Lots of questions for Windows 8
For a while now concern has been voiced by several prominent names within the video games industry regarding Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, Blizzard executive vice-president Rob Pardo, and Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson are the ones who have gone on record as saying that Microsoft’s new OS is turning into a closed platform. Their words have left some wondering whether or not this is true.
In an interview at the Casual Connect games conference back in July, Newell, who was a Microsoft employee for 13 years, said, “I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space. I think that we’re going to lose some of the top-tier PC [original equipment manufacturers]. They’ll exit the market. I think margins are going to be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, it’s going to be a good idea to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”
After Newell’s interview Pardo chimed in on Twitter writing, “Nice interview with Gabe Newell – ‘I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space’ – not awesome for Blizzard either.”
A month later Persson added his voice in a Reddit AMA, “If Microsoft decides to lock down Windows 8, it would be very, very bad for indie games and competition in general.”
Persson also revealed on Twitter that Microsoft had approached him, regarding certifying Minecraft, saying, “Got an email from Microsoft, wanting to help ‘certify’ Minecraft for Win 8. I told them to stop trying to ruin the PC as an open platform.”
It’s a strong stance to take for which the Mojang co-founder has been criticized.
Valve, Blizzard, and Mojang, along with everyone else who has made their game available on Windows, owe their success to Microsoft’s OS. Success made possible due to its openness and large, worldwide consumer base. They didn’t have to go through a certification process and they didn’t have to pay any type of fee to bring it to the platform and to the consumers that use Windows-based computers.
Microsoft’s success is also based on its openness. To me, it is why Windows-based PCs and laptops outsell Apple-based PCs and laptops. Apple might have a good share of the smartphone and tablet market but the same can’t be said when it comes to computers and definitely not when it comes to video games.
Recently a tech blogger, Casey Muratori, discovered that the Windows 8 store would not accept and distribute apps with a Mature ESRB or Pegi 16 rating. This falls in line with Apple’s own policy concerning its App Store. While I disagree with Muratori that this policy will prevent M-rated games to be published on the platform, I do agree that this is a bad move on Microsoft’s part.
As the market for smartphones and tablets continues to grow, more game developers and publishers are creating their own app-focused studios to release games on these devices. The tech on these devices is constantly getting stronger and, sooner or later, a developer like Activision will want to see if they can sell an app-based Call of Duty title for them. But they will be unsuccessful for such games are rated for mature audiences.
While this is just the mobile side it doesn’t necessarily mean much for the video games industry at this moment. But by refusing to accept M-rated games, Microsoft has already turned its app store into a closed platform. Even then such games will, at some point in the future, try to reach this group of consumers whether through the Windows Store or iOS App Store or through some other means. There is too much money involved not to try.
But Microsoft has taken a Draconian stance with this. Only certified applications and software will be sold through its store.
This is just one example of Windows turning into a closed platform. A second example would be the requirement that Internet Explorer 10 be your default browser in order to use all the Metro-installed features for it (I know it is no longer called Metro but to avoid causing confusion I’ll still refer to it as such). This is just another way for Microsoft to try to push other competitors, such as Google, away from consumers.
Once again, though, this doesn’t really involve gaming too much.
When it comes to the video games industry, Microsoft has been highly successful with the Xbox 360 console. Microsoft revealed that since 2005 it has shipped and sold more than 70 million consoles. With that console comes the Xbox Live service, for which, unlike the PC and Sony’s PS3, you have to pay in order to play anything online.
Due to the console’s success, Microsoft has been trying to put all of its gaming resources under the XBL umbrella. Its PC service, Games for Windows, has been a dismal failure for the technology developer. There is nothing wrong with this. It only makes sense that Microsoft will try to bring the PC and console platforms together under its more successful venture.
The problem is that, as a competitor to other video game developers, Microsoft is playing with a stacked deck. It owns the majority of the PC market since Windows is used everywhere. In order to sell its IPs on the computer market, all PC games have to be designed to work on the OS. A fact Gabe Newell is aware of, “Valve wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the PC. id Software, Epic, Zynga, Facebook, and Google wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform.”
Right now, developers can still run their games in Windows 8 on the traditional desktop. But in order to have that same software available on the Windows 8 UI, it has to be certified and follow the guidelines. You either play for Microsoft’s rules or be denied access to the Windows Store and UI.
So is Windows 8 a closed platform for gaming?
Yes and no.
While a developer like Valve can still put its Steam service on the traditional Windows desktop, it is completely closed off from the consumers that will be available through the Windows 8 store and the UI. Not unless they are willing to go through the certification process and then adhere to whatever terms and conditions Microsoft has put in place.
So while the Windows desktop is still open, the Windows 8 UI is completely closed off leaving in its wake uncertainty as to what Microsoft will do next with the current OS. For that matter what will Microsoft do when Windows 9 rolls around? It is possible that it might do away with the Windows desktop altogether and create an OS that solely uses the Metro style and design.
Whatever the case may be Windows 8 looks as if it could become a problem for video game developers and publishers. It depends on where Microsoft takes it.
For now, I’ll stay away from Windows 8 until the picture is made clearer as to where it is headed in regards to how open it remains.