Epic's Tim Sweeney: Future updates to Windows 10 could intentionally cripple Steam

The Epic co-founder believes the Windows 10 developer 'will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken.'

45

In an interview with Edge magazine (via PC Gamer), Epic co-founder Tim Sweeney shared his opinion that Microsoft could weaponize future updates to Windows 10 to destabilize competing storefronts—namely Valve's Steam, the biggest competitor to the Windows Store.

Sweeney outlines his case. For the past few decades, PC apps have been written for 32-bit environments, or Win32 codebase. That includes every PC game for Steam. Unfortunately, Win32 has a fatal flaw. "It’s been both responsible for the vibrant software market we have now, but also for malware. Any program can be a virus," he said.

Enter Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, or UWP. According to Sweeney, it's next to impossible for UWP apps to contain or be viruses because they exist in Microsoft's sandbox. They're vetted, and locked down.

"The risk here is that, if Microsoft convinces everybody to use UWP, then they phase out Win32 apps. If they can succeed in doing that then it’s a small leap to forcing all apps and games to be distributed through the Windows Store. Once we reach that point, the PC has become a closed platform. It won’t be that one day they flip a switch that will break your Steam library – what they’re trying to do is a series of sneaky maneuvers. They make it more and more inconvenient to use the old apps, and, simultaneously, they try to become the only source for the new ones."

When asked for to expand on his theory, the Epic co-founder postulated that all Microsoft has to do to turn users off of Steam is patch Windows 10 to chip away at compatibility for Win32-compatible software. Year after year, patch after patch, Steam and other Win32 apps would become progressively more unstable and inconvenient to use. In parallel, the UWP will become more attractive.

"They’ll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seems like an ideal alternative. That’s exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they’re doing it to Steam. It’s only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan, but they’re certainly trying."

Should you somehow get the impression that Sweeney is in favor of Microsoft throwing its weight around with UWP, think again. He and others have been vocal about the dangers of locking developers out of certain features and functions unless they agree to write software exclusively for the platform.

This strategy—should Microsoft move forward with it—has the potential stifle innovation, if not suffocate it outright. Sweeney believes the PC has remained at the forefront of graphical innovations due to the platform's open nature. By herding developers into its walled garden, Microsoft would set the pace of new technologies—not just graphics, but VR, AR, and other game changers.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:08 PM

      I don't remember Sweeney being as vocal about this during Win8 (when Gabe Newell was), not sure why.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 1:16 PM

        He was pretty vocal lately about the whole UWP apps.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 1:16 PM

        Probably because they have their own launcher now.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 1:17 PM

          it only took about 200 other companies to do it before they figured it out

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:14 PM

      Kind of hyperbolic. Yeah so one day MS might kill Win32 as they should. By that time I am sure virtualization will be matured to have games running in their own VM or something. The latest server edition already has the option to use GPU natively through the hyper visor.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:14 PM

      This just in : OS updates may cripple older software. No shit sherlock. That part of it is utter bullshit. And yes, Microsoft could lock down windows to only run Windows store apps. They could do that tomorrow. But they won't, because they have no interest in doing so.

      Windows 10 is no different in that regard than any other previous operating system. It does not contain magic bits. And if MS was going to pull this kind of stunt, they would have done so 10 years ago under Ballmer, not now under leadership that is all about opening the platform up, and instead focusing on locking people into the cloud services that microsoft provides....Microsoft wants to keep the PC platform as open as they can, for as long as they can, because although it's their best way of getting users onto their services, it's also a dying platform. Locking windows down would accelerate that process, which is the last thing Microsoft wants.

      All in all, this is some magnificent bullshit from someone who should know better.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 1:17 PM

        Well, they do get a 30% cut on every sale through the Windows Store, don't they?

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 1:18 PM

          Which would come at the cost of lowering the value of the platform as a whole, and hurting their enterprise customers. That's a pretty bad fucking deal.

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 5:04 PM

            Considering the platform lost a lot of value with the introduction of Windows 8, it seems a lot of that is their fault. That and users are having PC experiences elsewhere.

