PC Developers On Microsoft's "Wrongheaded Strategy" for Windows 8
Game developers are at best cautiously optimistic, and at worst are slamming Microsoft completely
Following comments from Valve's Gabe Newell that Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 is "kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space," other developers took notice and mostly supported Newell's misgivings about the operating system. Blizzard's Rob Pardo noted that Windows 8 is "not awesome for Blizzard either" and more recently Markus Persson acknowledged that it could be "very, very bad" for indie developers. GamesIndustry International recently polled other PC developers as well to get their respective takes on Windows 8.
Is Windows 8 really that bad? Some are attempting to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, but many are concerned about the "walled garden" approach.
Brad Wardell of Stardock commented that Newell is "totally right." He added, "Hopefully the market will be able to adapt to the wrongheaded strategy Microsoft is employing with Windows 8."
Dean "Rocket" Hall, creator of DayZ, acknowledged that he still hasn't "properly reviewed its impact yet" but he noted "there is some legitimate concern there, particularly for complex games that the PC market has a real hedge on."
"There are some worrying statements that make you wonder whether the intention is to try and emulate what their competitors are doing, or drive their own space through innovation"
Dean "Rocket" Hall
"PC Games have always been gamers' games, edgy and adapting fast. I do really agree with Gabe Newell's comment that the one thing holding back Linux is gaming, and how significant gaming actually is to purchasers' choices. There is quite an interesting market transition happening right now, that in a way DayZ got caught up in the middle of. With the consoles hitting the end of their life, it would seem PC gaming appears - in the short term at least - to be pushing forward pretty strongly," he continued.
"It's really too early to say what impact it would have for development of projects like DayZ, much of our backend architecture is already running on Linux. One of the key attributes I think DayZ can claim its success on, is that it doesn't try to be simple. I don't think simplicity inherently means something is better, and this is the concern I think many people have with the focus toward touch-screen technology. Apple have taken the concept of simplicity and driven a closed platform market from it; it works for them because that is what they have been selling as a concept since day one. But it is just that, a closed platform. The PC experience is very different; this whole scenario feels much like the Microsoft I recall upending the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, a decision that I couldn't figure out whether I was more angry or puzzled by."
"Overall, it feels too early to say for most of us I think. It's definitely a concern, there are some worrying statements that make you wonder whether the intention is to try and emulate what their competitors are doing, or drive their own space through innovation. My preference is always for the latter," Hall concluded.
Hugh Jeremy of Unknown Worlds would like more details about Windows 8 to properly judge it, but he's hoping for an open platform.
"For a small developer, a relatively open platform is an enormous benefit. That benefit is the ability to produce, distribute, patch and support content without engaging with the platform provider. Look at what happened to Fez on the Xbox 360. Walled gardens like the App Store, consoles, and now Windows Store can eliminate or damage that benefit, and that is not good for us," Jeremy commented.
"It is not good for our ability to produce great games and to be responsive to the needs of players. We don't know yet if Steam, and our products, will be able to operate effectively outside the Windows Store / Metro environment. There's time left and details still to come, so we are staying optimistic and will have to wait and see what the Windows 8 launch brings."
Chris Delay, Introversion's lead designer, was perhaps the most pessimistic about Microsoft and Windows 8 overall.
"I really hate the general concept of 'closing down' Windows, and this seems to be where Microsoft are intending to go," he told us. "Nothing scares me more than the thought that one day, all Windows apps may have to be certified by Microsoft before they can be released and installed on users computers. That just fills me with dread because I've been on the receiving end of Microsoft's certification process for Darwinia+ (Xbox Live Arcade)."
"What scares me about Microsoft is how the requirements will grow over time... and before you know it we'll be coding Bing search boxes into our game menus"
"Jon Blow wrote an excellent article recently about how stupid the whole system is - every developer forced to spend weeks working on requirements like the save system warning messages, Xbox controller support, title safe area etc. And there was also the case of Fez recently having to choose between a $40,000 fee to release a patch to their game, or leave in a save game corruption bug that affected 1% of all users. What kind of company thinks it's acceptable to charge developers $40,000 to patch their game? Microsoft. They are such a massive company that they just can't help themselves introducing layers and layers of bureaucracy that just make it harder to reach the customer and harder to release a product."
Jonathan Blow, when asked, didn't have much to say. He hasn't really looked at Windows 8 yet, but he did comment that "it doesn't sound like a good idea to me, though."
Delay continued, noting that Microsoft's policies are only causing more hard work for indie developers.
"It took us three years to design, produce and release Darwinia and we had two developers. Darwinia+ for Xbox Live Arcade took four years and we ended up with more than ten staff by the end. For a port! That is the direct impact of Microsoft's requirements on a small indie game developer," he lamented. "Not to mention the PC was founded as an open platform - literally anyone can make a program or a game and put a download up, and anyone else can install it and run it. As a core principle that is incredibly powerful, and I'm convinced it's a major factor in the PCs success, and the fact the PC continues to live on and grow over decades, where other devices and consoles come and go."
For Delay, it's as if Microsoft completely fails to understand what makes a good PC environment.
"While I'm on the topic, what is Microsoft thinking with its new Metro start menu? The Windows 7 desktop still exists in Windows 8, but where previously you'd click the start button or press the start key and get a neat Start menu bottom left with your recent apps and a search box, now you get a massive fullscreen app with huge flat shaded rectangles for each program, horizontally scrollable through multiple screens to fit all your apps in. It feels like Microsoft got so scared of Apple and the success of the iPhone and iPad that they invented a (quite decent) tablet interface of their own that was perfect for 7 - 10" handheld touch devices, but then in a moment of extreme stupidity decided it must apply to every Windows device ever made from that point onwards," he said.
"Never mind that PCs have mice and keyboards and not touch screens, and 27-inch monitors in which the new icons are 6 inches high. Even Apple haven't replaced their desktop Mac OSX with the iPad interface - the two paradigms are fundamentally different and require a different approach. And for that reason I won't be installing Windows 8 until there is a preferences option to bring back the 'classic' start menu and desktop, and move the Metro 'App' into a single launch button on the start menu where it belongs."
Ultimately, Delay is fearful that Microsoft's list of requirements will get lengthier and more intrusive as time goes by.
"All App Stores have requirements, and it seems reasonable to have some for the new Windows 8 store. I don't mind this, the Apple App store for Mac OSX is the same with a small set of requirements before you can release anything, but you can always install things outside of the app store anyway. I prefer installing things from the Mac App Store because it brings a level of quality, but I'm not forced to. I can still install Steam after downloading it from the website, and Steam can install my games for me," he continued.
"What scares me about Microsoft is how the requirements will grow over time - they won't be able to resist eventually requiring Xbox controller support, then Xbox Live Arcade avatar integration, then tablet touch input, then Kinect support, and before you know it we'll be coding Bing search boxes into our game menus. The list of requirements for Xbox Live Arcade virtually doubled in size during Darwinia+'s development, and ended up including items about the Rock Band drum kit and guitar and stuff like that."
If Microsoft isn't careful, it could scare away developers in droves. But perhaps it won't really matter. As Chris Hecker (who's currently working on SpyParty) pointed out to us, developers will always find a platform to offer their games on.
"I don't actually know much about Windows 8, to be honest. I tend to treat those kinds of things as 'the weather'; as a developer I can't control it. The variable I have direct control over is game quality, and so if I turn that up as high as I can, I have to assume there will be some place to sell my game when I'm done."
Wise words that perhaps more developers should pay heed to.