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.