Tag Archives: Windows 8

WordPress Desktop App And The Supposed Death Of The Web

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The last few updates on this blog have actually been done using the WordPress desktop app. I guess it’s just been another step in the computing world’s conversion from web to app, but personally I’ve felt different forces pulling in both directions. Continue reading

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It Seems Portable PC Gaming Is On The Way

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I imagine anyone who plays PC games and owns a Windows tablet already has a clue. It’s pretty straightforward: we now have tablets and other portable devices that run the same Windows you get on a laptop or desktop, which means games built for Windows should boot up on them.

I haven’t tried out one of these things for myself but I’ve started to look at the fruits of Microsoft’s attempt to combine tablets and laptops. What I’ve seen suggests the beginning of what could eventually become real handheld PC gaming. I’m starting to wonder if that’s a possible future of handheld gaming for hardcore consumers depending on how developers and hardware play out. Continue reading

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SteamOS and Microsoft’s Mistakes

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The reception to Valve’s CES presentation of Steam Machines has been kind of muted, and I think the main reason is a lot of people are still confused as to what exactly Valve is trying to do. I think the best way to describe how Valve is different is that it’s currently making plans for something that might happen 10 years down the line instead of trying to make a huge impact on the market today. I’m trying to collect what my previous thoughts have been on this in the following post.

In 2004 when Valve first started up Steam, people didn’t really understand why the company was tying Half-Life 2 to this strange DRM service. Now a lot of PC gamers won’t buy games without it. Admittedly though, I kind of bought into the hysteria over the idea of Valve actually making some kind of impression on the console market. That’s still a possibility, but it probably isn’t Valve’s primary objective. What Valve is trying to do is possibly what Microsoft should have been doing a decade ago.

I’ve made asides about this before: how one purpose of SteamOS is as an insurance policy against what may or may not happen to Windows in the future. I think this is Valve’s veiled statement that over the last several years, Microsoft has really been a terrible steward of Windows gaming.

Really, almost everything Valve has done for the PC platform is what Microsoft should have been doing as the company that runs Windows. Microsoft tried to consolize Windows with Games For Windows Live but failed miserably, as they’re finally putting a bullet in the service’s head this summer, and Steam became… pretty much what GFWL should have been. Microsoft’s neglect of traditional PC gaming on their new Windows 8 platform is more telling I think.

I saw Windows 8 as a perfect opportunity for Microsoft to maybe reform GFWL into something that links with Xbox — imagine buying a game like The Walking Dead Season 2 and playing it on your Windows tablet, your Windows 8 PC, and your Xbox One. Microsoft might still do that for apps in the future but I have a feeling traditional PC games could be left out of this. A robust XBL-style service built into Windows 8 would probably scare Valve a bit too. But nope, the game selection on the Windows 8 store right now is almost nothing but mobile fare.

And we of course know why — Xbox. Even higher ups at Microsoft are rumored to be disappointed with former CEO Steve Ballmer’s plunging what used to be a software company into consumer hardware. Microsoft wanted its own PlayStation 15 years ago, and then it wanted its own iOS, and now there are people there possibly threatening to actually sell the Xbox division and return Microsoft strictly to its software roots. If Microsoft wasn’t actively neglecting PC gaming in favor of Xbox we’d have a Windows 8 version of Forza 5 and it would announce Halo 5 on both Xbox One and Windows 8. The only legitimately good things Microsoft has recently done for PC gaming are Xinput and continuing to iterate on DirectX. And Valve’s SteamOS initiative even involves its attempt to wean developers off DirectX.

Furthermore, people point out Windows 8 as a factor in declining PC sales, as it’s trying to be more like the tablets and phones that are replacing PCs for the vast majority of consumers. Valve head Gabe Newell doesn’t attempt to hide his fear that these new closed-box platforms threaten the currently open PC platform.

Lastly, and most ironically, I think the Steam Machine initiative is something Microsoft could have done long ago. It’s what Xbox could have been.

Imagine if instead of trying to make another PlayStation, Microsoft simply said it was going to partner up with hardware manufacturers to make console-like devices that ran a sort of “console version” of Windows — an open gaming OS oriented for TVs. It would maintain Microsoft’s position as a software company while also bringing it into the console space. It’s just a question of whether such an idea was possible in 2001 or 2005. This is part of what Valve is doing today.

