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Who's afraid of the big bad Windows?

Who's afraid of the big bad Windows?

Fri 12 Oct 2012 6:40am GMT / 2:40am EDT / 11:40pm PDT
OnlinePublishing

Developers hate Windows 8 - and rightly so. Microsoft's confused, dysfunctional OS threatens their markets

Blizzard doesn't like the look of it, Mojang doesn't much fancy it, and Valve downright hates it. Yet Microsoft is pressing ahead with its plans for the Windows Store in Windows 8, regardless of the misgivings of some of the most successful and influential game software creators and distributors on the Windows platform.

"The Windows Store is largely a consequence of Windows 8's own identity crisis"

Perhaps because few people actually have their hands on Windows 8 software right now, there are a host of misconceptions floating around about this dispute. Many consumers and commentators seem to be confused about what role the Windows Store actually serves; some even appear to believe that Microsoft is locking the Windows 8 OS down to the extent that the Windows Store will be the only way to acquire software.

That's not the case. In fact, the Windows Store is largely a consequence of Windows 8's own identity crisis; the operating system has two distinct and different user interfaces, the traditional Windows-style interface (which is only tweaked in minor ways from Windows 7's interface) and the new Windows Phone style interface, formerly called Metro, which is designed with touch/gesture interfaces and tablet devices in mind. These two interfaces co-exist alongside each other on most devices; you can swap between them easily. Some apps live on one interface, others live on the other.

The Windows Store is primarily there for the benefit of Metro apps. In fact, it's the only source of Metro apps - if you want your app to run on the Metro interface, you need to distribute it through the Windows Store. If you just want your app to run on the old-fashioned Windows interface, though, you're welcome to distribute it however you want - Steam will still work, as will any other distribution method you care to mention.

In other words, one way of looking at this whole situation is that Microsoft isn't actually restricting the existing Windows ecosystem - it's just bolting on a new, more restricted ecosystem alongside the existing system, but developers are free to continue to work as they always have if they wish. That's certainly how Microsoft would like the world to see these changes; viewed in this light, the whole thing is a storm in a teacup.

"What would have been so wrong with expanding Windows Phone's reach to encompass tablets, rather than creating this dysfunctional, split-personality desktop OS?"

The situation is more complex than that, though; the likes of Blizzard and Valve wouldn't be so openly critical otherwise. Some of the arguments regarding the Windows Store are slightly spurious - such as the claim that it's a slippery slope which will eventually see Microsoft taking complete control of software distribution for the entire platform. Even Apple, which embraces the walled garden model far readily than Microsoft, still allows you to develop and release OSX software freely; there's a Mac App Store, but it's optional, the only restriction being that use of Apple's own services (like iCloud) requires that you pass through the App Store testing process - which is fair enough, really. If Apple can resist the urge to close off its OS, the slippery slope argument doesn't have much traction (no pun intended).

Other arguments are more to the point. For a start, there's the significant confusion over Windows 8's various platforms and versions. If you furrowed your brow when I mentioned the co-existence of two entirely distinct user interfaces, with some apps available on one and some on the other, then you were quite right to do so - it's a bloody mess. Now consider that there are also two distinct versions of the operating system; the standard one which runs on Intel-style architecture (as found in PC and Mac computers, and in expensive, laptop-spec tablets), and something called Windows RT, which runs on the ARM chips found in more iPad-style tablets like the low- to mid-range versions of Microsoft's own Surface. Windows RT only runs Metro software; it won't run traditional desktop apps. So now we have some devices running two interfaces, and other devices running only the new interface and unable to run software for the old one, and... Well, it really does sound a bit of a mess, and leaves me wondering how ordinary consumers are meant to make sense of it. Really, what would have been so wrong with following Apple's lead by expanding Windows Phone's reach to encompass tablets, rather than creating this dysfunctional, split-personality desktop OS?

Once you look at it from that perspective, you start to see why game developers are so concerned. If and when Windows RT devices become popular, developers will have no choice but to focus on that platform - which has a knock-on impact on the entire market. This threatens a significant split in the Windows market, with the "core" market of people using powerful, game-capable machines running Windows 8 on i386 architecture becoming isolated from the wider market of people using either Windows RT systems, or whose usage is focused on the Metro interface and its store to the exclusion of all else. This kind of balkanisation can't be healthy; it forces us all into the uncomfortable position of wondering whether the core PC market can actually support a thriving development scene, without the benefit of a huge population of more casual gamers who are outside the "core", but who regularly dip in, engage and purchase.

