Microsoft launches game download service

With the rise of game downloads seemingly inexorable, it appears that Microsoft wants a slice of the pie - enter the Microsoft Games for Windows Marketplace web edition.

Designed to compete head-to-head with existing games download services such as Steam, the Games for Windows Marketplace builds on the company's successful Xbox Live platform - which already offers a games-on-demand download feature for Xbox 360 users - and looks to enlarge the company's presence in a market that has already seen legal game downloads surpass physical sales in the US.

The launch may come as a surprise to some, following Microsoft's Kudo Tsunoda's comments that "hardly anyone" plays PC games, but it's logical move for Microsoft to make. Having already locked users in to Xbox Live on its Xbox 360 platform, it can now have a go at grabbing the PC gaming market too - and with Xbox Live members able to log straight in and start buying, they've got a pre-built user base too.

Kevin Unangst, senior global diretor of PC and mobile gaming at Microsoft, claims: "by integrating with our existing Xbox LIVE and Windows Live services, we’ve made it easier than ever for millions of gamers to see for themselves how easy buying PC games can be."

Soon to be accessible through a web browser, Microsoft claims that its Games for Windows Marketplace offers "ultra-fast downloads" along with "fewer clicks to purchase and download, delivering faster turnaround for gameplay" compared to rival services.

A download service is only as good as its content, however - but it looks like Microsoft has already tied up some big names. Christian Svensson, vice president of strategic planning at games publisher Capcom confirms that his company plans to deliver "some of our biggest and best PC franchises on Games for Windows Marketplace from day one," while titles confirmed at launch include Fable: The Lost Chapters, and Grand Theft Auto III, with Lego Universe and Dead Rising 2 to follow shortly after.

As well as Xbox Live users, the service is open to anyone with a Windows Live ID, including those who signed up to Games for Windows LIve or Microsoft's Zune service, and supports the Microsoft Points stored-value purchasing system used on the Xbox 360 as well as direct credit card payments.

Xbox Live users who use the service will be able to use a single 'wallet' of Microsoft Points to pay for purchases on both Xbox Live Marketplace and Games for Windows Marketplace.

The Games for Windows Marketplace is due to launch on the 15th of November, at which point the official site will go live.