I think by releasing SteamOS Valve is pretty much saying “Y’know what? If Microsoft — the operator of the OS that is the foundation of PC gaming, isn’t going to be a leader of PC gaming, then someone else is going to have to step up.” If the living room approach causes a few console gamers to convert over to Steam, then that’s cool too. Who knows, maybe Valve will decide to actively go in that direction in the future. The most important thing to understand in that though is SteamOS and Steam Machines are going to be a very slow burn.

I think this new article from USGamer points it out well. The manufacturers of those Steam Machines do not expect them to explode out of the gate as fast as a new PlayStation or Xbox. They expect them to sell modestly over the course of years and maybe even decades. There will still be SteamOS and Steam Machines when Sony is releasing the PS5.

BULLETS:

  • Man. I’m hyped for whatever it is Area5 is doing.
  • My Steam user review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is up. http://t.co/sPhBd29XXy
  • I just found out about Cops: Skyrim. http://t.co/3X1dOR5X8f
  • Interesting blurb from Kill Screen on No Man’s Sky. http://t.co/evT7MtwYNl
  • Nobody reading this has been through a pulled hamstring have they? How long does it take to stop hurting whenever I bend over?
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PC Game Distribution on Windows 8

So Windows 8 is going to be this inter-connected OS between all Microsoft’s devices, it will have its own software storefront, and it’s gonna have games on it. What does that actually mean for PC gaming? Recent impressions I’ve read and seen look like a massive disappointment for the sake of artificial constraints in Microsoft’s ecosystem.

A while ago Microsoft announced “Xbox Games on Windows” or something like that. Not even “Games For Windows” anymore. At first glance finally incorporating Xbox and Windows into one software system seems like a big opportunity for games on both hardware platforms. One of the things I was interested in was the pre-installed Windows games with achievements.

One of my favorite games to play on my iPhone is actually Solitaire, which has achievements on GameCenter. Right there I wondered “Why doesn’t Solitaire on Windows have achievements for GFWL?” Now Microsoft seems to have basically done this for Solitaire, Minesweeper, and I think at least one other game… except each game only has around three achievements. Solitaire on iOS actually has some pretty challenging achievements but the ones on Windows 8 seem specifically position to do nothing more than make Windows users aware of achievements and the Xbox system.

When Apple launched the app store on iOS it inevitably led to games which became very popular despite the platform not being originally designed for games. This will inevitably happen with the Windows 8 store, which means that games could become a lot more prevalent on Windows in the eyes of the mainstream audience, but it doesn’t look like Microsoft is taking very much advantages of the existing gaming environment on their operating system.

By all right Microsoft should see this as an opportunity to give Games for Windows Live the shot in the arm it needs. Right now Mac users can open the Mac App Store and buy not only iOS apps or Mac apps, but also full-blown Mac games from Bastion to RAGE to Assassin’s Creed, right there for the mass audience. It’s almost doing what Steam did and putting it in the mainstream spotlight. According to Ars Technica, Microsoft isn’t quite doing the same thing with Windows 8.

First of all, not all the games will be of the “Xbox on Windows” label, and I’m honestly losing sight of what even sets that label apart. Secondly, normal downloadable games and standard PC games apparently will be sold through the Windows 8 store, but they won’t be launchable through the new Windows 8-style UI, nor will they have the achievements, rewards, leaderboards, and other stuff.

It seems like Microsoft is expecting a whole new class of games to be developed for the new Windows 8 ecosystem while the PC games that have run on Windows for its entire life up to this point will inhabit the background somewhere. I’m honestly still confused about it myself.

Let’s be real here though: If Microsoft was real about this they’d have some cross-buy system going on between Xbox games and PC games. You’d be able to buy Star Wars 1313 or Grand Theft Auto V on either PC or the next gen Xbox and own both versions. You’d have achievements and leaderboards go across both. It would all just be one big gaming service across multiple machines, but Microsoft is probably gonna drive a wedge between PC and Xbox.

Of course the problem that Microsoft is probably afraid of is redundancy. When I got my current computer, the only reason I had left to own an Xbox (or any console) was for console-exclusive games. Truly, the only reasons I even pay for Live anymore are Gears of War 3 and HBO Go. PC has been my first choice for every game that has a PC version, and rumors are even starting to indicate that next gen consoles might not be as powerful as current gaming PCs.

Microsoft has all these devices together now working under one ecosystem: the tablet, phone, computer, and soon the Xbox, but the problem is that the functionality of the computer and Xbox overlap in many places. Microsoft is probably playing a tricky game of avoiding redundancy between the two, possibly to the detriment of the PC for the sake of their Xbox business.

