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Tim Sweeney blasts Microsoft's "aggressive UWP initiative"

Epic co-founder says program is designed to turn PC into a closed platform; Microsoft responds, "UWP is a fully open ecosystem"

Epic co-founder Tim Sweeney has written a remarkable column for UK paper The Guardian, calling out Microsoft for what he says is a prolonged and focused attack on the open nature of the PC platform.

Sweeney's ire is directed at the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), Microsoft's new standard for running games across Xbox, PC and Windows phone. That standard, Sweeney says, is nothing more than "the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolising app distribution and commerce."

"In my view, this is the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made," he writes. "While the company has been convicted of violating antitrust law in the past, its wrongful actions were limited to fights with specific competitors and contracts with certain PC manufacturers.

" Here, Microsoft is moving against the entire PC industry - including consumers (and gamers in particular), software developers such as Epic Games, publishers like EA and Activision, and distributors like Valve and Good Old Games"

"This isn't like that. Here, Microsoft is moving against the entire PC industry - including consumers (and gamers in particular), software developers such as Epic Games, publishers like EA and Activision, and distributors like Valve and Good Old Games.

"Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP, and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem. They're curtailing users' freedom to install full-featured PC software, and subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers."

The UWP concept has been building momentum for a while, believes Sweeney, but has recently become too blatant to ignore. Comments from Xbox head Phil Spencer at last month's Spring Showcase around the future of the Xbox platform and cross platform play certainly indicate that Microsoft is seriously reconfiguring its approach to software and the PC market, a move which is seen to be part and parcel of the larger shift towards a more curated and controlled access to games on Windows as a broader platform.

"Microsoft's intentions must be judged by Microsoft's actions, not Microsoft's words," Sweeney continues. "Their actions speak plainly enough: they are working to turn today's open PC ecosystem into a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly, over time, in a series of steps of which we're seeing the very first. Unless Microsoft changes course, all of the independent companies comprising the PC ecosystem have a decision to make: to oppose this, or cede control of their existing customer relationships and commerce to Microsoft's exclusive control."

"Their actions speak plainly enough: they are working to turn today's open PC ecosystem into a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly"

Whilst Sweeney concedes there are settings which control much of what currently funnels Windows users towards using Microsoft's other products, such as Bing, they're often obscured and unclear, designed to obfuscate and confuse. Sweeney compares the approach to Google's similar stance on the Play Store.

"Microsoft has certainly followed this lead in technically exposing, but practically burying, options that let users escape from its force-bundled services. If you've tried to change your Windows 10 search engine, web browser, or movie player, or to turn off their invasive new lock-screen ads, Windows search bar Bing spam, and invasive 'analytics', you know what I'm talking about. It's a deliberately anti-customer experience: the options are there, but good luck finding them.

"The ultimate danger here is that Microsoft continually improves UWP while neglecting and even degrading win32, over time making it harder for developers and publishers to escape from Microsoft's new UWP commerce monopoly."

Update: Microsoft has responded to the arguments laid out by Epic's Tim Sweeney. Kevin Gallo, corporate vice president of Windows at Microsoft, issued the following statement to The Guardian:

“The Universal Windows Platform is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, that can be supported by any store. We continue to make improvements for developers; for example, in the Windows 10 November Update, we enabled people to easily side-load apps by default, with no UX required.

“We want to make Windows the best development platform regardless of technologies used, and offer tools to help developers with existing code bases of HTML/JavaScript, .NET and Win32, C+ + and Objective-C bring their code to Windows, and integrate UWP capabilities. With Xamarin, UWP developers can not only reach all Windows 10 devices, but they can now use a large percentage of their C# code to deliver a fully native mobile app experiences for iOS and Android.”

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Latest comments (16)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 9 months ago
Sounds like what Valve were afraid of, a while ago
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 months ago
This is, really, where developers and publishers come in, educating consumers, and really pushing the use of non-MS tools, and the timing couldn't be better to stop MS. Vulkan's release, Steam Controllers (which, btw, have severely reduced functionality in Win10 Store apps), the push with Linux - there is, literally, no reason for pubs/devs to acquiesce to MS's way of doing things here. Vulkan's release alone means that Win10 has far less of an edge in gaming, and whilst the 360 Pad has been the de-facto standard PC gaming pad, that doesn't need to continue.
Sounds like what Valve were afraid of, a while ago
Yup. SteamOS still isn't great, apparently, but things would be far worse if Valve hadn't seen this happening and started moving against it.

