I think most of you would agree that Steam has just about run away with client-based online PC game sales at this point. So next month Microsoft is planning to take its Games for Windows initiative where Steam isn't: the Web. Well, sure, you can browse and buy games over on the Steam website, but you still have to fire up the Steam client to download and play your games.
Microsoft is looking to cut out that software middleman with the new Games for Windows Marketplace, due to launch on November 15. The idea is that this thing will let you buy games through a web interface and then start them downloading straight through your browser's "Save as" function, no standalone client required. (The old GFW client will still exist to let you access old purchases and manage files, but you won't need it to make the initial purchase and start playing your game.)
I asked Microsoft's Peter Orullian if the company planned to use the GFW Marketplace to push platform exclusives--Age of Empires Online seems like the prime candidate to me--and he said that some sort of exclusives would appear on the service but didn't elaborate about which ones those might be. (Shacknews also confirmed with Orullian that Steamworks-enabled games will not surprisingly be absent from GFWM.)
Orullian also talked about leveraging the Games for Windows team's access to Xbox Live Marketplace and its ongoing sales (like the deal of the week). He mentioned that cross-promotional deals like a blanket 10% off a publisher's catalog between both Xbox Live and Games for Windows Marketplace might not be out of the question in the future.
There are still a lot of questions yet to be answered about this new platform, especially what sort of DRM we're going to be seeing in the games you download from the Marketplace. With only about three weeks to go before the new site launches, I expect we'll see more firm details in the near future. Meanwhile, how do you feel about making all your purchases through Steam? Any interest in doing this invisible e-commerce thing straight through the Web?