Besides that, there's the simple fact that developers had probably assumed that any move by Microsoft into the tablet market would take the opposite approach to Apple's iPad - building an open platform based on Windows which would set the stage for a clash as much ideological as commercial with Apple's walled garden. Much of their displeasure now may stem from the fact that Microsoft's tablets will be just as closed as Apple's.

"Microsoft's decision to create a hybrid desktop/tablet OS may well end up locking a large swathe of the market off from developers who don't embrace Windows Store"

The whole affair gains an extra dimension when you consider that we're not just talking about developers having to fork over a percentage of revenue and submit their apps for testing - there are also significant content controls in place on Microsoft's Windows Store, including a ban on any content that attracts a rating above ESRB Mature, or PEGI 16. In other words, everything has to be family-friendly; which makes a kind of sense, until you recall that the same companies who impose restrictions like that on games and apps will happily sell you 18-rated movies, copies of 50 Shades of Grey, and so on.

The misunderstandings around this dispute often mask the reality that users will have a choice about the Windows Store. If you don't want to use it, you won't have to - unless you're on a Windows RT device (I have a suspicion, by the way, that a lot of those are going to get returned to stores when less-informed consumers realise that they don't run standard Windows software). Steam will still work. You'll still be able to buy Minecraft direct from Mojang, or download the latest Blizzard games from Battle.net.

For developers, though, this is undoubtedly a gathering storm. They know perfectly well that at the outset, Windows 8 will work just like Windows 7 as far as they and their consumers are concerned. They're right to be worried, though. Microsoft's decision to create a hybrid desktop/tablet OS creates a lot of confusion and uncertainty, and may well end up locking a very large swathe of the market off from developers who don't embrace Windows Store, or whose content doesn't conform to Microsoft's family-friendly values. This may look like a storm in a teacup now - but depending on how the market moves in the next year or so, it's definitely one that could end up overspilling the saucer, soaking the tablecloth, and ruining the teaparty for a lot of people.

Update:In the original version of this article, I implied that content with an ESRB Mature rating, or a PEGI 18 rating, would be banned from the store. In fact, while PEGI 18 material is banned, ESRB Mature material is permitted - only the rarer ESRB Adults-Only rating will be forbidden. Oddly, this means that many games - including the entire Grand Theft Auto series, for example - would be permissible on the Windows Store in North America, but banned in Europe. It remains to be seen how that will play out once the store actually launches.

34 Comments

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Windows 8 is probably the biggest gamble in the history of computing. It unites the desktop, the living room, mobile and tablets into one ecosystem.
If Microsoft pull it off they will print money like never before.
If implemented well it will be utterly amazing for users with all sorts of applications (including games) following them round whatever device is most apt, throughout all their waking hours. We have already seen this with email, but soon it will be just about everything.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 815 2.9
Popular Comment
Looks like Linux is about to go mainstream then.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Maarten Brands Director, Cook & Becker

12 17 1.4
If this is the biggest threat posed by Windows 8: "A significant split in the Windows market, with the "core" market of people using powerful, game-capable machines running Windows 8 [...] or those whose usage is focused on the Metro interface and its store to the exclusion of all else", then there is nothing new really? The Windows game market has never been homogenized.

If you want to run AAA games consumers already need to consider their system specs, graphics card, amount of RAM, whether or not the drivers are updated, Direct X, video settings etc. Considering whether or not you want the RT or ARM version of Windows 8 isn't an extra, huge massive barrier to entry if you look it that way.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Ben Board Developer Account Manager, Microsoft

16 24 1.5
Popular Comment
Alternatively games developers could see this for the opportunity that it is: the Windows Store is a single marketplace that will be visible to the (we hope) hundreds of millions of installed copies of Windows 8 (RT and Pro, tablet, desktop, laptop), and your game could be in it. Visit the Store on a copy of Windows 8 today and you suddenly realise the significance: it transforms the way you will find software on your PC. Meanwhile everything on Win7 is still available, including other portals, your website, etc. Maybe it's my MS implant talking, but I think it's massive for game devs - particularly ones who get involved early.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
Popular Comment
@Ben
the Windows Store is a single marketplace that will be visible to the (we hope) hundreds of millions of installed copies of Windows 8 (RT and Pro, tablet, desktop, laptop), and your game could be in it.
... Unless your game contains anything vaguely adult themed in which case you're automatically banned. Ratings systems are there for a reason, since when was it Microsoft's domain to police what the public can and can't expose themselves to?

