Let Off Some Steam: Is Window 8 Really That Bad For Game Developers?

Let Off Some Steam is the place where Kotaku readers can discuss a topic or get a few things off their chests. It's been a while since we've ran one, but today's effort, by Braycen Jackwitz, is nicely timely. Windows 8 is now in the wild, and it's already gotten a bad reputation amongst developers and gamers. Is this reputation justified? Braycen isn't so sure...

Is Windows 8 Really That Bad For Developers?

Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest version of its 17 year old Operating System, is set to be released in a few weeks. The OS has been plagued by controversy since it was first shown off, the most notorious being the allegations from a few major game developers about it being a “catastrophe”. Ask anyone why this is and you’ll get either no reason, or conflicting reasons. The confusion surrounding these rather serious allegations is somewhat disturbing, so why don’t we delve through it all and see what’s really going on here?

Windows 7 to Windows 8: What’s changed?

There have been a few major changes. The start menu has been given an overhaul, now being full screen and somewhat rearranged. Also, the addition of Metro Apps, a new class of fullscreen programs designed to run well on desktops, laptops and tablets. These new kinds of programs will run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT (a spin off OS meant to run on tablets with ARM processors, the low powered processors found in phones and currently available tablets), and are only available from Windows 8’s new app store. The underlying OS has also gone through a performance overhaul, a good thing for gamers, helping them eke out those few more frames per second from their hard working hardware.

So what’s changed for developers? Basically, nothing. Every method of making games still works as it has in previous versions of Windows. UE3, Unity, Flash, XNA, Java, Proprietary Engines, you name it, you can still use it for making games on Windows 8. All that’s changed is the addition of the Metro ‘platform’, giving developers more options for how they make and sell their games, and what kinds of devices they target.

What’s so bad about that?

So why is Windows 8 so bad for developers? One of the oft toted reasons by citizens of the internet is that it’s because the people that have made these claims have a stake in digital distribution, the most notable one being Gabe Newell of Valve and Steam fame. The reasoning is that because Windows’ new app store will be ubiquitous, on every single copy of windows sold unlike Steam, it will become the de facto place people will head to get apps and games. This will then eat into the sales on Steam and other digital distribution services, something their respective CEO’s obviously won’t want. Thus the reasoning wraps up by concluding that these people have only made these claims to bad mouth their new competition, meaning Windows 8 is a catastrophe…but only for their wallets.

Although this may be the underlying reason why the accusations were made in the first place, it completely ignores the point the accusations were making. The point centers on the new app store and Microsoft’s motives for adding it, saying that this is the first step towards Microsoft making Windows a closed system, only able to run programs/apps that Microsoft has approved, similar to Apple with iOS. iOS is notorious for being closed, sometimes not approving apps for little or no reason, and making developers have to conform to their strict requirements before their programs can be run on Apple devices. Generally a bad thing, and this is what game developers don’t want happening to Windows.

The new Metro ‘platform’ is closed; Microsoft’s app store is the only place you can get these apps from, and many people argue that Microsoft will replace the desktop with the Metro platform sometime in the future, and that the only reason they still have the desktop in Windows 8 is for legacy support. However, this is unlikely to happen for two reasons. One, Metro cannot replace the desktop for productive work. Microsoft itself has said that only certain kinds of programs work well as metro apps and that others only really work as desktop programs, ie. Photoshop, the very tools developers use to make pc, mobile and console games. To quote Steven Sinofsky, Head of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, “(…)the role of the Windows desktop is clear. It powers the hundreds of thousands of existing apps that people rely on today, a vast array of business software, and provides a level of precision and control that is essential for certain tasks. The things that people do today on PCs don’t suddenly go away just because there are new Metro style apps.” and “But if you do see value in the desktop experience—in precise control, in powerful windowing and file management, in compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing programs and devices, in support of your business software, those capabilities are right at your fingertips as well. You don’t need to change to a different device if you want to edit photos or movies professionally, create documents for your job or school, manage a large corpus of media or data, or get done the infinite number of things people do with a PC today.”

Desktop:

vs Metro:

Secondly, Microsoft only allows games under a certain rating to be listed on their app store. From Windows 8’s App Certification Requirements:

5.1 Your app must not contain adult content, and metadata must be appropriate for everyone Apps with a rating over PEGI 16, ESRB MATURE, or that contain content that would warrant such a rating, are not allowed. Metadata and other content you submit to accompany your app may contain only content that would merit a rating of PEGI 12, ESRB EVERYONE, or Windows Store 12+, or lower.

