Microsoft goes toe-to-toe with Steam

Microsoft has announced a games-on-demand online store called Games for Windows Marketplace, which should set the software giant in direct competition with the highly successful Steam.

The service is aimed at making it easier to acquire games by removing the middle-man, which won’t make brick and mortar shopkeepers happy. Users will be able to buy a game online, which may come with a hefty discount, and begin downloading it immediately. Sounds familiar.

This cuts out trawling through local game shops to see if the title is in stock, queuing up, and trekking home to install it. Depending on your internet speed the download could take longer, but Microsoft says that the store is optimised for speed and promises “ultra-fast downloads”.

Like Steam, Microsoft will allow you to redownload your purchased title at any time and from any location, so effectively you could ditch your hard copy collection and have it all available on the cloud service.

Microsoft appears to be very serious about this offering, with around 100 launch titles on offer, including popular games like Fable: The Lost Chapters and Grand Theft Auto III. Gamers can also expect to find strong franchises including Halo, Fable, and Age of Empires Online titles.

Steam, which is run by Valve, has an estimated 70 percent market share for the games-on-demand sector, according to a Stardock report in November 2009, but with Microsoft’s track record in the gaming industry on both the PC and Xbox it may just be able to knock Steam off its throne. We remember when Microsoft re-branded PC games as Windows games around the time of the Vista launch.

The only question is – why hasn’t Microsoft done this sooner? It continues to look to cloud services for revenues but it’s late to the party with this one. Strong marketing clout and money to spend means it’s going to be a major player.

The store will launch on the 15th of November at