It's not even like the consumer wants any of what MS is selling - for all the complaints about Steam being a "monopoly" and how bad uPlay is, PC gaming has never been as open or as exciting as it is now. No-one wants the company that tried and failed to get Games For Windows Live going to succeed here.

Speaking far less emotively, I cannot see EA or Ubisoft or Acti/Blizzard looking favourably at this. EA, who would rather lose sales than give 30% of revenue to Valve, getting behind an MS-run store? Like hell! :D Blizzard, who have resolutely done their own thing with Battle.net? Pffft.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th March 2016 12:10pm

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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd9 months ago
Unless I'm missing something, Microsoft's response seems astonishingly tone deaf and arrogant. Seems they've been caught off guard here.

"Of course UWP is an open platform, we let ANYONE sign up and hand over 30% of their royalties, submit to our review process and make it harder to take their products elsewhere!"

This is very reminiscent of their argument that bundling IE wasn't anti-competitive because OEMs could *also* include other browsers (at their own cost, and not instead of IE). And we all know how that worked out for them.

Trying to force people to use a store that for years they've failed to attract anyone to use by choice will be a catastrophically expensive misadventure.
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Matthew Eakins Technical Lead, HB-Studios9 months ago
That's outrageous! Why it's absolutely unheard of for a platform holder to require content curation or 30% revinue share for using their platform features and publishing in their ecosystem.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 months ago
That's outrageous! Why it's absolutely unheard of for a platform holder to require content curation or 30% revinue share for using their platform features and publishing in their ecosystem.
It's easy to be glib, and I know not everyone is knowledgeable about the PC/Steam ecosystem in an in-depth fashion. So... :)

Here's four statements. The first is Tim Sweeney on MS:
They’re curtailing users’ freedom to install full-featured PC software, and subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers.
Tim Sweeney again:
The specific problem here is that Microsoft’s shiny new “Universal Windows Platform” is locked down, and by default it’s impossible to download UWP apps from the websites of publishers and developers, to install them, update them, and conduct commerce in them outside of the Windows Store.
Valve:
Welcome to Steamworks.

It’s free: There’s no charge for bandwidth, updating, or activation of copies at retail or from third-party digital distributors.

It’s freeing: With Steamworks you avoid the overhead and delay of certification requirements—there are none. Distribute your game on your terms, updating it when and as often as you want.
And finally, Valve again:
There is no per-copy activation charge or bandwidth fee.

Ship your game at retail and online. With Steamworks, you decide where and how it will be sold.
It's worth reading all of the Steamworks page and brochure, actually, to get a sense of how much Valve provide (whilst simultaneously being able to avoid giving Valve a single penny).

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th March 2016 4:24pm

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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship9 months ago
So there's a new API that's not obligatory, but which could be a risk to Win32's status as the first-class API on Windows, is that right?

I'm not clear on whether the thing to be worried about here is that UWP is required for the new store, or that Win32 may be deprecated in the future, or whether Windows OS features will be given some kind of UWP 'exclusivity' (another variant of the Win32 second-class-citizen worry)?

Or a combination of the above?

Can someone clarify?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick McCrea on 4th March 2016 4:39pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 months ago
is that UWP is required for the new store,
It is.
that Win32 may be deprecated in the future
Deprecating features (due to "security concerns") is already a sort-of issue, considering that Rise of the Tomb Raider and Quantum Break are on the store now, and, due to UWP and its permissions, .DLL hooks are difficult (if not impossible) to place - so, FRAPS, Riva-Tuner, GeDoSaTo, Mumble, etc can't be used. Durante has said that if Dark Souls were a UWP program, he couldn't have released DSFix, since it requires hooking into the main .exe. Win32 .exes are obviously non-existent in UWP apps. The reason why the Steam Controller has restricted use with UWP apps is due to the Steam Overlay being required, so whilst it's not a specific Win32 deprecation (or it may be, actually?), it is a move-backwards.
or whether Windows OS features will be given some kind of UWP 'exclusivity'
Microsoft is pushing DX12 games (and maybe not just those sold in the app store) to render through a standardized pipeline that uses the Windows compositing engine. In fact, from what I can tell, any game that is sold through the Windows App Store will be required to do so.
(From PC Gaming Shakeup: Ashes of the Singularity, DX12 and the Microsoft Store )