            More than anything, Microsoft has done the most damage to it's own brands over the past decade.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 3:05 PM

        Exactly. Outlook mobile supports competing services like Dropbox and others out of the box. They release their products for competing OSes too. Why not lock everyone to onedrive? Probably because people like having choice.

        I don't see Microsoft suddenly deciding to suddenly block or cripple one of the most popular services on PC because of some short sighted decision. It does them no good at all.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 5:07 PM

          They originally tried to do that, but because they aren't market leaders in that space it didn't work. Only very recently have Office applications been available for iOS and Android devices.

          Modern virtualization makes losing Win32 based applications less of a worry.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:14 PM

      "They’ll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seems like an ideal alternative. That’s exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they’re doing it to Steam. It’s only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan, but they’re certainly trying."

      After the Internet Explorer/Netscape debacle and the ensuing anti-trust suits, I can't think of when they tried this again.

      While I agree it's theoretically feasible they could try this, I can't see it happening without a similar suit being brought against them again for anti-competitive behavior.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 1:16 PM

        It's theoretically feasible that any OS could do this to any software at any time and to point out this one specific instance is completely absurd. Does Amazon make their tablets buggy when someone loads the Google Play store on it? Or vice versa?

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 1:19 PM

          I get the theory, even if it's completely unplausbile, in that Windows doing this vs. other closed platforms would be a much more damaging scenario. If Apple, Google, Steam or EA did this, you've got a competing platform to go to. If Microsoft did this, it would effectively shut down all other platforms except their own.

          But again I reiterate, this is never going to happen.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 5:42 PM

          Completely absurd? Hah!

          Apple is known to have blocked Flash on the iPhone because it was a direct competitor to their upcoming app store.

          Sure, battery performance and usability will be their arguments but..

          I've read before they also did the same on the Safari front, making websites load slower so people would use more apps, less web surfing. It's been a while, i don't know all the details. I'm sure you can dig this on Google if you want.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:15 PM

      But that's impossible since Windows 8 was already supposed to have destroyed and removed Steam

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:21 PM

      The only way this would ever happen is if they split the OS into an enterprise and consumer version more than it already is. It seems highly unlikely.

      Especially given the failure of Win 8 ARM.

      Microsoft has made some dumb moves but there's no way they're going to murder their entire user base by taking away Win32 any time soon.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:34 PM

      reeks so strongly of "i have something to gain by making you believe this" instead of an actual concern. win32 is going to be with us for fucking forever. way longer than anybody wants. this is going to be a "greatly overstayed its welcome" situation, not a "ok guys win32 is gone, p.s. fuck you" situation. microsoft made one tiny step in that direction with WinRT and they stepped directly on a landmine and it blew up in their face. they won't make that mistake again. win32 will stick around until it's completely irrelevant and nobody cares that they're removing it

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 1:43 PM

        Exactly ^^^^

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:33 PM

        I think you're right here.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:36 PM

        Exactly right. Ms recognizes that backwards compatibility is key. Once the effort to move can be compared to going to OS X , they lose lock-in.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:47 PM

        COM 4 Lyfe

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 3:30 PM

          i bet in a future where Win32 is abandoned, they *still* keep COM. god damn they love their COM

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 3:23 PM

        I know at least one dude that will bitch about it like they're trying to take is fucking guns.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 4:05 PM

        Yep. Sweeney's position on this is moronic.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 5:18 PM

        bingo, UWP is the plan B here since it supports win32 and all the other goodies

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 5:46 PM

        "The Sky is Falling"- Tim Sweeney

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 1:42 PM

      ? huh, I don't under stand what Tim Sweeney is talking about or concerned about. It doesn't seem correct at all.

      I can build both x86 (32bit) and x64(64 bit) UWP apps(I just did and have done before) it has nothing to do with a application targeting 32bit. I don't know why he is even talking about 32bit other than the Steam client is 32bit app, but that is irrelevant for it doesn't matter at all.

      Steam will simply re write their client as a 32bit or 64bit UWP app and be done with it, Steam is only a fancy application launcher. Nothing will change.

