For all the challenges Microsoft has faced in the story of Xbox One, there's no denying that the tech giant has been open to change.
Its latest push on the gaming front is to unite its Windows 10 and Xbox One ecosystem with UWP – its new Universal Windows Platform. This will see developers making games using the Universal Windows Application (UWA) framework, which allows developers to make a game that will work on both Windows 10 and Xbox One with little in the way of issues.
I like the idea of one big platform and knowing that the audience for your game isn't just Xbox's install base – it's everyone,” BAFTA-winning developer Dan Pearce says.
Your game can reach many more people with minimal effort.”
Epic's Tim Sweeney adds: In terms of developer proactivity and ease of porting, it's a great idea – I could write one programme once and ship it on desktop, phone, console and not have to deal
with less porting effort. That's a valuable idea.
You see some elements of that in Apple's ecosystem where they have the same low-level operating system kernel between iOS and Mac but the higher level layers on top are entirely different. Microsoft's approach is the completion of that train of thought and is valuable. And that will prove useful as new families of devices are introduced, such as HoloLens.”
"At its core, UWP is a great idea. But we need to be prepared
to prevent Microsoft from attempting to close PC down."
Tim Sweeney, Epic Games
But the idea has its critics. To many, UWP represents Microsoft attempting to close off the currently-open PC ecosystem.
This is a sector that thrives on being open, where fans can fix broken games with patches from the community, where users create mod content and where consumers are able to tinker with the inner workings of products.
PC is so naturally open. But it's not going to be the first time that someone has come to an open platform with a closed alternative that has a list of benefits,” Pearce says.
The best example of that is Apple – it did that so long ago and it really works for them because after you've had so many viruses on your PC, someone coming up to you and saying: ‘the Mac just doesn't have that problem' can be a really big selling point.
You do get so much content from all over the place on PC because it is so open, and that's very appealing for a lot of developers. Lots of them are fine with UWP so long as the benefits are good enough. If Microsoft has tools that enable devs to make a game and release it on Windows Store and Xbox, that could be really appealing for some people. A lot of it is about ease of use and what benefits Microsoft offers beyond it just being an arbitrary exclusivity thing.”
And though at the moment it appears that UWP won't allow mods, this may not matter as much as some might think.
Indie games thrive on mods, and a few big titles like Skyrim really embrace them,” PC development veteran Cliff Harris says.
But its worth remembering that games like Call of Duty and Football Manager are not heavily mod dependent. People who care about modding - including me – will hate UWP, but I suspect it's sadly a vocal minority.”
And Contact Sales MD Robert Stallibrass points out that this situation is open to change.
The lack of modding is a current situation but it would not surprise me if the system in the future was made slightly more open,” he predicts.
If the firm's plans for UWP go forwards in their current state, consumers will only be able to get UWAs from Microsoft's own Windows Store.
Harris even believes the idea of the UWA is flawed.
I hate anything that represents a move towards a closed system with one company as gatekeeper, and I equally hate any system that tries to imply that a game is a game, and not in any way dependent on the platform,” he explains.
The kind of system dreamt up by people in suits in boardrooms who think ‘one platform for all games' have never played Eve Online on a phone, or Angry Birds on a 2560 res monitor. Different platforms are different, why does this upset people so much? It's fine.”
Sweeney adds: The pessimistic view is that Windows is going to make a series of incremental changes to the way things work with these forced updates, for example, which disadvantage competing app stores, and places like Battle.net or Steam, to give Windows Store such an advantage that all commerce and relationships between developers, consumers and publishers have this Microsoft build-in imposed on them.
There's another possibility and that's the generous view that UWP brings great improvements to the Windows platform in ensuring that no one app can take over the system and does a great world of good to make Windows software trustable and avoid malware. And it does that while retaining the PC's status as an open platform. You could obtain these UWP programmes from the Windows Store, Steam, Battle.net or anywhere else. If Microsoft takes that direction, we'll be wholehearted supporters of that. At its core, UWP is a great idea, it's worthy of our support. We just need to be prepared to prevent it from being a Trojan Horse for Microsoft to close down PC.”
In trying to unify its Windows 10 and Xbox businesses, Microsoft has released a number of its console-exclusive titles on PC. The firm has recently revealed that Quantum Break, previously announced as an Xbox One-exclusive, would launch on PC on the same day (and is only available on Windows Store). Meanwhile, upcoming titles such as Sea of Thieves and Halo Wars 2 are launching on both Xbox One and PC. As a result, there are now fewer reasons to purchase an Xbox One, something that Xbox boss Phil Spencer himself has even admitted in an interview with Polygon. Could Microsoft be winding down its console focus?
Clearly Microsoft has sat down and thought about its presence in the console market,” Contact Sales MD Robert Stallibrass says. But I don't feel it is giving up on Xbox One. Microsoft is aware of the challenges, is facing up to them, and is working very hard to get to the top spot.”
Pearce adds: Obviously Xbox One isn't selling as well as PS4, and I can see how it would make sense for Microsoft to double down and go: ‘OK, rather than trying to sell the Xbox to people, let's try and sell Microsoft platforms to people'. A good way to do that is to sell people Windows 10 and some people on Xbox One simultaneously by saying say: ‘hey, these games are from Microsoft or Xbox. If you have one of our devices, you can get this cool content'.
I can see why that would make a lot of sense to say: ‘If Xbox isn't selling as well as the PS4, if we push Windows 10 and PC a bit more, maybe we update the Xbox or release a new Xbox, then we can g