Posted:2 years ago

#5

gi biz ;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Ben: that's exactly what I meant by 'bending yourself at 90' in one of my previous posts.
@Dan: it's just a matter of time.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
@Dan
Looks like Linux is about to go mainstream then.
Looking at the amount of OS-on-a-stick variants out there, why not bypass Windows entirely even when it's installed? Supply your game as a bootable image with an OS, update drivers with the game over broadband, treat the PC like a console, no Windows required. ^_^

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Stephen Richards Game Deisgner

68 28 0.4
The fear that windows 8 "may well end up locking a very large swathe of the market" is quite unfair towards Microsoft. Windows RT is designed to be an OS for tablets. It's no more locked in than its compettors made by Apple, Google and Amazon (apart from the age restriction, which I'm sure will be retracted soon). Anyone looking to replace their pc will go for the lock-free standard version.

Microsoft isn't taking the pc market and locking it away, it's just offering another competitor to the already locked-in tablet market. I can only suppose that Blizzrd/Valve etc are worried that people with windows 8 standard will make a habit of using the windows store to the neglect of their own services. But why would they? Unless the windows store has some super competitive pricing people aren't going to stop buying games through other distributers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Stephen Richards on 12th October 2012 3:17pm

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

184 204 1.1
@ Stephen

It's pretty clear that the long-term strategy is banking on the assumption that desktop PCs will be increasingly replaced by tablets and phones for general computing. This trend has long been ongoing and originally started with laptops replacing desktops.
So if windows tablets or windows RT laptops become a huge hit, pretty soon most of the currently existing PC demographic will be locked into the windows store.
Of course power users will realize that they need to get a "proper" pc or a win pro tablet, but are you sure even most of steam's users are power users? I think quite a lot are just regular laptop gamers that haven't owned a desktop in years and as such are very likely to buy an RT tablet/laptop as their next upgrade.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Mariusz Szlanta Producer, SEGA Europe

32 27 0.8
Stephen - what exactly gives you a notion that MSFT would like to lift age restriction? It looks to me that they want to have closed, fast, idiot-proof and children-safe system and banning adult content is step in that direction.

The more successfull RT is going to be, the more pressure it'll mount on MSFT to further marginalise traditional OS. Like it or not but locking so many users out of traditional OS is a huge blow for anyone producing 16+ content. Pool of potential customers is about to shrink greatly and no wonder that Valve introduces Big Picture and possibly their own hardware.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

James Persaud Game Programmer, Firefly Studios

9 4 0.4
Wait... Is this the same Microsoft who once got into trouble for bundling a web browser with their OS? Isn't the fear that MS will end up with a game distribution platform monopoly because they will clearly push Metro and the store heavily in advertising for Windows? Surely Metro will be promoted as the focus of the desktop user experience and not simply as some extra optional feature - otherwise it looks as though there's been no innovation since Windows 7.

As for the side of Windows that isn't locked in to the app store - "Oh look, you can still use all your -old- software in Windows7 compatibility mode!" (but it isn't as pretty and all your friends will make fun of you, and the new versions of everything else we want you to upgrade for no apparent reason will be Metro only).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Persaud on 12th October 2012 5:33pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Rob Craig Instructor / Writer

21 5 0.2
There are available apps online (many for free) that remove Metro and add a Start button back. I consider the core PC gamer as completely uninterested in Windows 8 Metro anyway - wanting to use their monster PC's to render frames as fluidly as possible. Metro has no traction ... yet. Honestly, workarounds will be abundant because it's a Windows operating system, not Apple. If these workarounds get viral among the masses, I see the OS being patched up to with means to allow people to be more productive - even if it means adding a Start button back. If I was a developer, I would focus on the core OS, forget Metro, and watch consumer response upon wide release. By the way, I have Windows 8 Pro RTM running on a test machine and find Metro to be more like a dust cover that needs to be moved out of my way so I can get to work. That's it ... nothing more.

Posted:2 years ago

#12
Not likely. If a consumer can't figure out going from Metro to Desktop, then they sure as hell aren't going to download a distro, set it up and maintain it. Linux has come a LONG way in the past 5 years but its not "grandma proof" yet.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Andrew Animator

148 158 1.1
Popular Comment
I still find linux horrible to use

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

584 323 0.6
Microsoft has always played catch-up in the past. Bing. The Zune (gag). And so on. Even Windows itself was a catch-up to the Apple GUI interface - though it had the advantage on sitting on top of the larger market of MS-DOS machines.

But this time they are stupid.

Microsoft has to understand what it's bread-and-butter is. It's the desktop operating system. Windows. Even if its other intiatives don't pan out, they always have that marketplace pretty much locked down.

Now they are gambling it. And it's alienating all of those core customers.

You don't threaten your bread-and-butter - desktop operating system - by once again playing catch-up.