      I don't see the problem at all and even if MS forced UWP applications only on Windows 10 + for now on it could never stop Valve from having a UWP client of Steam.

      Unless I am missing something I don't get what he is concerned about what so ever?

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:03 PM

        Yup. Even if they completely nuke the Win32 API they could still make a UWP app and it's especially easier with the Anniversary Update bringing one-click installs for UWP apps. It doesn't have to be distributed through the Microsoft store. The only thing they'd have to be concerned about is Microsoft restricting consumer OS's to not be able to install anything from outside the store but that's not going to happen.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 2:07 PM

          Totally ^^^ , yeah man I am not concerned at all.

          "restricting consumer OS's to not be able to install anything from outside the store" yeah there is no way they would ever do that cause every span of application(all industries) can/do behave that way so it cripple like everyone and they would kill their own OS.

          Its all good :)

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 2:12 PM

            It's epic (lol) levels of FUD from someone who should know better targeted at people who should not have to know better.

            These types of things from people like gaben and Tim Sweeney really ruin any sort of respect I could ever have for them.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 2:51 PM

          The only thing they'd have to be concerned about is Microsoft restricting consumer OS's to not be able to install anything from outside the store but that's not going to happen.

          well that is what OSX is set to do by default. Of course being able to disable the setting is an important detail.

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 2:52 PM

            Right, and that's fine.

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 5:53 PM

            That's exactly what Apple does on the iPhone and iPad front. And it has brought them a lot of dollars.

            That's what Android does with Play store as well. But on Android there's an option to override it, at least.

            And we've read before Microsoft would love to do the same. This is not new and its not difficult to accept that it would be a dream come true for Microsoft.

            Shackers now will say oh no it would never happen, but the fact is that inside people like GabeN said yes, there's a risk of that happening and we're ready to move to our own OS (sure it was all bluff). So why cant we accept that there's at least a bit of truth in what he was saying back then?

            Unfortunately for MS, Windows 8 sucked balls and the store was shit.

            • reply
              July 26, 2016 7:36 PM

              Gabe Newell is an "inside" person to Microsoft?

              • reply
                July 27, 2016 12:37 AM

                Well, he used to work there.

              • reply
                July 27, 2016 1:27 AM

                Why not?

                He's a big shot. He's probably inside on many things related to technology.

                He worked at Microsoft before and I'm sure he has contacts there.

                Who knows.

            • reply
              July 26, 2016 7:47 PM

              Also you can make the argument that any OS will stop supporting the development model they've previously supported for decades and you'd be just as batshit for suggesting it there as here.

              It's nothing but FUD.

            • reply
              July 26, 2016 9:33 PM

              there's a pretty critical difference between Windows and iOS/Android, namely that all those legacy PC apps are what's giving the PC basically all its value. Shutting them down makes little strategic sense. What sells someone on Windows today vs an iPad or a Chromebook? All those existing Win32 apps. Throwing those away is throwing away Windows biggest moat.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 9:20 PM

          can they make steam a uwp app? I thought it was more restricted. stuff like putting the app in system tray, multiple windows (although I think they can do this now)

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 9:22 PM

            There's no reason for things to live in the system tray any more. Multiple windows are possible. It would be interesting to solve how distribution of the games was done but I think it'd be possible, though all the games would have to move to UWP as well - which - in this apocalyptic scenario of removing Win32 support would have to happen anyway.

            • reply
              July 26, 2016 9:26 PM

              why no to system tray? its perfect for this use case. I want to play a steam game, msg a steam friend, I got access to it in a double click.

              • reply
                July 26, 2016 9:26 PM

                Pin it to your taskbar and you have access to it in one click...

                • reply
                  July 26, 2016 9:29 PM

                  yeah but i dont want all of bnet, uplay, origin, and steam taking up so much space

                  • reply
                    July 26, 2016 9:32 PM

                    then keep it in the start menu as is default. do you not hide 75% of the shit in your system tray? I can't stand all the clutter; I think it's just a thing we're used to now.

                  • reply
                    July 26, 2016 9:37 PM

                    Do you really need all of those icons sitting in your system tray and visible all the time? Otherwise you're hiding them behind the system tray expansion button at which point you might as well just pin them to the start menu.

