Microsoft’s Games Explorer — also known as the Games folder — is only a single click away every time you open Windows 7′s Start menu. It’s Microsoft’s interface to your PC games, but not every game appears here — and what is a “Game Provider,” anyway?
The short answer is that the Games folder is yet another forgotten Microsoft project. Microsoft included this feature as part of Windows Vista, left it alone in Windows 7, and buried it in Windows 8 — although it’s still there.
The Games Folder
The Games folder is also known as the Games Explorer. Microsoft calls it “the central repository for games on your computer” in their online Windows 7 documentation. They say it offers “game updates, statistics, news feeds, and more.”
This folder includes the games that come with Windows — think Solitaire and Minesweeper. It may also include links to a handful of third-party games you have installed, especially older ones created when Microsoft looked serious about this feature. At the moment, we have 23 Steam games installed on this computer and not a single one chooses to integrate with the Games Explorer.
The Games folder also includes “Game Providers.” By default, there’s only a “More Games from Microsoft” link here. It takes you to the Xbox Web Games page, offering free games you can play in your browser, but not download to your computer.
If you still have Microsoft’s now-shut-down Games for Windows Marketplace installed on your computer, it will appear here. Games for Windows Marketplace was associated with Games for Windows – LIVE. It was Microsoft’s attempt to set up a compelling digital storefront for PC games, but Microsoft didn’t do the work required and allowed Steam to take over.
None of the “game providers” most people care about today — Steam, Battle.net, Origin, GOG, and more — integrate with the Games Explorer. Microsoft’s original goal was to provide a central location for all the games and game stores installed on your computer, but they didn’t care to push it.
Games Folder Features
The Games Explorer offers a few more features, but it’s basically just a few extra things on top of a Windows Explorer window.
This interface displays ESRB ratings — which can be used by the Parental Controls feature to restrict access to mature games — and system requirements information. This leverages the Windows Experience Index to provide information about the recommended and required score, along with your system’s current score. The Windows Experience Index was removed in Windows 8.1 because it was a waste of system resources.
It also provides options for automatically downloading game updates — we’re not aware of any games that use this — as well as downloading news and game art.
These features could have been a good start for Microsoft to build on top of, but they never did.
Why Should You Care?
You shouldn’t care about the Games Explorer. In Windows 7, Microsoft was still pushing this feature, which is why it has its own prime location in the Start menu. In Windows 8, it has been completely hidden.
It hasn’t been removed from Windows 8 — you can still access it by pressing Windows Key + R, typing shell:games into the Run dialog, and pressing Enter. However, there’s no reason you’d ever want to use it — Microsoft’s own shortcuts are removed from here on Windows 8, so you’ll see an empty window unless you’ve installed a third-party game that integrates with the Games Explorer.
The Games Explorer was designed to list all your installed games, as well as provide news and updates for them. That’s a role now filled by Steam and other services. Even games that do appear in the Games Explorer will generally just provide a shortcut and some ratings or system performance data. They won’t actually update through here — that’s a role reserved for mature, supported services that haven’t been abandoned.
This feature still exists as part of Windows 7′s Start menu because Microsoft added it in Windows Vista and never did anything with it. If they kept developing it, it might have become a useful interface to all of your installed games — but it’s now something you should ignore.
Luckily, you can hide this menu option if you like. Right-click the taskbar, select Properties, click the Start Menu tab, click the Customize button, scroll down to Games and select Don’t display this item.