Microsft CEO Satya Nadella’s new app strategy has come under fire from one of the gaming industry’s most high-profile and respected executives.
Tim Sweeney, CEO of blockbuster games studio Epic Games, today published an op-ed in The Guardian condemning Microsoft’s Windows 10 app strategy as “the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made.”
It’s a bold claim, especially coming from Sweeney — his firm Epic Games was the original developer of the “Gears of War” series, one of the biggest hits on the Microsoft Xbox 360 games console.
But in Sweeney’s view, the Universal Windows Platform, which is one of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s biggest initiatives and a key part of its Windows 10 strategy, will given Microsoft an unfair advantage.
“With its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10, as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolizing app distribution and commerce,” Sweeney writes.
Universal is relative
Microsoft is touting the Universal Windows Platform as good for developers and users alike, creating a wider range of apps on a wider range of devices.
The basic idea behind UWP is that if a developer writes an app or game once, it will run on any Windows 10 device without changes — from PCs to tablets to smartphones, and eventually to the Xbox One gaming console and the funky HoloLens holographic goggles.
But Sweeney’s argument is that realistically, developers can only get that benefit if they have their apps listed in Windows 10’s Windows Store app market — where Microsoft takes a 30% cut on all transactions, similar to what Apple does with the iOS App Store.
“The specific problem here is that Microsoft’s shiny new ‘Universal Windows Platform’ is locked down, and by default it’s impossible to download UWP apps from the websites of publishers and developers, to install them, update them, and conduct commerce in them outside of the Windows Store,” Sweeney writes.
It’s true, Sweeney notes, that you can enable the option within Windows 10 to “sideload” UWP apps that you can get from places other than the Windows Store. But that feature is switched off by default, and Sweeney is afraid that Microsoft could remove that option any day via a software update.
The result has been many top-tier developers opting not to take their games and apps to the Windows Store at all, choosing instead to keep listing their software on their own websites or other services — like the very popular Steam digital games store — where the revenue cut isn’t as steep.
The solution, Sweeney writes, is to bust the Universal Windows Platform wide open, and let developers, websites, and outside services sell UWP apps straight to customers, just like they do today with old-school Windows software.
“No new hassle, no insidious warnings about venturing outside of Microsoft’s walled garden, and no change to Windows’ default settings required,” Sweeney writes.
In the wake of Sweeney’s editorial, Microsoft defended the openness of the Universal Windows Platform, and promised more updates at its annual Microsoft Build conference later in March.
“UWP is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, and can be supported by any store. Broad range of tools,” tweeted Microsoft gaming boss Phil Spencer.
That seemed to mollify Sweeney, who responded optimistically:
I like the sound of this, and look forward to thorough technical details on UWP’s planned openness at //build. https://t.co/9oitPe3DuM
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) March 4, 2016
When Business Insider spoke to Microsoft gaming boss Phil Spencer last week, he stressed that he wants to make sure that services like Steam stay alive and vibrant on Windows 10 — it’s just his job to make sure that Windows 10 customers have lots of games to play.
“Steam’s success is such a reflection of Windows gaming’s health,” Spencer said.
Reading between the lines, it seems possible that services like Steam could soon support Universal Windows Apps, giving developers more of a choice of where they want to list their apps, more or less in line with Sweeney’s suggestions.
That would fit right in with Microsoft’s overall ambitions for Windows 10, and its larger strategy as a whole: The more apps available in Windows Store, the more attractive Windows 10 itself gets.
Microsoft certainly has a history of aggression, giving some explanation for Sweeney’s concerns. But as Spencer noted when Business Insider spoke with him, Microsoft has shown more willingness to work with would-be competitors than ever before.
“I think [Microsoft CEO] Satya [Nadella] has done a great job setting a vision for the company that’s inclusive of other people’s success,” Spencer said.
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