By Nelson Schneider - 07/29/12 at 02:30 PM CT
This past week, two of the biggest names in PC game development/publishing, Blizzard and Valve, had some… unflattering things to say about the upcoming Windows 8. According to both Gabe Newell and Rob Pardo, Windows 8 is shaping up to be “a catastrophe.” While I have not personally had the chance to try out Windows 8 yet, my impression of Newell’s comments – and his apparent newfound interest in Linux as a gaming platform – is that he’s just spreading a bunch of FUD.
Why do I think that the man in charge of the greatest PC gaming platform is mistaken? Here are five reasons:
1. Linux is Linux
If Gabe thinks gamers will switch from Windows to Linux in droves, he’s insane. Linux has been under open-source development for 21 years, and is still a user-unfriendly POS that has no place in the typical PC user’s life. You think Windows has been sold in too many different flavors recently? Linux laughs at the tiny variety of Windows versions, then goes back to manually editing xorg files. Only neckbeards (who use it for “fun”) or website administrators (who use it for servers) want anything to do with Linux, and even MeltedJoystick’s administrator didn’t know that there were desktop/GUI versions of Linux available until I told him about Ubuntu.
2. Fear of Competition
Valve is only whining about Windows 8 because the built-in Windows Store will directly compete with Steam to sell digital downloads. This shouldn’t be a big deal, as Steam already competes with Origin, GameFly, Amazon, and a slew of other e-shops. What’s one more?
3. Windows as a Closed System
Gabe seems to think that the Windows Store is a harbinger of Windows becoming a closed system. Closed systems are generally bad, I agree. But I don’t think Microsoft can turn Windows 8 into a closed system and actually expect to sell any units. Windows has traditionally been about adding, not subtracting. Each new version of Windows has always tripped over itself (sometimes to the detriment of moving technology forward) in order to provide compatibility with the widest range of existing programs from previous versions. Windows 7 even includes a full Windows XP virtual machine (in the more expensive versions, at least) for compatibility purposes.
But let’s imagine: What if Microsoft limits Windows 8 to running ONLY software purchased from the Windows Store? What short memories PC game developers/publishers must have, if they can’t remember the glory days of Microsoft’s antitrust litigation by the U.S. government! If Microsoft – who still provides the brains behind 90%+ of PCs worldwide – proclaims that it shall also be the only source of application software for PCs running its operating system, the government is guaranteed to take notice. The gears of bureaucracy move slowly and painfully at times, but the one thing Democrats and Republicans have traditionally agreed upon is that monopolies are bad.
4. Windows Store VS Steam
Valve has no reason to worry about the Windows Store eating their sales. Microsoft has earned a bad reputation as a digital game publisher thanks to the Xbox Live Marketplace and its ridiculous fees. Only Big Gaming developers can afford to pay Microsoft for the privilege of being in that store, creating a scenario almost identical to the Mac App Store. Steam will always be the easiest and most-friendly place for Indie developers to publish. Steam drops the prices of games as they age, while the Mac App Store doesn’t. Steam’s sale prices will always beat any Microsoft or Apple e-shop. And let’s not forget that the Windows Store will require all of its apps to be Metro-based. Games are not Metro apps! Games aren’t even regular windowed Windows apps! Unless Valve secretly has plans to start selling other kinds of software besides games, they have nothing to fear from the Windows Store.
5. Microsoft VS OEMs
Gabe seems to think that Microsoft creating the Surface tablet is going to force a whole lot of PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) out of business. Really? Two official Microsoft tablets (an ARM model for Windows RT and an x86 model for Windows 8) are going to force Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and the infinite number of other hardware makers out of business? Because of two Microsoft tablets, all of these companies are going to stop making desktops and laptops and “ultrabooks”?
No, that’s just silly! What Microsoft’s official Windows RT/8 tablets might do is force OEMs to stop making tablets. And let’s see, how many companies will go belly-up; how many lives and careers will be destroyed as factories close their doors and stop producing third-party Windows RT/8 tablets? How about ZERO?! Yes, the truth hurts, but there are currently ZERO meaningful Windows-based tablets on the market and ZERO meaningful Windows-based tablets in the planning phases… outside of Microsoft’s Surface. Microsoft isn’t making and selling the Surface to drive OEMs out of business, it’s making the Surface to kick OEMs in their collective asses and show them how it’s done!
Personally, I think Windows 8 stands to do a lot to improve PC gaming. I’m imagining a nice, clean Metro interface being pushed to a big-screen TV by a home theatre PC (or Steambox) running Windows 8. A Kinect attached to this PC would allow for easy, mouse-free navigation through the Steam Metro App (c’mon Valve, you know it’ll happen eventually) to select a game. Once the game is running, the player would grab their Xbox 360 controller (or Xbox Durango controller) and play normally. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic here, but this vision seems anything but catastrophic.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone – developers, publishers, and users alike – will have every right to get upset with Microsoft if Microsoft destroys Windows’ legendary openness. I don’t think that will happen with Windows 8. I know it WILL happen with Windows RT, as that tablet-exclusive OS has a severe case of monkey-see-monkey-do with iOS and Android. But if PC gamers are suddenly expected to learn Linux in order to play, they will probably seek a standardized solution, such as a console that runs Linux, instead of a PC.