At this year’s ECTS, I caught up with Dean Lester, General Manager, Windows Graphics and Gaming Technologies for Microsoft Corporation to talk about the future of PC gaming. Dean joined Microsoft in 1996 after more than a decade in the entertainment software industry. He has a wealth of expertise gained during positions with companies including Disney and Sega and is now the driving force behind the Windows gaming experience.
GiN: So what is the future of PC gaming as far as Microsoft is concerned?
Lester: Valve is currently showcasing Direct X 9.0, Microsoft’s latest version of DirectX with Half Life 2, which is the forefront of gaming today. Now we are seeing games that are using the technology available through Direct X 9.0 and they are bringing gamers the latest in 3-D animation and enhanced audio capabilities. The best experiences on Windows are the games and we intend to do a lot to make it even better so that more gamers can enjoy these development.
GiN: What are you going to do to make it better?
Lester: The idea is to make it simpler. Windows 95 made a huge leap in making PC’s simpler to use and nearly 10 years on it’s time to make another leap. I want a six year old to be able to play a PC game as easily as they can play an Xbox game by just putting the game in and pressing start. I want people’s mothers to be able to play the games they want to play without feeling intimidated. For 95 percent of the population, playing PC games can be daunting and we want to change that.
GiN: What can you change about PC gaming to make it simpler, aren’t there always going to be PC gamers, console gamers and non-gamers?
Lester: We’ve identified key areas to invest in. For instance, Windows games are harder to buy than console games. If you have an Xbox you buy an Xbox game and it will work. With a PC you have to know the specs and the average consumer doesn’t know that. So we’ve decided to develop a simple rating system. This means, for example, the consumer will know if they have a PC rated "three," they can buy any game with a three rating or below.
We also aim to simplify the installation process. There is no technical reason why the games shouldn’t just work without asking people a whole bunch of questions they are not sure of the answers to. Plug and play is something that consoles do well and we want to borrow from them to make PC gaming just as easy. Simplified display drivers should also help us improve compatibility, reliability and simplify the whole process.
It’s not about converting people into PC gamers, they’ve already got the PC and the chances are they would like to play games on them. We’re just going to make it easier.
GiN: Aren’t their only certain types of games are suited to PCs, so that’s always going to keep people away?
Lester: There are so many missed opportunities when it comes to PC gaming. Often a publisher would like to put a successful game on PC, but it just won’t work as well with a keyboard and mouse. By creating a simpler control system and a single game pad, we hope to expand the range of games people can experience on Windows. As people get used to the pad we hope more publishers will start putting their games on PC.
PC games get patched and this is often seen as a negative thing. But if you think about it, if I buy a buggy console game it’s always going to be buggy. On the other hand, I can buy a buggy PC game, but with a patch it gets better and prolongs my enjoyment of the game. We will be creating a new system designed to unite gamers and patches faster and more seamlessly. At the moment, the Windows update doesn’t update games, but this is going to change. Updates will be readily available for games as well as systems software.
GiN: Now that consoles have online capabilities, how are you going to make PC gaming online more or as attractive?
Lester: Online gaming is something the PC has been doing for a long time and something it has been doing well, but it is still intimidating for people who haven’t done it before. We’ve thought about how to make online gaming a positive experience from the beginning, so you don’t just get killed or turned to stone in the first five minutes. We will allow people to create a "buddy list" enabling them to play with their friends in a private gaming session. They all log on, decide what they want to play and away they go.
GiN: If it becomes so easy, won’t parents be worried about letting their kids play on the PC alone?
Lester: Parental control is something we take very seriously and we will be giving parents the power to control which games their kids can play.
GiN: Any other features gamers can expect, and will they all be on the next version of Windows?
Lester: Windows doesn’t currently acknowledge gamers. For example, if you want to download pictures, you go to "my pictures," or "my documents" if you are working on something. Well, now gamers will get a place for gaming on Windows. They will be able to see all the games they’ve got, which graphics card they have and even access to games forums – all under one roof. It’s a small detail but I think gamers will appreciate it because Microsoft is making gaming easy instead of treating it as an afterthought.
We would love to have all these features in the next version of Windows, but we can’t promise that. We will have some and others will have to wait, but they will definitely be part of the future of PC gaming.