Seeing as though quite a lot of the most popular AAA games (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Borderlands, Skyrim, The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed etc.) have a rating of PEGI 16 or higher, the Windows app store sure won’t be becoming the only place to buy games from anytime soon.

But wait, there’s more...

However, the recent kerfuffle between Notch and Microsoft highlights one of the lesser known features of the app store. Not only are Metro apps available from the app store, desktop programs will be available on there too. You won’t be able to buy them from there though. The listings just link you to the developer’s website, but they will need to be certified like Metro apps need to be before they’re listed on the store.

Theoretically, this means that Microsoft could make Windows only be able to run certified desktop programs, but to think Microsoft would actually do this is somewhat absurd. To again quote Steven Sinofsky: “our perspective rests on the foundation of the open PC architecture that has proven flexible and adaptable over many significant changes in hardware capabilities and software paradigms. This is the flexibility that has served as a cornerstone through transitions in user interface, connectivity, programming models, and hardware capabilities (to name a few).”

One of the things that has made Windows so popular is its backwards compatibility. Aside from technical issues, the vast majority of Windows programs just work on any new versions of the operating system that come out. And after 17 years, there are a lot of Windows programs out there. It would be a nightmare trying to get those programs certified, time wise and cost wise, plus their developers would have to submit them in the first place and pay for them to be certified, which a lot of developers of small or older software may not see as worthwhile. Windows is too widely used for Microsoft to get away with dumping all those programs, the outroar from the public at large would be deafening. Any other operating system (like OS X which is close to doing it anyway) would be able to get away more easily with such a monumental move due to their vastly smaller market share, but not Windows which practically dominates the PC market and has so many people and businesses relying on its openness.

So why is Windows 8 bad for developers? Only because of the highly unlikely possibility that Windows could one day become closed and restrict what developers can do with their games. Everything else is a benefit: general performance increases, easier to target multiple kinds of devices, cross platform multiplayer between phones, tablets, desktops and Xboxes, and a ubiquitous app store for greater exposure all serve to make the perceived downsides negligible.


Comments

    Thanks Braycen.

    I hate it when people make an argument involving a 'slippery slope'. Decide based on known quantities, not hypotheticals.

    Good article, but the PEGI 16 issue has been fixed.

    Other than that i agree with all of it.
    The whole "MS screwing developers" thing is just people overreacting to something that will most likely never happen.

      Yeah, that got announced just today. I wrote this a few weeks ago actually xD

      Yep, that was my bad. I wanted to wait until people were talking about Windows 8 to post it.

        Gosh, Mark, you're the worst thing on this site! :p

    The funny thing with the whole "Notch Kerfuffle" is that when someone ran his Minecraft launcher exe through the certification tester thing that you can get, it passed with a few warnings.

    I don't see Windows 8 as a bad thing at all for developers, It gives the you more ways of writing games for Windows.

      I'm not entirely sure what Notch's problem is actually. Surely it can't be any more stringent that getting onto XBOX Live, and he's making a mint off that.

    That clears a lot of things up, i have been trying to figure out what is so bad about it myself. Really, i am not a fan of the new UI for a number of reasons, but i didnt really see how that was so game breaking for devs.

    why does mark and braycen have same picture?

      Twinsies, obviously :p

      I don't think Valve should be too concerned. They already have us gamers tied to their software. No one is simply going to abandon steam for the Windows App Store.

        Yeah, I don't think Steam has anything to worry about. They have an excellent reputation with gaming on the PC.

    I completely agree with the article. Great Job Lambo

    However in saying that, Windows 7 runs great for me and all my PC games needs. I think i will stay with windows & just like how i stayed with XP for a while :)

    Brilliant write-up Lambo. I actually learned a few things from this!
    Cheers, mang!

    The death of the wallpaper?

      And death of dual monitors is what ive been told.

