In a recent interview, Valve’s Gabe Newell declared Windows 8 “a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.” This has led to a surge of interest in how content creators view the impending upgrade. It is hardly surprising for the companies that thrive in the existing Windows marketplace to be unhappy about Microsoft’s creating their own high profile storefront for the new release, but what effect will the adoption of Metro really have?
While we’ve heard complaints from content creators before now, Newell’s input is useful both because of its detail and because Valve has come to dominate PC game digital distribution. Valve’s Steam platform has been estimated to account for over 70% of all video game digital distribution. There aren’t many people in as strong a position to know what is going on in that industry right now, as a result.
The game industry, incidentally, is particularly important to the adoption of Windows 8. It has often been cited as the main reason that Windows maintains the largest user base among consumers. The rise of Apple has resulted in greater numbers of games being made for their hardware than ever before, but the majority of all video games (like the majority of all software, really) continue to be built around Windows.
So what does Newell mean when he calls Windows 8 “a catastrophe”? This is less a concern about the current state of things and more a fear for the future of digital distribution. Valve runs Steam, which is essentially already a “Windows app store” of sorts. The software already runs perfectly well on Windows 8 and it would be simple enough for them to build a Metro-based front end for purchasing and launching games.
The worst imaginable scenario for companies like Valve would be for Microsoft to decide that it was really happy with how its own store was working these days and to further lock down the platform as a result. Taking a page out of Apple’s book and insisting on 30% of every transaction of any sort on a Windows device would definitely destroy companies far and wide.
While this concern is well founded, especially now that people are coming to realize the security benefits and efficiency improvements that closed ecosystems are capable of providing (both areas where Windows has often failed to excel), it’s a fairly long shot concern.
No matter how popular Windows 8 becomes in the consumer space, Microsoft’s main source of income will be Enterprise clients. Businesses would not stand for that sort of complete control over their in-house content. There are dozens of different ways this sort of problem could be addressed, but maintaining the freedom of the desktop space is the easiest one.
Valve has announced intentions of expanding more actively into the Linux world as a hedge against greater Microsoft controls. It’s a smart move, but it’s safe to say that this is merely a precaution. Despite the hyperbole, the only people who will really come to see Windows 8 as a catastrophe will be the OEMs that are forced to close shop due to the new licensing requirements.
Other comments, from the same Gabe Newell interview, indicate concern over exactly this development. It might end up being a genuine problem in an industry with surprisingly low margins already in place. The idea that this will be enough to end the development of quality Windows PCs altogether seems more than a little farfetched, though.