They are stupid beyond belief to do this.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

584 323 0.6
By the way, a Steam community member who follows my story mod for the Valve game Alien Swarm told me he can't get Win 8 to run Alien Swarm.

Alien Swarm is a game from the Source family (including Half Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2). It's only 2 years old and won't run on Win 8. (And this guy is no slouch at computers.)

This whole thing is shaping up to be a fiasco.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer

242 99 0.4
But I don't really understand the problems with PC games on windows 8, it's not like you have to go through the windows store, the windows store is only mandatory if you want to use the MetroUI (Windows RT).. Regular games (which propably will still be like 90%) can still be manually installed through DVD's or digital repositories like Steam..

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer

242 99 0.4
Unless you're targeting 18+ games, then you're screwed as the morons at microsoft don't allow 18+ PEGI certified games on their store..

Posted:2 years ago

#18

gi biz ;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Dave Sanders: I think my grandma can't use Linux, nor she can use Windows. Most of the "grandmas" out there can't play games anyways, so let's leave that aside. As you said, KDE and Unity have made big improvements in the past years, to the point that other companies are trying to catch up (I heard Win8 is going to have the cube desktop at last). However, the user friendliness is something that depends on us all, imo. Most companies who can afford a team of programmers treat the Linux version of their products as an unimportant "port". Thus, we get bad or missing video drivers, the shamelessly buggy Flash player and games that crash a lot. Making a solid game that correctly handles alt+tab, for example, greatly improves the general user experience, and is in no way the DE's responsibility. Hardware manufacturers also snob Linux a lot: when you connect a plug&play device on Windows and it works, it means that somebody else spent a lot of time polishing and automating as much as possible for you. Often, hardware on Linux still works (kernel 3 also has Kinect support), but most of the whistles and bells that the manufacturer should provide are not there.

@Sam Brown: thanks to UEFI, very soon you might not be able to boot anything else than a modern Windows. I heard Red Hat is trying to find some agreements, and honestly I hope we won't see a hardware split.

@Rob Craig: I also don't think gamers generally care about the OS that much. Just give them a software that runs well and you make them happy. However, my concern to this regard is what kind of hardware you need to run Windows 8. Is this Windows 7 desktop an extra layer that runs on top of Metro? Windows is notoriously resource hungry, so how is this sort of emulation going to make things better?

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
Win 8 seems a lot less resource hungry, and no it does not seem to be an emulation layer run on metro.
it would be good if you could close a metro app without a touchscreen or task manager though.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions

72 291 4.0
"Developers hate Windows 8 - and rightly so."
Some objective journalism going on here I see.

Either way it pains me to see articles like this feeding into peoples misconceptions of Windows 8. People who haven't used it. Im sitting here typing this through windows 8 right now and as both a developer and consumer I like it.
Im a little disappointed the old desktop system feels so jarring compared to the smooth UX of the Metro style. I'd have preferred a reworking of the foldering system but thats nit picking. Overall its much less resource intensive and I've noticed improved performance across the system.

I have steam installed on windows 8 right now and although its not officially supported it worked fine with most of my games, only Just Cause 2 seems to have any problems. So would I like to see Steam running happily on the desktop with all my games supported? Why yes i would. Does this mean I will have no use for the Windows Store and I see it as a threat?

Of course not, its more consumer and developer friendly for the delivery of apps to our home computers. Apps on mobile devices are great, they're convenient, housed in one place for each mobile OS and theres so many to easily install and uninstall you dont have to think twice about trying them all.
This has never been the same with home computers and most consumers who only want to play whatever F2P nonsense they download on their phones or mess around with facebook and weightloss apps will likely welcome the Windows Store.
And developers of said apps will love it.

For anyone who's been reading nothing but negative reviews about Win8 I recommend you try it, with an open mind. It doesn't feel like msoft are doing catchup at all it finally feels like they're setting the bar for the streamlined delivery of content to consumers on desktop platforms. The metro UI is one of the best I've used, their UX team should be proud of the functionality and simplicity of this latest revision.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Andrew Lee Pearson Studying Game Designer, Train2Game

24 1 0.0
@Andrew Goodchild: You close the apps the same way you would by touch, put your mouse at the top of the screen click and drag to the bottom. App Closed.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Tom Keresztes Programmer

700 354 0.5
@Dave Sanders: I think my grandma can't use Linux, nor she can use Windows.
I think the third 'big' option for desktop is Mac OSX.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
@Michele Santullo:
thanks to UEFI, very soon you might not be able to boot anything else than a modern Windows. I heard Red Hat is trying to find some agreements, and honestly I hope we won't see a hardware split.
Me too, but Ubuntu and Fedora (and by definition all their derivatives) already have a way around Secure Boot. This time.

