The Windows 8 regulations state that any game rated above PEGI 16+ will not be available through the Windows digital store. Given the number of hugely commercial titles that fall in that bracket, Microsoft appear not only to be shooting themselves in the foot but sawing off their leg as well, but this could be much more than an odd business decision. What if it's not just about sales but about distribution and the open nature of the platform as a whole? Let's get ready to grumble.
I haven't used Windows 8 and haven't been particularly outspoken as the conversation as to how 'closed' a platform it might be rumbles on. I've been holding to the opinion that even if the Windows Store is the method by which purchases integrate with the new user interface, I'll be found over in the classic Windows mode, which appears to be as open as ever.
That's not to say that the presence of a cloistered area within the operating system - a closed and controlled front - hadn't bothered me before now, but I was willing to wait until I could see precisely how intrusive it was before complaining too loudly. The latest regulations revealed change all that. Digging through the Windows 8 app certification requirements, Casey Muratori highlights section 5.1:
Your app must not contain adult content, and metadata must be appropriate for everyone. Apps with a rating over PEGI 16, ESRB MATURE, or that contain content that would warrant such a rating, are not allowed.
In Europe, the Windows 8 Store, and by connection the new Windows 8 interface, will not sell or support any game with more than a 16+ PEGI rating. In the US, Microsoft are only disinterested in games rated Mature, which makes the American store less exclusive, although still problematic. Exactly why it's problematic should be clear - Windows is the gateway through which the majority of people access all other software on their PCs and its creator is taking steps toward making it a more narrow and protected gateway than ever before.
It's hugely, massively, leviathantically important to stress that all software can still be purchased elsewhere and run on a Windows 8 machine. It's not going to be like the iOS update situation, whereby Google Maps was gone for good, irretrievable, and you suddenly found that your favourite restaurant was at the bottom of a lake. Windows 8 will still offer a more traditional Windows experience, concealed behind the curtain, just as DOS kept its place within Windows 95. It may be useful to remember how that change began. At first, Windows was a graphical interface running within DOS and then DOS was a command line interface integrated (and eventually emulated) within later versions of Windows. It's still there, although third party solutions are generally needed to create an environment suitable for older games.
I hated losing DOS functionality, to the extent that I was like the guy who only buys music on vinyl and claims that any other medium loses "97% of the vibes". I was an insufferable little urchin back then and now that I'm older and lazier, I barely ever look a command prompt in the cursor. But what if the move to Windows 95 had come with similar regulations as to what software would actually work on the new system? The command prompt would be a workaround, not simply a preference but a requirement to play some of the most significant games of past, present and future. Why now, when the operating system is on the verge of its biggest shift since Win 95, are these measures being brought into place? Muratori actually looks back to 1990 and Windows 3.0 for the beginning of the shift. I'll admit, I was nine years old then and had an Atari ST so I'm a child of '95.
From a commercial perspective, it seems counter-intuitive, completely opposed to the perhaps arcane capitalist imperative of making lots and lots of money. Microsoft are, generally, quite good at that. In fact, it's odd to be writing about Microsoft apparently squandering opportunities to sell things rather than writing about their grim-faced determination to sell all of the things no matter what the consequences might be. Through their inbuilt store, a thing that will no doubt greet millions of people whenever they turn on their computer, Microsoft are refusing to sell almost every major FPS and plenty of other commercial and critical successes. No Dishonored for the store, not in Europe, just to pick a recent/upcoming (#nooceans) examples.
At the very least, I'd hope Microsoft explain the decision, or even decide on a less restrictive policy. Brand management is suggested as one possibility as to why the company may not want to have its own store associated with violence, sex and drugs, but then the Fable series, published by Microsoft Game Studios, is just about suitable for sale, although it does contain 'realistic looking violence', 'nudity' and 'teaches gambling'. Maybe all of that belongs with the Microsoft-exclusive chainsaw-guns on the next Xbox, a Microsoft device, yes, but for gamers, part of a different brand identity separate from the clean lines of Windows future.
If the Windows Store somehow becomes the recognised front of PC gaming, it's even possible that developers will be encouraged to self-censor in order to gain access to it as a channel. For all the variety in cinematic releases, the pursuit of wider distribution, more so in the US than in Europe, has had an influence on film-makers and without direct access to their audience creators will always have to navigate the filters of whatever channels they use to expose their work. Any move to add content-related filters - rather than technical ones - to a system that formerly had nothing of the sort, threatens to create a two tier distribution model, and the existence of such strict regulations is far from encouraging.
Windows 8 will let us avoid all of these restrictions and regulations, but that doesn't mean their presence shouldn't be questioned and it certainly doesn't mean they can't be criticised. Having the option to avoid an undesirable aspect of a system doesn't remove that aspect and nor does it necessarily query and challenge the reasons behind the existence of that aspect. We should - and shall - do both of those things.