Windows 7: What Happened to Gaming?

In 2006, then Microsoft Vice President Peter Moore apologized for what he called a dereliction of duty to the company's number one gaming platform: The PC.

Now more than three years after promising, and some say failing, to deliver a PC gaming renaissance with the Vista operating system, Microsoft is set to roll out Windows 7.

But this time there are no apologies or promises. PC gaming, it seems, has taken a back seat.

When Windows 7 goes on sale on Oct. 22, PC gamers will have little reason to run out to buy it, says Matthew Murray, managing editor of ExtremeTech.

"I don't think there's a lot about (Windows 7) that's going to make it that much more compelling to gamers than Vista," Murray said. "It's a bit better using memory, and it's a bit faster in certain areas, but the performance overall isn't really that much different. If you have Vista and you're happy with it, you can probably keep it, at least for now."

To be fair, much of that promised renaissance in 2006 was tied to the Games for Windows initiative, which launched alongside the Windows Vista operating system.

While the two hit at the same time, they're not directly connected.

The biggest idea behind Games for Windows was to make it easier to play games on your PC. This was done by creating a set of criteria that computer games needed to meet to have the Games For Windows label on their box.

Those criteria included compatibility, easy installation and including parental controls. There were also a number of neat ideas tested out, but never fully realized. Most computer games require an installation before playing, but the Tray and Play option was meant to allow gamers to pop a game in their computer and start playing almost immediately, similar to what most console gamers experience now. Unfortunately, only one game, Halo 2 for the PC, currently uses this system.

The most noticeable way in which Vista and Games for Windows crossed over was the operating system's Game Advisor and Games Explorer.

The Game Advisor ranks a person's computer and available games making it easier to tell if a title would play on a PC.

The Games Explorer was meant to collect all the games installed on a computer and display them in one folder. It's here that Window 7 does bring a modicum of improvement for gamers.

One of the biggest issues with Games Explorer was that it often didn't detect games that were purchases through online retailers and providers like Steam.

While Windows 7 still doesn't seem to include Steam in the Game Explorer, it now has the ability to if the company wants to support the service. If a game provider does choose to be listed in the Game Explorer, computer owners will be able to view news from the service and information about the service's games, all inside the window.

Another update to Games Explorer allows you to be notified when a game you own has an update or patch and then install the update from the explorer without having to launch the game.

Finally, Games Explorer will track statistics for the games you play, showing you how many times you've played, how long and your win and loss ratio.

Currently only the included games seem to support this function, but I'm sure more will include it after the operating system officially launches.

Murray says the only improvement he can find in Windows 7 for gamers is in the Games Explorer, but even he doesn't find it that useful.

"Being able to check for updates for all your games in one interface is a nice feature, but since it doesn't install the updates automatically (the way Windows Update itself does), I don't know how useful that's going to be to a lot of people," he said. "And I've never gotten that into using the Games Explorer anyway—I tend to just add icons to the new taskbar, as with everything else. Aside from that, there aren't a ton of game-friendly changes I've come across."

The problem I have with Windows 7, though, isn't its failure to vastly improve the gaming experience, it's Microsoft's failure to take advantage of the attention brought by the launch of a new operating system to once more thrust PC gaming into the spotlight.

The biggest promise the Games for Windows initiative made when it initially was unveiled was that it would be backed by a huge marketing campaign, one similar to the push Microsoft gave the Xbox 360 when it hit.

But that was never fully realized and PC gaming was left to suffer as a second favorite system next to the Xbox 360 and Microsoft's continued marketing blitz for its gaming console.

In the vacuum left by Microsoft game developers, chip manufacturers and PC builders have come together to try and reinvigorate PC gaming though the PC Gaming Alliance. But even this effort seems oddly absent during Window's big week?

If Microsoft want its PC gaming platform to thrive they will need to do more than offer lip service in the future. But with the lasting success of the gaming console and PC gamers' ability to seemingly put up with anything, why should they?

Microsoft declined to comment for this article.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.