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Game Developers Concerned About A Potentially Closed Windows 8

Originally Posted at Techdirt.

A couple of years ago, we highlighted a story that asked the question, “What if Microsoft Had To Approve Every App On Windows?” At the time, this was a purely hypothetical experiment to highlight some of the weaknesses inherent in a closed platform such as the iPhone. Little did we know at the time, such a scenario might be coming to pass. Microsoft has been talking up its latest operating system, Windows 8, for a while now trying to drum up excitement for its bold new look and direction. Yet, some game developers are taking a step back and looking at the broader direction Windows seems to be going here.

Gabe Newell is one of those developers. In an interview at the Casual Connect conference, he questioned the move to a more closed ecosystem for Windows 8.

In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong tempation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’

We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’

Here Gabe states that many game companies, not just Valve, would not be in existence were it not for the openness of Windows in the past. Now that this openness is threatened, his company is looking at alternative operating systems. This is one of the drivers behind Valve’s recent push toward Linux compatibility.

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.

If you think about it, he is right. Take a look at the original marketplace for iPhone applications. When the iPhone App Store was released, it was a closed platform. If you weren’t approved by Apple you couldn’t release your app or game on it. Even with the presense of web apps and alternative app distribution through jailbreaking, the system remains essentially closed for the majority of iPhone users who are not aware of or don’t want to go through the trouble of using these alternative distribution channels. Can you image what the overall impact would be for something as widely adopted as Windows? Going back to that hypothetical question posted above, would Microsoft have approved Steam for release knowing it would compete directly with its own Games For Windows Live service?

Since Gabe raised this point, a couple of other developers have echoed his sentiment. In a tweet responding to Gabe’s “catastrophe” comment, Blizzard’s Rob Pardo stated, “not awesome for Blizzard either.” Rob later clarified the statement by tweeting, “Yeah… more trying to say that if everything comes to pass that Gabe said it wouldn’t be very good for us either.”

Next during a Reddit AMA, Notch responded to a question about the future of indie game development with the following:

I hope we can keep a lot of open and free platforms around. If Microsoft decides to lock down Windows 8, it would be very very bad for Indie games and competition in general.

If we can keep open platforms around, there’s going to be a lot of very interesting games in ten years, mixed in with the huge AAA games that we all love.

So not only is having a viable open platform ideal for large game companies such as Valve, but also the budding developers such as what Notch once was. If Windows were to close off in the same way that Apple has closed off the iPhone, many developers of not just games but other software may not be able to survive on the platform. Just as Valve is looking at moving to other platforms, those developers will follow suit. As more developers of games and software shift from Windows to other platforms, their users will potentially shift was well.

It will certainly be interesting to see where Microsoft takes Windows 8 in this regard. Is it willing to take a path so diametrically opposed to its own history and the growing desire of the public for more open platforms? As independent artists and developers continue producing and distributing their work outside gated pathways, can such a change be a viable business option?

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