With the news that Steam are to be selling applications as well as games finally being announced, once again there’s a curious move to frame Gabe Newell’s comments about Windows 8 as a conflict of interest or that he has a vested interest in seeing Windows 8 die because they must remain the Storeopoly or something or other.
Everyone who works on and sells stuff on the PC has a vested interest in maintaining the PC space as it is. Not just Gabe Newell. Everyone.
It’s fairly disingenuous to try and reduce any concerns about Windows 8 to vested interests, or “Steam have a store so obviously lol” or whatever. There’s an implication that it’s solely about competition, it’s not. Steam can co-exist alongside the Mac App Store perfectly fine and I’m fairly sure Steam could hold its own against an MS store also. Valve are a pretty big company, right? Steam is, love it or loathe it, one of the most well designed storefronts around. Valve know how to sell stuff better than most companies. Microsoft have had little success in comparison, at least outside of the Xbox360 and its captive audience.
“It’s a conflict of interest” entirely underestimates exactly how big, how powerful and how much of a juggernaut Valve and Steam have become for one thing and it overestimates Microsoft’s ability to actually really compete in the store stakes without shitting things up by a great margin for another.
So clearly, it can’t be simply conflict of interest – not in that sense anyway. I’m sure there’s a teeny part of that somewhere but no. It’d have to be something more.
This is what it’d take to fuck Steam up. You’d have to make huge swathes of their catalogue redundant.
Assuming Valve don’t do something ridiculous and fuck it up for themselves, Microsoft opening a competing store (even one installed in every OS) won’t be enough to turn back the tide.
What’s significant about Windows 8 isn’t just the store or that it’s a locked down OS (although it clearly is in parts), it’s that the pieces are all there to make it easy for Microsoft to lock it down further and Microsoft aren’t shy about nudging people in the directions they’d prefer. Unless enough people make enough noise, obviously.
You’d have to be a mental to not see the previously proposed removal of the ability to build for the desktop in Visual Studio Express as anything other than an attempt to foist people into Metro development at the expense of the desktop. That it’s a move that, for now, has failed is something we should be grateful for.
We’re talking potential changes that, if Microsoft push on and push harder with what they seem to be threatening, will effect every single person selling software on the PC, every single person wanting to run legacy software on the PC, every single person making stuff for the PC will be effected too.
How and where Windows 8 succeeds or fails will shape the future of both Windows 8 and Windows into the future. If Microsoft work towards a future where they cream off money from every part of the OS and where they control all the content that appears on the OS, if they push to make desktop redundant and to make Desktop the next DOS… that’s the sort of “catastrophe” Gabe is referring to. Not some crappy bitch fight over whether a store will be able to compete, it’s whether the contents of the store will still be saleable and runnable in time. It’s about whether the PC will be a viable platform to do all the things that we take for granted without being beholden to Microsoft themselves for more than an OS and updates to that OS. It’s bigger than a store.
But let’s forget Gabe, listen to all the stories from developers who’ve worked with or signed with Microsoft prior. Look at how MS published games *still* come with GFWL when everyone, devs included, is aware that it’s shit, look at how it’s been reported that devs are now being offered the choice between GFWL and Metro if they want to bring their MS published games to the PC, remember Vista Exclusives. Look at how MS demand you sell avatar guff if you want to be carried on XBLA, look how more games are coming with bizarre-o Kinect integration even though no-one really wants it. Not like that, anyway. Then ask yourself how do these things happen?
Then glance back at Windows 8, just for a second and ask yourself are you really so sure that these things won’t happen here? Really? When Windows 8 apps will have the ability to come pre-loaded with advertising already and Microsoft already make vast sums from advertising on their console box and are looking to step up the invasive nature of such ads a notch or twelve, where do you think this is leading? When there’s a push to Xbox Windows as a brand, do you not think it’ll share the exact same values that they try to push with Windows Phone and the 360? How long before someone uses the live tile functionality on Windows 8 to push ads straight to the desktop?
Developers have bunked off from XBLA to develop games for the PC and in many, many cases for Steam. The 360 is now a playground for big publishers, advertisers and services. We’re all, everyone who plays and loves games on the PC, benefiting massively from this right now. The PC is thriving. It takes more than an integrated store to have developers go on record to say that they’re worried about what the future may bring. When developers are finally finding great ways to reach more and more people on the PC and not just through Steam it takes genuine concern to speak out against the platform that enables their success.
And it’s so easy to say “Microsoft wouldn’t make stupid decisions” and hope that Microsoft wouldn’t hit any killswitches but they very, very frequently do. You don’t have to look far to see how far they’ll reposition something so it’s what MS as a corporation wants more than what the user needs, how much they’ll leave developers discontent with their bureaucracy and how little concern for purchasers they’ve shown in the past to bring them closer to an endgame that they desire. They’ve made a games console where “games” is the sixth option along after their search engine, your profile, social apps, tv and video content. The way XBLIG went from a beautiful idea to a shitdump should be a warning sign writ large about how many stupid decisions one corporation can make when faced with the chance to do something great. People at MS make the most incredibly stupid decisions all the time.
There’s potentially great problems on the horizon for the PC space and it’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that no-one, not MS or Valve, lock the platform down. Windows 8 puts all the pieces in place to make a transition to a discontinued desktop easier, to make the OS a funnel for adverts, to enable Microsoft, should they choose, to make moves to push everyone through their store. They might not actually do that, but they’ll only not do it if everyone makes it clear that this is the most undesirable outcome imaginable for the PC space. The 360 has proven they’re willing to take their time in their goals, it’s taken 6 years to transition it from the games machine everyone bought it as to the media center/advert hub that certain quarters of Microsoft want it to be.
So even if you think they won’t do it, even if you think Gabe and all the other detractors (myself included) have a conflict of interest here, it makes sense to vocally oppose these moves all the same.
It’s your software library and freedoms at stake and everything that makes the PC as strong as it is. The sheer amount of freedom and creativity the PC currently allows is worth standing up for. It’s worth holding back the tide on this one. It’s worth pushing back at anything that might threaten to take this away, even if it’s a slim and slender chance.
It’s better to be safe than sorry because it’s better to have Windows as somewhere open to so many different experiences than to have Windows where those experiences play second fiddle to what Microsoft wants you to do and what Microsoft want you to see.