                    Jump lists make any of the system tray click menus obsolete as well.

                    The only reason something like Steam would need to run constantly in the background would be something to do with updating. I'm not sure how to solve that, but that doesn't have anything to do with the system tray.

                    • reply
                      July 27, 2016 12:39 AM

                      I have my temperature monitors in the system tray, among a load of other things.

                      I woukdnt want them cluttering up my task bar

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:40 PM

        He is pointing at the Win32 API layer not about x86 or x64 architectures. While UWP can be 32 or 64 bit, it is not using the Win32 API, at least not directly.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 2:47 PM

          It doesn't matter. The underlying point is that UWP is an open API that anyone can use. Your app doesn't have to be distributed through the Windows Store if it's a UWP app. You can absolutely host the appx and distribute it outside the store if you want.

          IF Microsoft ever does away with Win32 there will always be an alternative to deploy applications to Windows PCs that doesn't require the store. If not, the shit storm they would endure would be grand and would probably result in them reversing the decision, or the downfall of the company.

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 2:49 PM

            Not disagreeing just pointing out what he is talking about in regards to valcan_s post.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 3:20 PM

        I think he means the games you bought on steam would not run anymore because they are win32

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 5:15 PM

        I think Valve could be concerned if UWP apps are only available through the Windows store. In which case, does Microsoft get a portion of all sales conducted through the Steam software?

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 5:45 PM

          UWP apps are not only available through the Windows Store though, so...

          • reply
            July 27, 2016 6:22 PM

            As of now that's the case, but Microsoft could revoke that benefit at any time.

            • reply
              July 27, 2016 6:24 PM

              Just like Steam could stop giving you access to your games at any time.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 2:51 PM

      Sweeney may or may not be right but just so everyone realizes, this is why Valve is making SteamOS. No it's not that great yet. And no, it hasn't taken off yet. It may never take off. But, just in case Microsoft pulls some shit they have this alternate thing they've been working on while simultaneously encouraging everyone to make Linux versions of their games and engines.

      Whenever you make something that has a dependency you're always beholden to that dependency. SteamOS is Valve's contingency in case they ever need to pull it out.

      And yeah, theoretically Apple could do the same thing. Hence relying on the only feasible computer operating system for which they can have the source code.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 2:54 PM

        it's just strange for Sweeney to be going on about this now when he presumably should've had the same fear starting like 4+ years ago. On the other hand he's right to be more fearful in the sense that SteamOS is proving what everyone knew: no one wants such an alternative product. There is no real alternative to Windows for gaming, and 2016 is certainly not the time for someone else to come in and change that with the trendline in PC sales.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 3:07 PM

          Yeah it's strange.

          Something I seem to recall with regards to the Windows RT fiasco - RT was sort of Microsoft's attempt to make Windows more like iOS on Apple devices - as in, you couldn't download and run programs off of the Internet or anywhere else, both because any executables you ran would be designed for x86 and not ARM but also because they locked it down to prevent anything that didn't go through the Windows Store from running, similar to how Apple prevents anything that didn't go through the App Store from running (I never ran RT so this is just what I remember reading, I may have some of it wrong). If they had not included the desktop interface and the ARM-compatible Office, it would have been very much like the OSX->iOS situation where it's the original OS under the hood but locked down with a different interface.

          When they announced this some people pointed out that at one point in time Microsoft was actually banned from making such a system by the DOJ settlement. On closer inspection though the DOJ settlement only applied to Intel-based computers. But they could lock down non-Intel-based computers as much as they wanted. Hence RT running on ARM.

          Of course no one liked RT and they killed it but in reading Sweeney's stuff I'm reminded of the thing where they can't lock down Intel-based PC's legally. So even though they might pull some dick moves with Win32, I think until they start making desktop and laptop PC's with non-x86 processors I think the disaster scenario can be avoided.

          • reply
            July 26, 2016 3:18 PM

            remember that WinRT refers to both the runtime/platform (now UWP) and the ARM targeted OS. The WinRT runtime/platform strategy is roughly the same as UWP, particularly if you're in the projecting future fears game.

