Games For Windows Live Shuts Down Next July -- What Happens To Your Games?

According to a now-pulled update pushed to Age of Empires Online, Microsoft's Games for Windows Live will shut down altogether by July 1, 2014. That unofficial announcement follows official word that the Games for Windows Live marketplace would close on August 22 without a replacement service being offered. MS has refused to comment on whether the July 1, 2014 date is legitimate, but it raises real questions of what's going to happen to the games that require GFWL to authenticate and save data.

The list of titles isn't small. Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, BioShock 2, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die, DiRT 2 & 3, F1 2010 and F1 2011, Fallout 3, GTA IV, and the Lost Planet series are all games that currently require you to sign up for a Games for Windows Live account and authenticate to it before saving progress in-game. While most of these games are several years old, many of them are titles with serious staying power. I only recently played BioShock 2 for the first time, while both Arkham games are a great way to experience the DC Universe.

The good news is that Microsoft has multiple ways it can handle this situation. It can patch the games to no longer require the GfWL software, it can convert the GFW product to a new Xbox version that possibly merges Xbox and PC gaming into a single software platform, or it can patch them to use a different authentication protocol like Steamworks. I'd definitely prefer the last option -- I find it ridiculous that games purchased on Steam must often be authenticated a second time, be that uPlay, GFWL, or another service.

The fact that GFWL is being shut down, in other words, isn't automatically bad news for gaming, but Microsoft should nip this in the bud sooner, rather than later. There are a few titles that will apparently be casualties, however. Age of Empires Online is going to end when GFWL shuts down. No word yet on other shutdowns, but this echoes what we saw from EA when it axed The Sims Online earlier this year.

This is one of the problems with online games -- you're ability to enjoy the product is tied directly to the commitment of the company that keeps it running. It'll be interesting to see how the market evolves with the continued popularity of free-to-play gaming. If you bought, say, World of Warcraft and all its various expansions + paid for a subscription over the past seven years, you've paid Blizzard about $1500 -- but if you've played the game regularly, you've enjoyed as much as 10,000 hours of playtime. There are people (albeit not many) who have sunk that much cash into games like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans in the past six months. Whether this creates a larger expectation of longevity among the playerbase or not is something we'll discover when more popular titles start shutting down.