@Alex O'Dwyer:
I still find linux horrible to use
This is an issue, although I think it's more that people find Linux too different to use rather than horrible - In fact it's more likely that they find it too not-Windows to use. It's the old problem of people learning a tool, not what the tool does (we get this with new programmers all the time, we have a "But Visual Studio does it like this" swear box in the office ^_^). But if you're going to take the trouble of learning the new Metro interface, why not learn Unity or XFCE instead?

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Rob Fahey Columnist, GamesIndustry.biz

76 190 2.5
Jade: I should clarify that this article is talking solely about the business / market implications of Windows 8. The operating system itself, from a UX perspective, is Microsoft's best by far - although the split between "Desktop" and "Metro" is an absolute shambles of a thing, and I honestly believe it's going to cause serious problems for a lot of casual users, especially older users.

The question I've yet to see answered satisfactorily is this; why did Microsoft decide to bolt a tablet / touchscreen interface onto its desktop OS, rather than extending its smartphone OS (which already has such an interface) up onto tablet devices? Why introduce such confusion to the desktop product - which is the bread and butter of the company - when they have an excellent smartphone OS that's far more suited to the task?

My guess is that it was a decision made based on an internal political struggle - a land grab over who controls tablets, the Desktop division or the Mobile division - rather than one made for sensible market or technical reasons. I think they're going to pay for that in the coming years, and sadly, I think game developers will pay too.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,217 1,050 0.9
I don't see the big problem, I actually think Windows 8 has more advantages than disadvantages for the PC market. The traditional interface is still available, but they've introduced a way to add a level of de-fragmentation to software which could benefit certain industries and consumers if exploited correctly. There's also nothing stopping improvement...

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Paul Shirley Programmers

178 150 0.8
@Adam: a traditional UI is still available. It's not the one I'm currently using in XP, not the one from Win7 and there's no guarantee it won't be allowed to rot if Metro succeeds. The underlying OS beneath Metro and desktop is not completely shared and it would be easy for MS to deprecate one to drive adoption of the other.

MS have tried this before, with OpenGL support, DirectX 10 and later, Internet Explorer, removing 4Gb+ RAM support from WinXP 32 and driver model changes they won't backport.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
I don't get why people are saying that having a split tablet/desktop interface is confusing. How confusing can it be to drag your mouse to the bottom left for the traditional desktop, and the bottom right for your setting?

I've found Windows 8 to be a big improvement on previous versions, in terms of user experience, and the games I've got definitely run better on W8 than they ever did on W7.

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
Oh, and someone mentioned closing programs. After using a W8 tablet, then going back to my iPad, there have been times when I've gone to close an iPad app by just pulling from the top of the screen to the bottom. It's really intuitive.

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Steve Nicholls Programmer

66 29 0.4
Overblown as usual, this is a non issue. Get over it.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,217 1,050 0.9
Still in the camp that doesn't see a big problem and I find the OS very easy to use. I like Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7, so the transferred ideas go in my favour, especially as I do like how they've been implemented. Its no longer the status quo, but, oh well.

You have a choice to buy into this rather innovative, proprietary OS or not.

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

471 477 1.0
There is a "choice", but no actual choice to have the "choice", i.e. they've presented something of an ultimatum, which is, "support metro, or risk losing out on the dominant human behaviours that will most likely favour Metro apps". You can't really choose for the conditions to remain how they have since the dawn of time, so no, there's no real ultimate choice since the decision has been made, only a choice of a preferred option of the available choices.

That being said, if Microsoft play fair there can be a real benefit to all. Imagine if they find a way to improve visibility while at the same time proving a more efficient advertising mechanism to push titles to new users? Like the interface or not, it's purely about the way users interact with it and not how they or we feel about it.

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

959 1,758 1.8
A proper, easy to reach store right there on the desktop? W00t, gimme lots of that.

Windows 8 as a replacement for windows 7? LOL. I've been using it for a while now and the metro interface sucks. Turn it off and you have what? A windows 7 pc with more compat issues ime.

The only effect this is going to have on the marketplace is to make us no longer point to Vista as Microsofts biggest mistake. I simply cannot believe that this product has got this far without some top exec shouting "the emperor is naked".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 15th October 2012 11:36pm

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Roberto Luongo C# XNA .NET Developer

1 0 0.0
take a look at the Windows 8 Microsoft Store:
[link url=""]http://metrostore.preweb.sk/[/link]
search for type "Games"
I know it's too late but... XNA casual games for xbox360 ar much better!

Posted:2 years ago

#34

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