We first got at look at the Games For Windows program at E3 this year. For those who don't know the program is Microsoft's attempt to shore up Windows as a gaming platform. They are doing this through in several ways, the first of which is increased marketing and promotions of the brand as well as working with stores to setup dedicated PC gaming areas. If you've been into a games store recently you've noticed that the PC games are now pretty much limited to two to three shelves in the back of the store. Microsoft is working to change that by partnering with several stores including Target and Wal-Mart to create a special section just for PC games.
The second branch of the Gaming For windows program is enhancements to the actual operating system itself. With the launch of Vista Microsoft has realized that PC Gaming is not nearly as easy as it should be and has put a host of features into their new operating system to take care of it. Games are now on the start menu and all games installed into the system will be found in one place. This is a nice change from the random places that game makers have installed in one place. This "Games Explorer" shows you all of the games installed on your system along with some detailed information on them. While having the name of the game, a high resolution image, and the ESRB rating are nice features, the fact that the system will tell you what Windows System Performance Rating you need to play it and what your rating is. MS is trying to get game developers to put the rating on boxes to make it easier for people to know how a game will perform on their system but box real estate is tight.
The ESRB ratings are now integrated into system account information which will allow parents to setup accounts on a PC for their children and then have strict control over what their children can and cannot play. MS is allow for a lot of granularity as you can allow games based on a particular ESRB rating or create your own rating using the criteria provided by the ESRB (i.e. you can allow them to play violent games but nothing with nudity or foul language). It's a good system if you only have one PC in your house that everyone shares but if you have more than one PC you will have to re-create the policies on each PC that a child has access to. The MS rep said they were looking at the ability to push out these policies across the network but the feature was pulled. Hopefully this is something they can add back in a service pack at a later date.