        Nope, it's actually better for multiple monitors. You can customize each wallpaper and taskbar on each monitor. The only issue is that you can't have the "Metro" style Windows on multiple monitors, but for desktop mode it's improved.

        http://www.pcworld.com/article/261504/windows_8_multi_monitor_tips_and_tricks.html

    I honestly don't understand why valve is so scared of this. Anyone who's already got a steam account will have to have steam installed to be able to play their games, and I hardly think that anyone who has it installed and uses it regularly, is about to start looking elsewhere for places to purchase their games (over and above the few alternative places they already use). I for one will continue to use steam as a platform for buying games, providing their prices remain reasonable and they continue to offer the services they do now. It's convenient having my stuff in one place like that. Sure if the Metro app store thing offers me a game for cheaper, then I may buy it from there, but if that's the case, then it's just up to valve to keep being competetive with pricing. The metro store is not about to make me jump ship from steam just because it's already in the OS. Sure your mum and dad douchebags who don't know anything, buying their computer from Hardly Normal might use it as a one stop shop for apps, but then they're not exactly the type likely to be using steam even if the metro app store didn't exist, so personally I think the whole thing is a bit of a non issue. Just Valve being a bunch of whiney cry babies over there being one more way to buy games. They didn't kick up this much of a fuss when EA released Origin. This is likely to have even less impact than that imo.

    It's kind of funny that this was posted today. Yesterday I read on Ars Technica how Windows RT (The ARM device flavour of 8) isn't really that good a proposition for developers, mostly due to the fact that RT requires complete ports of x86 apps and the restrictive eco-system. (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/10/now-that-its-here-is-there-a-place-for-windows-rt/)

    Last edited 26/10/12 12:28 pm

      Except any apps that are written under the Windows Runtime libraries will be compatible with both Windows 8 and Windows RT.

      So basically anyone writing windows apps, and not full desktop applications will more than likely be targeting 8 and RT automatically

        They're compatible but you still have to compile & release two separate versions.

      RT is not good for developers, almost purely because you can't (currently, at least) do development work on it. There is no Visual Studio RT or equivalent. Of course, the same could be said for iOS, WPx, and until recently Android.

      That being said, with Haswell so close, I really see Windows RT as just being a 1 or 2 generational OS, as a form of MS hedging their bets in case Intel fail to make the necessary improvements to their processors.

        Really? I was very specifically told that Visual Studio 2012 has that capability baked right in. And while I'd rather assume that the MS sales rep was lying to me (as vendor sales reps often do) - I can't bring myself to believe that MS would do something as stupid as not bringing that capability to developers who'd only use it to create more business opportunities for MS.

          I think you misunderstood what he was saying. You can make RT apps from Visual Studio, there just isn't a version of Visual Studio that runs on Windows RT. So you'd have to make the apps on a Windows 8 laptop/desktop/tablet, then test them on your RT tablet over the network.

            I don't think that the tablet is a good dev device. You need a desktop running win 8 and use the tablet for remote debugging. That is how I am setting it up.

    Consumers, not devs, are what worrise me.

    Good write up. I have been telling this to people for months who have jumped on the "windows 8 is shit" band wagon with next to nothing to support their claims! now i can just link them to this article and be done with it haha.

    My issue with Windows 8, through the trial I played with, was it ruins the Power User experience by adding additional steps to the most basic of things.

    Good clarification! I've been a bit 2-minded with Windows 8. My main drawback was because of compatibility with games like Battlefield 3, Skyrim etc. Though, I'm still gonna wait a while before I upgrade.

    Sorry that wasnt supposed to be a dig at you, it was more to clarify for those who didnt know.

    How about XNA for Windows 8?

      XNA still works for desktop games, you just can't make Metro games with it. :)

    To directly answer the question, I think Windows 8 will be great for indie developers. There's no "Greenlight" kind of process, and it will definitely help indie devs get their games noticed (until it becomes as bloated as the iOS app store). I think the big publishers will stick to Steam where they belong, but if Valve are worried about losing market share then boo hoo. That's business.

    I'm still a bit concerned about Windows 8 though. I don't like the RT version, but there's nothing really wrong with Pro apart from the switching between Metro and desktop environments. Developers will develop as they always have, and consumers will have an easier time finding their games.

    I think I'll just stick with Win7.
    Win8 offers nothing over 7 that's worthwhile to me or my needs.

    Does it support more than one monitor yet? If not it will never succeed for high end gaming.

      I'm not sure what you mean by 'yet'? I've been using 2 monitors with it for the last few months, my laptop's screen and an old CRT I found just lying around. I've even got it set so each monitor has it's own taskbar. More multi-monitor features was one of the first things MS said they were adding into 8, not long after they had released Win 7.

    Curious to know how you have categorized certain icons....Hmmm

      Ctrl+Scroll wheel down to zoom out. Right click on any group of tiles and a Name Group button appears :)

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