      • reply
        July 27, 2016 12:43 AM

        I would drop Windows in a heartbeat and switch to Steam OS if it could play every game as reliably and consistently as Windows. It's just not there yet unfortunately.

        There's nothing keeping me on a Windows machine except games.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 3:10 PM

      There would be a figuratively giant shitstorm in the PC gaming community and it would get fixed quick or people would roll back to 7/8.1 .

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 7:34 PM

        You hit the nail on the head.
        If they break the OS people will just use old OSes and Microsoft will lose shed loads of cash.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 3:26 PM

      Sounds like conspiracy theory stuff but I wouldn't put it past MS to take the sleazy route and drop a load runny fuck dump all over PC gaming.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 4:11 PM

        I don't think the PC gaming market is big enough to be worth all the bad PR etc and Nadella seems to be too cloud focused to be bothered.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 5:58 PM

        I will never forget Netscape running like shit because of MS Windows fucking with it.


        I will also never forget about corporate shenanigans occurring all over the world on a daily basis. We have many examples. We only forget because we want to.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 3:43 PM

      LOL

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 4:09 PM

      oh, god. stop it, Tim.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 4:18 PM

      This is garbage.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 4:38 PM

      Like a lot of the others, I feel this is extremely chicken little of him. His argument that subsequent updates could kill current software if it isn't updated too is legit, but he doesn't give any reasons why he thinks they are slowly trying to close the platform.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 4:39 PM

        Plus, MS is well known for their legacy support and compatibility so it makes the concerns even more hyperbolic.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 5:41 PM

      Isn't this sort of like saying

      Steam could, at any time ban you from accessing all of your games?

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 5:45 PM

        Yep, pretty much.

      • reply
        July 27, 2016 10:43 AM

        You could buy new ones, so it's not the same thing.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 7:23 PM

      Tim Sweeney is the Gary Busey of gaming.

      • reply
        July 26, 2016 7:56 PM

        He's pretty much gone off the deep end a few years ago.

        • reply
          July 26, 2016 9:59 PM

          I dont know if I would go that far hes still a god and is the chief architect of an insanely good engine right now

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 7:30 PM

      Apple has a poor product but sell a lot of units through advertising.
      Microsoft has a poor history of advertising so sell a lot of units through business support and gaming.
      If Microsoft restrict software to their platform a lot of businesses and gamers will move to another OS. They know that gamers make PCs for family members so will lose between 1 and 5 sales per gamer lost, they also know that businesses will jump ship as soon as it costs more to run Windows than other OSes.
      Microsoft isn't totally stupid.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 7:42 PM

      He's a nutter.

      He got all the stuff he wanted (you can install UWA from any store etc.) but now it's like "well they COULD reverse that'. Yes they could, and they could lock down win32 apps too if they decided to - his bat shit crazy arguments are just as valid if you change them to talk about win32 rather than UWA.

      Also, let's remember that this guy is fine with the MUCH more locked down model of iOS and Android (may be related to the fact that catering to those platforms is how they make money.. I guess principles don't matter so much then).

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 10:02 PM

      Remember, Sweeney also said that fixed function GPUs are gonna get replaced with software renderers (i.e. Larrabee) and that graphics APIs are gonna fade out:

      http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2008/09/gpu-sweeney-interview/

      • reply
        July 27, 2016 10:52 AM

        Apparantly, because you're a famous software engineer, you're not allowed to be incorrect 8 years later. :) Were you even born in 2008?

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 10:04 PM

      Microsoft did this once before when they crippled DOS!

      I can't play my Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego games anymore.

    • reply
      July 26, 2016 11:42 PM

      Such a paranoid, hypocritical liar this guys is: Epic publishes Infinity Blade on iOS, the most fascist walled garden there is, yet feels his made up concerns about a theoretical step-by-step crippling of Win32 is worth worrying about. Because Microsoft doesn't want applications for their OS.

      Last three paragraphs here sum it up nicely:
      http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/07/now-tim-sweeney-thinks-that-microsoft-will-use-windows-10-to-break-steam/