Hopefully later this year I’ll be able to build a new computer and hook it up to my TV as a set top box, which will heavily diminish my need for non-gaming console applications. If Valve can get Steam Big Picture mode working, then my computer will even begin to feel like a console. Windows 8 has the potential to close that circle but probably won’t because Microsoft doesn’t want it to. That’s the best reason I can think of for why we’re seeing a massive gap where PC gaming support for Windows 8’s UI should be. Other companies, Valve chief among them, already seem to be preparing to fill that void.

BULLETS:

  • GameStop finally getting rid of that PS2 stock? Might need to do a check on which PS2 games I’m still looking for.
  • As of this writing one of my favorite XBLA games – Stacking is on sale for a little under $4.
  • Man, RIP Michael Clarke Duncan.
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Steam and the Future of Software Distribution

I don’t know about you, but I view Valve’s decision to open up Steam to non-gaming apps as a doorway to some potentially great opportunities for the platform’s exposure in the years going forward. It’s also kind of telling of where computer software in general might be going which I guess is why Valve has also expressed worry.

I can definitely understand the desire for Valve to just stick to what they’re good at – selling games. You might not want non-gaming software clogging up the front page of the store when you log in, or for this to divert Valve’s focus from selling, and more importantly, developing games. I still like to look at the bigger picture.

There are a lot of ways Valve can handle this, but somehow I see them trying to leverage this as a gateway to more exposure for their games and PC gaming in general. Steam already breaks down a lot of the barriers between laymen and PC gaming – installing, updating, and running games properly. Why not do the same thing for general purpose software and expose more people to PC games at the same time?

I could possibly see someone looking for photoshop, or an educational app, and discovering that they can also buy Plants vs Zombies, or Bejeweled, or Call of Duty, or Civilization. I think if non-gaming software did help expose more people to the kinds of games you can buy and play on your PC it would be worth it. It just depends on how they advertise it.

That’s the weird thing: I’ve never seen Valve actually advertise Steam. It’s kinda just been word of mouth since day one. The most exposure Steam itself has gotten has probably been from popular games that require Steam to install like Modern Warfare and Skyrim, and that’s just for people savvy enough to buy the PC version in the first place.

From there it’s a pretty large leap to seeing the service ever get the kind of popularity that, say, iOS has. How can Valve convince everyday consumers to go out of their way to install Steam on their computers? It is after all a 3rd party storefront – not its own operating system that has or will soon have its own app store installed from the start.

Valve and other game studios have criticized Windows 8 for what it might mean for PC gaming – suggesting that it presents a slippery slope that might lead to Windows becoming a closed platform like Mac OS. The more immediate problem though is Steam and other digital stores having to compete with one that comes pre-installed with Windows.

Then again, Firefox and Chrome seem to be doing well against Internet Explorer which people blame for the downfall of Netscape. The real difference though will probably be with the distinction between Metro and desktop apps. The Windows store won’t even really sell desktop apps, just list links to their websites (Steam itself could possibly get listed). That’s where that slippery slope lies, but at the same time Valve could use that opportunity to make Steam the most accessible way to purchase desktop apps.

We don’t even know how much Microsoft is gonna push games through the Windows app store. If they did push PC games, it would be a sign of the return of GFWL with Microsoft actually giving a damn this time, but somehow I doubt it with Xbox being their main games business. That would make Steam still the main place to buy games on PC.

On the subject of desktop apps though, how much desktop software do you actually buy? Not install, buy. Maybe it’s different for people in certain professions or people who mainly work on Mac, but I don’t think I’ve purchased a single non-game PC application since buying my current Windows installation with Microsoft Office. It would be great to get a Steam deal on the latest version of Photoshop, but I can’t think of anything else I’d buy. Maybe Turbo Tax but that’s probably it.

BULLETS:

  • This article from gamesindustry.biz is exactly what I’m talking about: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-08-10-steams-greatest-challenge-yet
  • Super Mario Bros. 2: 6 Golden Coins is on sale for $3 on the 3DS eShop until next Thursday. Personally my favorite handheld Mario.
  • I just found a reason to maybe invest in that upcoming Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Collection – it’s gonna have a full documentary produced by Area 5 on it.
  • Mod support coming to The Witcher 2: http://t.co/OfImqG7e
  • Apparently Rhythm Heaven Fever is gonna be $5 at Best Buy on Sunday. Buy it.
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