Microsoft has announced the its Games for Windows Live service, which was supposed to offer an Xbox Live-like online experience will be made free for all users.

The struggling service offered gamers things such as voice chat, unified friend lists and cross-platform play between console and PC. However, it had been criticised since the outset for its cost, which stood at $49.99 a year for Gold membership.

The change will be effective immediately, affecting both current GFW titles, such as Halo 2 and Shadowrun, and titles in the future.

The service is expected to be expanded by Microsoft too, through a GFW Live Marketplace due in the autumn. Just as with the XBL Marketplace, the store will be centred around PC gaming and offer free and paid for downloadable content such as demos and trailers.

In addition to all of this, Microsoft is working to make the GFW interface "much more friendly" and will also be reducing the technical requirements for developers.