While Windows 8 launches to great fanfare, a serious battle is raging behind the scenes between Microsoft and computer game developers. Many prominent names in the video game industry are quite upset over the restrictions imposed by Microsoft’s new closed distribution system.
In the future, any gamer who runs Windows 8 and wishes to install a game that integrates fully with the new user interface will only be able to download the application through the Windows Store. This will give Microsoft absolute control over which software will be available if users wish to enjoy all the advantages of the new operating system. Valve’s Managing Director Gabe Newell called this idea a “catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.”
Valve is the company that published the major hit game Portal and owns Steam, the world’s largest game distribution platform. Newell spent 13 years working on Windows as an employee of Microsoft and he knows his subject well. His overall impression of Windows 8 is causing him to think about Linux as a viable alternative:
“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”
Newell is not the only game developer alarmed by Windows 8. According to Gamasutra, there are “other high-profile PC game backers, who vocalized their concerns about Windows 8, such as Blizzard’s Rob Pardo and Minecraft creator Marcus “notch” Persson. “Stop trying to ruin the PC as an open platform,” Persson told Microsoft, directly.”
In today’s world, no computer game can expect to succeed if it isn’t available for Windows. Now, to be fully compatible with Windows 8, every game is required to meet a strict set of standards established by Microsoft.
This raises some rather alarming questions. Many games are not rated for children and contain mature content. How would the PC game of the year for 2011, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even get out of the door with the following standards issued by Microsoft:
Your app must not contain adult content, and metadata must be appropriate for everyone. Apps with a rating over PEGI 16, ESRB MATURE, or that contain content that would warrant such a rating, are not allowed.
Your app must not contain content or functionality that encourages, facilitates, or glamorizes illegal activity.
Your app must not contain content that encourages, facilitates or glamorizes excessive or irresponsible use of alcohol or tobacco products, drugs or weapons.
Your app must not contain excessive or gratuitous profanity.
Reading the regulations published by Microsoft, it is fair to ask how the majority of games now available would be approved for sale in the Windows Store. World Of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Elder Scrolls, Guild Wars 2 and Lord of The Rings Online are just a few of the major titles that fail most, if not all, of the sections listed. Titles like Grand Theft Auto, Hitman, and Assassin’s Creed will become distant memories.
Game industry veteran Casey Muratori asked an important question in his recent Gamasutra article, “This vision of a future Windows heavily censored by Microsoft is chilling. But how likely is it to actually occur?”
Muratori answered his own rhetorical question, as he continued:
“For Windows RT, the version of Windows for low-power tablets and phones, this future begins on October 26th. Each and every Windows RT device sold will only be able to run software from the Windows Store, and all Windows Store apps must follow the certification requirements quoted above, as well as dozens more. Windows RT users won’t have 10 or 20 years before they can no longer play the world’s most highly acclaimed games on their Windows devices. Those games will have been forbidden from day one.”
“But for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, the versions that most desktop users will have, the timeline is not yet certain. Unlike Windows RT, these versions include the classic Windows desktop that still supports open distribution. Is it possible, then, that desktop users will never have to experience this future?”
“A brief examination of Microsoft’s own history suggests quite the opposite.”
Casey concludes his article with some serious food for thought. It is obvious that Steve Ballmer and the other executives at Microsoft need to be the first people to partake of the meal:
“The success of Windows 8 in the tablet and phone space is far, far from a sure thing. Does Microsoft really want to go into that battle without some of their biggest assets? Do they want the likes of Valve, controller of over 50 percent of all PC game sales, deciding to throw their weight behind Linux because the Windows 8 ecosystem completely prohibits third-party app stores like their flagship Steam? Do they really want the launch of Windows 8 plagued by story after story of notable developers coming out against the platform? And above all, are they willing to risk alienating developers to the point where they actively promote and foster competing operating systems as their flagship platforms because Windows no longer offers them the freedom to develop and distribute their software the way they choose?”
“Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, they will realize the only sane answer to all of these questions is “no.””