Microsoft has been very quick to develop Windows 8 despite the excellent sales of Windows 7. The reason, for the most part, has nothing to do with gaming. The company is not blind to the rise of mobile devices like tablets, and wants to make sure it can provide users an excellent experience on them as well as on the PC.
Still, there are some changes coming that should be of interest to both casual and hardcore gamers. Let’s have a look at what we can expect from the next version of Windows.
True Steam Competition?
Up until now, Microsoft hasn’t provided a store for its own operating system. That was obviously the way to go a few years ago, but now that all the mobile operating systems and OS X have their own built-in software marketplaces, Microsoft has decided it is time to get with the program.
This could be an interesting development for the existing Windows game platforms such as Steam, Impulse, and others. Though Steam has been the leader, there is a slew of game platforms that have been competing for existence with each other, offering their own stores and their own experience.
Microsoft’s entry into this battlefield could be a huge disruption. Obviously, the company has some experience running an online game service thanks to Xbox Live. This leaves little doubt that Redmond could come in with a comprehensive platform offering a wide variety of social services. Games for Windows Live has been a joke so far, but then again, it’s not integrated tightly in to the operating system. If it - or a similar service with a different name - was baked in, the landscape of PC gaming could change significantly.
Even so, this hardly means that other game platforms can be called zombies. The success of Steam has at least partially been due to the company’s excellent reputation among developers, who are eager to put their games on Valve’s platform. More games equals a better selection, which means more sales, and more customers. Xbox Live, on the other hand, has a less impressive reputation. Team Meat, developer of the hit arcade game Super Meat Boy, spoke out publically about the team’s poor experience participating in the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade.
In other words, this is far from a sure shot for Microsoft. The existing game stores are well entrenched and only a competent, well-rounded approach can possibly defeat them.
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Xbox Live Integration - Kinda
Ever since consoles received online play, gamers have screamed for integration between the console and PC gaming experience. For a laundry list of technical and business reasons, it has never happened. That may change with Windows 8. Well, perhaps a little bit.
You see, Windows 8 will be able to offer online play between gamers on Xbox Live and gamers on Windows 8. However, this support will be limited to “async multiplayer” which apparently is a round-about way of saying that real-time cross-platform multiplayer won’t be offered. That rather takes the wind out of the sails of this announcement, wouldn’t you agree?
Of course, the Windows 8 Store and focus on tablets will likely increase the number of casual games. Expect to see more turn-based games, and I’d expect that cross-platform high score lists will also be possible. This is a far cry from the type of hardcore head-to-head match gamers want to see.
Otherwise, the integration with Xbox Live will include avatars and achievements. What this likely means is that everything you do on your PC will be reflected on your Xbox, and vice versa. That’s cool, and will be loved by achievement-mongers, but it’s not revolutionary.
Precise details about the nature of Xbox Live integration remain sketchy, so perhaps it will become more interesting as more is leaked. For now, however, I think the reaction of most gamers to these features will be “meh."
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Full Hardware Acceleration
One of the less well covered features of Windows 8 is the fact that the operating system will support full hardware acceleration of the interface. This means that, on devices with the proper hardware, developers will have more flexibility in how they present applications.
Microsoft demonstrated this several times with video. The video was split on-the-fly, and interface elements were introduced in to the video - resizing it instantly to make room. These are impressive features that create for a much more immersive blend between interface and video.
So far, Microsoft hasn’t shown games taking similar advantage of the new interface, but I don’t see why they couldn’t. This is particularly true of apps that are designed to be used in the new Metro-style interface, rather than in the old desktop. I can see how this would be excellent on a tablet. You could pause a game if you received an email notification, swipe it away or resize it to make room for your email, read and reply, then resume. All as smooth as butter.
Again, there’s speculation a-plenty here. What is intended and what happens can be two different things. If Microsoft doesn’t botch it, Windows 8 might vanquish a lot of the clunkiness - games that won’t minimize or resize, slowdowns when other apps are running, etc - that has always plagued PC gaming.
Keep Your Excitement at Bay
Windows 8 is a fundamental change for Microsoft. It may well be the most important operating system since Windows’ original debut. The interface is being significantly overhauled, support for ARM will be introduced, and for the first time Microsoft will be running an integrated app store in Windows.
I’m not sure that any of this will result huge in benefits for gamers - at least not on traditional desktops. Games might be a bit smoother, or easier to purchase, and you may be able to enjoy achievements shared between your console and your PC. But that’s about it, and that’s if everything announced makes it to release and works well.
The only potential revolution would occur if the operating system takes off on tablet PCs, as that could create a new ecosystem for PC gaming on Windows that’s even more heavily focused on inexpensive, casual titles. Yet that’s hardly any different from gaming on iOS or Android.
And, more to the point, that’s not something to be excited about