gold service became free. This is a logical move, since users of PC platform pay for operating system, while owners of Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles get their operating system for free (well not exactly free, but it’s integrated into the price).

The official Microsoft release says, "Effective today, all Games for Windows – LIVE multiplayer features are now completely free.  Achievements, enhanced TruSkill ® matchmaking, cross-platform play with XBOX 360 (in games that support it), voice and text chat, a friends list that is consistent across both Windows and XBOX 360 – everything – is now free to Windows gamers."

This is not all, since Games for Windows – LIVE will expand with Marketplace. GfW – LIVE Markeplace will offer downloadable content which will be either free or paid (this is determined by the publisher), demos, trailers and more.

There was also talk about completely new in-game interface, which will reduce technical requirements on developers and work as an overlay inside the game. We will bring you more details about GfW-LIVE as we learn them, but for now, this announcement was quite great.

Second large announcement was DirectX 11. This is a big step forward, adding features on top of DirectX 10 and 10.1 graphics cards around the world.

Main feature of DX11 is the fact that it will feature support for more than a single operating system. Microsoft learned on mistakes made by DirectX 10 and is now moving forward to make DirectX 11 compatible with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 7.5.

Multi-core CPUs will now be better utilized with multi-threaded resource handling. This feature will finally enable massive parallelization for game code on CPUs as well, enabling games to use several cores at the same time. Finally, Microsoft is implementing tessellation to combine super-duper-high-quality pre-rendered scenes with real-time renderings. This will enable creation of whole new breed of games that will blur the line between movies and games.

DirectX 11 is not supporting Ray-Tracing explicitly, but companies such as JulesWorld already demonstrated that Ray-tracing is possible using parts of DirectX 9 API .

However, according to Tim Sweeney, future lies in difference between APIs such as DirectX, OpenGL, OpenGL and direct access to hardware:

"There are significant advantages in doing it yourself, avoiding all the graphics API calling and overhead. With a direct approach, we can use techniques that require wider frame buffer, things that DirectX just doesn't support. At Epic, we're using the GPU for general computation with pixel shaders. There is a lot we can do there, just by bypassing the graphics pipeline completely." You can read the that part of the interview here.

We will bring a detailed analysis following our interview with Kevin Unangst, Senior Global Director for Windows Gaming. Stay tuned.

Some of the other media sites are reporting that the free Games for Windows LIVE features would only be available to developers, but this is incorrect.  Microsoft PR representatives say everyone can take advantage and emailed up saying, "Yes, the multiplayer features are free to EVERYONE – including consumers."