It has been suggested that Microsoft is out to destroy Steam according to Tim Sweeney, lead developer at Epic Games. He is of course the man behind the industry-leading Unreal Engine. He has voiced his opinion and raised concerns in a recent interview with print magazine “Edge”, that Microsoft is systematically killing the digital distribution platform Steam. He suggests this is being done by eroding the reliability and longevity of the Win32 programming interface for PC versions of Windows, in favor of its UWP (Universal Windows Platform), through updates of the OS.
Now Sweeney argues that Microsoft is carefully avoiding big changes to the way third-party software is being distributed and used on Windows, but is definitely taking small strategic steps or “sneaky maneuvers”, which could lead to the Windows Store either monopolizing all third-party software distribution on the platform, or making it the only way you can get third-party apps.
As the reliability issues affecting Steam (a Win32 API-based platform that distributes Win32 software) keep rising, Sneeney claims these are telltale signs of the dark future of the PC Platform. See below for an excerpt from the “Edge” interview.
How exactly do you think Microsoft is locking down the PC to make it a closed platform?
There are two programming interfaces for Windows and every app has to choose one of them. Every Steam app – every PC game for the past few decades – has used Win32. It’s been both responsible for the vibrant software market we have now, but also for malware. Any program can be a virus. Universal Windows Platform is seen as the antidote to that. It’s sandboxed – much more locked down. 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 maneauvres. 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.
Given that Steam is so widespread and popular, how could Microsoft truly win that battle, in terms of games at least?
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.
Isn’t it the case that Microsoft is simply mimicking Apple’s model, given how lucrative it’s proven to be for software distribution?
Sure, that’s the motivation. They’re trying to copy Apple’s model, but they realise you can’t just flip a switch. It has to be achieved in small step changes.