Gabe Newell and Rob Pardo aren’t the only people unhappy with Windows 8 and its potential impact on gaming. GamesIndustry.biz has conducted an informal survey of its own and found that a number of people in the industry are concerned about what Windows 8 will mean for gaming. The concerns are also more intelligent than Newell’s ramble on falling PC margins. Dean Hall, the creator of the popular ARMA II mod DayZ, states: “”PC Games have always been gamers’ games, edgy and adapting fast… I don’t think simplicity inherently means something is better, and this is the concern I think many people have with the focus toward touch-screen technology.”
This drives much closer to the heart of the matter, and indeed, to one of the core controversies of Windows 8. For x86 users, program installation and updates will largely function as they did in Windows 7, with the Windows App Store serving as another method of acquiring software. ARM products, on the other hand, will have no choice — the only available software for them will come courtesy of the Windows store.
That’s nothing new for tablets and phones, but it strikes at the heart of what makes a PC a PC, and it offers WinRT users what amounts to a second-class experience. The potential threat to gaming that emerges from comments from multiple developers is the idea that Microsoft will wholeheartedly push the touch-centric, tablet-focused idea of what constitutes a game.
Chris Delay, lead designer at Introversion, summed the situation up nicely. “What scares me about Microsoft is how the requirements will grow over time – they won’t be able to resist eventually requiring Xbox controller support, then Xbox Live Arcade avatar integration, then tablet touch input, then Kinect support, and before you know it we’ll be coding Bing search boxes into our game menus.”
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That’s a rather horrifying thought, actually. Up until now, the concept of better Xbox Live integration on the PC level has seemed like a great idea, mostly because such integration would be optional. If you don’t want to deal with it, hey, no problem — turn it off and rely on Steam. On the PC side of things, that seems likely to continue. For ARM devices, not so much. Microsoft is already keen to play the integration and locked-environment cards, and has claimed that its niche status as a player in these markets gives it leave to do so, despite its PC monopoly.
If there’s a counter-trend to balance this, it’ll be Microsoft’s own deep roots as a company that has historically emphasized keeping its developers happy. Giving programmers the tools they need to create a variety of content has been a core pillar of Microsoft for decades; the company recently backtracked on its plans to kill its free desktop application development product after users insisted they needed the ability to continue to create these apps in the free Visual Studio Express products.
Is classic x86 PC gaming threatened? I still don’t think so. In fact, I don’t think there’s much MS can do to this space without potentially running afoul of the DOJ. More worrisome is the idea that Redmond may attempt to create two entirely different game environments, with ‘choice’ being something it extends to PC users strictly because it has to. Microsoft is a master of the carrot and the stick, and could easily ‘persuade’ developers to focus on Xbox Live-integrated content first and foremost. That’s a more troubling scenario, and it’s something to keep an eye on.