"Games for Windows - LIVE" - the PC take on Xbox 360's multiplayer and community services - is due to launch in the USA on 8th May.
The service will allow anybody with an existing Xbox Live account to log in on the PC, enjoying much the same feature-set - along with the potential for cross-platform multiplay and multiplayer achievements through Windows if theirs is a "Gold" membership.
Microsoft's press bumf doesn't specifically state that Games for Windows - LIVE is a Vista-only service, but that's been the theme of all the briefings we've received up to now, so XP users may be out of luck. (Update: Microsoft has confirmed it's Vista-only.)
Like the Xbox 360 service, PC gamers will be offered Silver and Gold subscription options. The former will be free, and will offer the same profile, text and voice chat, friends-list, online status and progress-comparison features that make up the "Silver" membership on Xbox, along with the ability to compete for single-player achievements.
Gold accounts will cost US$ 49.95 per year, and will add to the above the facility to invite friends into your multiplayer games, unlock multiplayer achievements, find gamers of equivalent skill using Microsoft's "TrueSkill" technology, and play against people on either platform in supported games.
Both Silver and Gold accounts will also include a multiplayer game-browser, allowing you to track down servers supported by Games for Windows titles.
The first of these will be the Windows Vista version of Halo 2. Although multiplayer games will be limited to PC-on-PC line-ups, it also includes a custom map editor and offers achievements to unlock on the PC for the very first time. These can always go towards an existing gamerscore despite Halo 2's division from its Xbox counterpart in other areas. The game's set to launch on 8th May in the USA as well.
The first cross-platform multiplayer game, meanwhile, will be Shadowrun, which is due out in June on PC and Xbox 360. It will be followed later in 2007 by a GFWLIVE-compatible version of UNO, allowing you to play the card game against people on either platform. (UNO is currently available on MSN Games, Messenger Games and Xbox Live Arcade.)
Meanwhile, Peter Moore sounds PUMPED: "Five years ago, we began building a service that now defines the bar for online gameplay," he points out, modestly. "The benefits of expanding Xbox LIVE to Games for Windows titles is twofold: We're bringing together two communities that share a passion for playing online games, and we're enhancing the online experience for PC gamers who have long desired seamless game and voice connectivity - it's a win for everyone."