When we learned earlier this week that Microsoft would be bringing Forza Motorsport to Windows, it was hard to not feel excited. Well, at least for those racing fans who call the PC home and have loathed the fact that the series never broke free from the Xbox. Forza is just the beginning, as Microsoft promised that all of its self-published Xbox One games will come to the PC. That would seem like a great thing. Or is it?
In an opinion piece written for UK's The Guardian, Epic founder Tim Sweeney explains why Microsoft's initiative is not as great as it sounds on paper. The problems are tied to Microsoft's new Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which is a new platform for game publishing. This isn't a small deal: UWP is in effect a successor to the Win32 API, which all games currently rely upon. That in itself is fine and good, but what's not appreciated is that Microsoft currently intends to keep UWP exclusive to its app store.
With UWP, Microsoft is promising to make the lives of developers and publishers easier. Because of the unified code base, developers could produce a game for both the Xbox One and PC with greater ease, and as a result lock their game into Microsoft's ecosystem. If developers take that route, it means that these particular games will not be directly downloadable from a developer's website, nor available on services like Steam and Origin. Sound scary, doesn't it?
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Sweeney wants one thing, and it's a hard thing to disagree with: UWP should be open. Gamers should have choice when it comes to game purchases, and not be locked into a certain platform. It's understandable on the console side of things, but the PC is an open platform, and a publisher could push out a game to a bunch of different services if it wants to. With UWP, there'd be two: Xbox One and Windows Store.
It ultimately sounds like Microsoft would rather get developers to create their game around UWP and then port it to Win32 in order to sell on alternative app stores, which would completely go against the promise of making a developer's job easier.
To its benefit, Microsoft said that the November update of Windows 10 lets people side-load apps by default, but because of that design, companies like Valve and EA wouldn't be able to realistically sell UWP games through their current platforms.
It's a bit early to dig out our pitchforks, but the future of Windows gaming does seem to be a bit iffy.