Ever since Microsoft announced it would launch the Windows Store as part of Windows 8, it’s drawn criticism from certain quarters. Gabe Newell’s entire Steam OS was a reaction against Windows — and an attempt to make certain that Microsoft’s store could never threaten Steam’s huge share of Windows game distribution. Tim Sweeney, the Unreal engine developer, has also criticized Microsoft’s Windows 10 Store and the entire concept of the Universal Windows Platform. Microsoft has reached out to Sweeney on multiple occasions, but the developer is still unhappy — and he’s increased the volume of his rhetoric.
In a recent interview with Edge Magazine (reproduced via NeoGAF), Sweeney doubled down on the argument that UWP is part of a long-term plan to lock gamers into Microsoft’s distribution net.
The risk here is that, if Microsoft convinces everyone to use UWP, then they phase out Win32 apps. If they can succeed in doing that then it’s a small leap to forcing all apps and games to be distributed through the Windows store. Once we reach that point, the PC has become a closed platform. It won’t be that one day they flip a switch that will break your Steam library – what they’re trying to do is a series of sneaky maneuvers. They make it more and more inconvenient to use the old apps, and, simultaneously, they try to become the only source for the new ones.
When asked for additional details on what he believed Microsoft would do, Sweeney replied:
Slowly, over the next 5 years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken. They’ll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seem like an ideal alternative. That’s exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they’re doing it to Steam. It’s only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan but they are certainly trying.Here’s the problem with what Sweeney’s saying: There is, as of this writing, zero evidence it’s true. It’s true that Microsoft certainly wants people to use the Universal Windows Platform, and it’s true that this platform is sandboxed in the name of security. Sometimes this really does cause problems for certain games — the amazing Long War mod for XCOM: Enemy Within couldn’t exist in a UWP application due to application sandboxing. That’s a significant reason to avoid UWP applications, even after Microsoft’s upcoming Anniversary Update.
But — and I can’t stress this enough — Microsoft has not announced any plans to deprecate or end-of-life the Windows 32 API. It’s true that the company wants developers to use UWP and there are advantages to doing so as far as compatibility and security. But there’s also a difference between supporting a new platform and killing or crippling support for an old one.
While Microsoft once practiced a strategy called “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish,” as a method of killing off software competitors, Steam and Valve are not WordPerfect or Netscape. Valve is a huge distribution company that already has an alternative Linux distro in the works and Steam collectively represents the game libraries of millions of gamers. It’s not even clear what Sweeney means when he says Microsoft would make Steam buggy — Steam serves as a distribution platform and DRM security system for already-purchased content, but the games themselves are distributed by thousands of companies.
If Microsoft were to start breaking compatibility with the Win32 API, it would threaten the company’s reputation for backwards compatibility. There would inevitably be repercussions with non-game software, particularly legacy products. Valve and Steam are popular enough that the blowback from fans would be severe. In short, Microsoft would risk torpedoing its own reputation as a gaming platform and driving players to Linux, macOS, or SteamOS in droves — all for what? A 30% cut on Windows Platform sales? It makes no sense. Microsoft’s Centennial Program is designed to allow developers to package Win32 APIs into UWP applications, not force them to choose between one and the other.
Microsoft has promised that as the UWP program evolves, it will be possible to ship games through other, third party sites like Steam. No, we haven’t seen that happen yet, and it makes sense to be skeptical — but declaring that Microsoft is going to try to kill Valve off through stealthily breaking Win32 APIs is exceptionally unlikely. I’m no particular fan of the Windows Store and I’m on record as recommending users’ buy games elsewhere. The reason for this has nothing to do with whether or not UWP is some long-term attempt to seize control of the gaming market and everything to do with the features those titles offer today.