Recently the founder of Valve and whole hearted king pin of the PC gaming industry, Gabe Newell, has spoken and his words may reflect what others in the industry feel, that the next generation of Microsoft’s Windows 8 may make a turning point in the gaming industry and for the worst. Does this finally mean that when the departure starts to happen and Microsoft follows the business plan of Apple, linux will become the next PC gaming must have?
A Change in Hardware
Gabe’s biggest complaint comes with windows 8 and hardware or OEM PC makers that the lock down or tight control requirements will force the once gaming “must have” hardware lost in time. First there is an issue with the UEFI or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface for BIOS. This new measure that is required for all PC makers going forward as windows 8 makes it a requirement for a secure BIOS to check before booting. The idea of a secure boot isn’t a new idea, the first version rolled out in 2006, but this new updated version to roll out in compliance with windows 8 effects loading the Operating System, the idea is to prevent malware or low level viruses from booting. But the hassle of installing certificates, as say for linux developers to comply with windows makes it a mess or even what about all the linux distributions pre windows 8?
This will force developers to change their models to a more “dumb”, easy to access computer. Basically killing off the hardware needed to run these games. The option for this hardware to perform for games have always been there, but it wasn’t the manufacturer’s design. It was the “desktop” model of the time. You could visit newegg or tigerdirect and order parts and configure your rig into a gaming powerhouse. The future for the windows machine, not so much.
But this issue is small in general compared to any locking or moderation on the windows platform. In all honesty, we just don’t know all the details about windows 8 yet and the control Microsoft will have on the next version. Some of these changes can effect games built on open sourced software like say besides using Direct X for video rendering. But if anyone thinks that Microsoft is going to keep windows as open as previous versions, all you need to look at is the Metro interface lock down. Microsoft has painstakingly gone out of their way to make sure you can not bring up the start menu in windows. Forcing software makers to comply with the Metro standards of the operating system or the software will no longer work.
What if Microsoft locks down Java patches like Apple does? Markus Persson or better known as “Notch”, the creator of Minecraft, that update would be an issue. Minecraft runs on Java and updating Java is essential for running the game. I remember when Minecraft became big, the first time Notch rolled out a major update, all the Apple users could not play the game until Apple rolled out their own version of a java update.
A change in Design
One of the biggest changes of Windows 8 is the “Metro” design. I personally feel this is the first step in Microsoft for changing windows as a whole. The metro interface is simple in design and for many people this is probably a change for the better. However, most gamers, well at least the last time I checked, use desktops more over say a tablet. Especially for gaming, you can’t compete with the desktop. Why in your right mind would you design an excellent tablet interface and then slap it on a desktop?
And the next point could be the killer. Windows will be rolling out an embedded store in windows 8. What is to stop Microsoft from rolling out a steam client competition. You want your game to work, you better comply with the windows store. And lets be honest, this is nothing new. People who are as old or a tad older of me will remember the whole Netscape/ IE show down. In case you are not aware, the guys who eventually went from creating Mosaic to the Netscape browser lost the battle when Windows 95 rolled out with IE (Internet Explorer) pre installed with every copy.
By rolling out IE for free, pre installed on every windows 95 computer, it effectively killed Netscape. Of course the Microsoft monopoly lawsuit came shortly after, but the permanent damage was done. Now you may be waving your hand and saying “that will never happen, you do know Origin is also around right?”. Sure I know GameFly, GameStop, and EA’s Origin game client are out and in the wild, but are you forgetting the Xbox?
The history of Sony, the once giant of gaming, to the company barely hanging on is a strong reminder to the story of the Xbox. When the first gen of the Xbox came out, the pile of cash Microsoft had ready on hand to lose to compete against Sony was all in. Once in the market, the Xbox Live network rolled out and with it, the 360. Game developers saw the influx of cash coming in and at long last, almost every game company started creating games for both the 360 and PS3. It wasn’t long before people not solely devoted to Sony started to move towards a cheaper console. Say what you want about specs or design, but there’s a good reason Walmart is beating others in consumer retail.
But what will exactly happen once the store rolls out is anybodies guess. But I’d have a guess that it won’t be long before Microsoft heavily discounts games and links in the Xbox Live network. You’ll be at the mercy of Microsoft for your indie title.
A Change in Direction
It would seem recently there has been a shift and more investment in the Linux operating system. To get even this far, a few things already had to have happened. First, the release of Ubuntu has really effected the industry, not so savvy Linux users can now give linux a try. Ubuntu is also being installed on notebooks from Dell and when netbooks were a big thing. Hardware developers have also started to give Linux a try, like I said earlier Dell has started to install Ubuntu as opposed to Windows on selected notebooks.
So what would this mean for the industry, when would this take effect?
I feel that once Microsoft starts moving more towards the Apple model, this will force game developers to either pay the fee, or start looking in another direction. Valve is no doubt working or at least planning on rolling out a console some day in the future. One would bet the console would run on linux, because by that time gamers and the tech crowd will have already made the move off windows and onto the linux open source platform. It becomes simple as pie to port a game from a linux console to a linux PC.
The hardcore audience is going to want the freedom that Linux offers, they’re also going to want titles that Microsoft or Apple will not be so geared up to put out. It would seem more and more Microsoft with the Kinect and Apple’s AppStore, gone are the days of hardcore gaming when making an easy quick buck on casual games.
In the end, this may be the turning point where the industry splits and gamers can still enjoy what means most to them, just perhaps not on the windows operating system.