My column this week is an outline of the back-and-forth between Microsoft and Valve, as Microsoft looks for ways to lock down the Windows platform and Valve looks for ways to make their business less dependent on it. I’ve covered this material in the past on the blog, but this is the first time I’ve talked about it on the Escapist. I’m still trying to get a feel for what the Escapist audience is into. Over there the audience is a generalized “Gaming and nerd culture enthusiast” kinda deal, while most people who read this blog are here for “Whatever Shamus is into at the moment”.
It does seem like the stalemate will continue for the foreseeable future. Microsoft really does want to lock down Windows, but I think they’ve lost their mojo. Back in the day they were able to use their operating system to prop up all sorts of projects. It’s easy to make your web browser the most popular by making it the most convenient. Hey, it’s already installed on my computer, so why look for an alternative? I’m not sure if they understood that their secret weapon was convenience. Since then they’ve dabbled with GFWL and the Windows 10 Store, two platforms that seem to be designed to be inconvenient as possible.
On the other end of the field, I don’t see how Valve can hope to make any progress either. They’re working on (a derivative of) WINE, which is a project designed to get Windows games to run on Linux without needing to engage in full-blown resource-sucking emulation. Like I said on the podcast this week, building something like WINE requires someone who:
- Has a deep knowledge of Windows systems, and yet…
- …is a huge fan of Linux that also…
- …is a dedicated gamer that is willing to spend their off hours building compatibility systems rather than playing games and who also…
- …has the dedication and skill to make meaningful progress.
There just aren’t a lot of people that fall into the center of that particular Venn Diagram.
On top of this, Microsoft has the advantage in this game. Even if we got a dozen or so genius-level programmers together and turned them loose to work on WINE full-time, Microsoft can create problems for them a lot more easily than they can overcome them.
Still, I like the suggestion Paul came up with on the show, where Steam could puts its weight behind a gamedev platform. For example, if we can encourage the next generation of hopeful indies to embrace (say) Unity, then making Linux builds becomes that much easier. Also, something like Unity can lock itself to a particular group of libraries and .NET runtimes, which would make it easier for people working on WINE to focus on those particular runtimes and libraries.
I’m not sure how a partnership like that would work, but I could see how it would make Linux gaming easier to achieve on future titles. Still, the problem of getting the last 10 years of PC games running remains, and I don’t see an easy way to solve that.
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