And this is before we get into modding in the true sense. Two posts from NeoGAF, by Durante, sum this up:

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=195219746&postcount=1703
http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=195220397&postcount=1714

Hope this helps. :) There's a lot to dig into with UWP and the issues it presents. Reading the NeoGAF thread those two posts above are taken from is useful (but it is NeoGAF, so... :p )

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th March 2016 5:16pm

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Sergio De Los Santos Senior Render Programmer, Frontier Development9 months ago
"The Universal Windows Platform is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, that can be supported by any store. "

If this is true, I don't see the big deal. Sure, UWP is required for Windows Store, but if any store can add support for UWP, then I don't see the problem.

That being said, I don't think WinAPI will go away. Windows is popular because it can run old apps, MS won't be that stupid and remove the most important feature of the OS: backward compatibility. Specially when they are adding backward compatibility to XB1...
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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship9 months ago
@Morville

Thanks for that.

I can see why people are getting concerned, though like Sergio I'm inclined to believe MS will calibrate developer and consumer feedback on this very carefully before committing any cardinal sins. At least I hope they will!
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Brian Perry Studying Master Science Game Design, Full Sail University9 months ago
Gabe saw the future and knew MS would try something like this.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 months ago
(Trying awfully hard not to post multiple rants, but forgive me this one more post :) )

Something to bear in mind with this shift to UWP is future compatibility. Unless MS is in the UWP business for the literal long-haul (and I do mean long), then future iterations of Windows may not have the ability to play Windows 10 Store releases. This would be almost unprecedented in terms of PC gaming. Right now, I can load SCUMM and play LucasArts adventures from 30 years ago. I can load DOSBox and play a shareware version of Doom from 20+ years ago (hell, the Steam version of Doom uses DOSBox). I can do this because of the open-ended nature of PC applications upto now.

Unless Microsoft fervently believes that UWP is the future of gaming, my fear is that any game released solely on the Windows 10 store will be rendered incompatible in the future. And if you think me paranoid, Games For Windows Live games that were not released anywhere else are currently difficult (if not entirely impossible) to download and play, since MS shuttered the service entirely. Viva Piñata, from 2009, for example, or Bulletstorm from 2011. Both actually impossible to play.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th March 2016 6:20pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 months ago
@Morville: Not only that, but try playing some boxed retail Games for Windows and it's a total craphoot. Aged stuff like Dungeon Siege and Hellgate: London run right out of the box (but the DS Legends of Aranna expansion doesn't work at all), while other games won't install at all or will install but won't run even when patched up. There are a bunch of 32-bit games that aren't yet on gog.com that W10 can't install, so I may end up buying an older PC or getting the busted XP ones here fixed just to get to those old games. This is almost like watching someone toss old books and paintings into the sea to me. "What game history?" seems to be the new order in some spots and that's really too bad.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 months ago
As long as you can compile your own exe and run it on any HomePC Windows, nothing will change.

Before you buy into Microsoft's latest PC gaming initiative, try to remember GFW. Not the podcast, the actual thing.

If that is not enough to calm you down, there is always the option to fork some Linux version and brand it with your company's name. You could even use that fork to create bootable plastic discs you put into the PC before turning it on and live the console dream on home PCs.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 months ago
For those curious about why this is freaking the PC community out, Durante has written a fairly technical article on PC Gamer about it. Definitely worth reading if you're wanting to know more about UWA/UWP and MS's control of store apps. :)
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 months ago
I think Valve have seen the writing on the wall, and although the Steam Boxes haven't taken off, their increasing support for Linux is, I think, mostly based on the need to be prepared for Windows becoming a closed system, with Microsoft possibly trying to get a cut of as many Windows based games and app sales as possible.

If Windows goes that way, I think Linux will be there to take on all the people who want to jump ship and stay with a more open platform. We'll see!
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 months ago
I guess Google may pop up with a more fully features alternative at some point too, although they don't seem to have achieved that with their Chromebooks in the past. But they may have things going on in the background.
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