Following Microsoft's Windows Developer Day yesterday, a slide made the rounds that appeared to signal the company's plans to open the Xbox floodgates to all UWP games. Not so fast ...
While the situation is improving, the vast majority of games in the Windows 10 Store are far from what I'd deem even vaguely approaching the quality core gamers expect. Many of the Windows Store games available now were designed for mobile devices, and they were often shovelware projects that less-experienced developers would simply fire and forget.
Despite the recent speculation, Microsoft is not opening Xbox One up to every UWP game in existence.
Some commentators speculated that the slide above indicated that Microsoft was preparing to open up Xbox to UWP games in the same way the company opened it up to UWP apps, bypassing the strict quality checks of Xbox and ID@Xbox certification. We reached out to our contacts for clarification, and they told us developers making UWP games will still need to register with a publisher or via ID@Xbox to bring their titles to Xbox One. The slide Microsoft showed at Developer Day was simply to reiterate the situation as it exists today.
That said, should Microsoft move to make the Xbox Store more open?
Open up Xbox
Steam has taken a far more relaxed stance on what sort of games can appear on its store, using programs such as Steam Greenlight to crowdsource the games that should be approved for the platform. While this has led to some high-profile success stories, such as Besieged, Five Nights at Freddy's, Rivals of Aether and SUPERHOT, it's also introduced a slew of pretty awful games. These range from abandonware, to clickbait masquerading as games, all the way to pure malicious scams.
Since the advent of the internet, the music industry has, to some degree, reorganized itself to accommodate indie artists who have more ways than ever to get discovered. While I'm by no means suggesting that developing quality games is comparable to creating popular music, the tools and resources needed to learn how to build games are getting more accessible by the day.
Steam Greenlight's sentiment of community-led curation is a positive one, but it needs a few tweaks.
This is at least superficially similar to how the internet, YouTube and social media provided musicians with a huge platform upon which to promote themselves, democratizing access. The rise of indie game development has gradually spilled over onto historically closed consoles, creating programs such as ID@Xbox, but Microsoft still holds the keys to what games get access to the console and the coveted Xbox Live API.
I think Steam Greenlight's sentiment of open community-led curation is a positive one, but it needs a few tweaks. It might be giving Steam a reputation for patchy quality, dragging it down in the same way the Android or Windows Store has been affected. With proper tools, curation and moderation, however, there are a few ways being a little more open could benefit Xbox. The openness of Windows is what led to games like Minecraft, after all.
My music industry comparison isn't 100 percent appropriate, of course, because running a random .exe from the web is potentially far more dangerous than wasting 30 seconds on a cringy YouTube clip. That's why openness in software needs at least a degree of divine interference from platform holders.
Unlike Win32 titles distributed on Steam, UWP games distributed on the Windows 10 or Xbox stores cannot harm your device. They don't have access to the operating system in the same way a Win32 .exe does, even when they're distributed via an executable file. When it comes to an open UWP on Xbox, the primary issue is quality, and what we expect as Xbox gamers.
Developers of all experience levels can bring their games to the Windows 10 Store today without Xbox certification, but those games cannot (and will not) be available on Xbox One or gain access to the Xbox API without going through a lengthy quality test. That test is far more intensive than that of Xbox-uncertified games in the Windows 10 Store.
Microsoft may feel that a fully open store would dilute the value of the Xbox brand.
Someone at Xbox once told me that they see achievement points as effectively having monetary value. When you buy an Xbox game, you're paying for a fixed amount of achievement points, at least in part. By this comment, you can assume that by allowing developers to add Gamerscore to lesser-quality "amateur" games, sometimes typical of the Windows Store, Microsoft may feel that a fully open store would dilute the value of the Xbox brand and also achievements as a coveted, "prestigious" system. This is why smaller Windows Phone games often carry only around 200 Gamerscore, compared to the console and PC version's 1000 score.
Developers can submit games to the Windows 10 Store without Xbox certification, and sometimes, it's a simple case of a developer not wanting to bother with the certification process. If the Xbox One was opened up to the Windows Store, we'd get some odd scenarios, as we've seen with Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, which doesn't have Xbox achievements on the Windows Store. I think it's fair to assume that most Xbox gamers expect and value full Xbox integration with games on their consoles. If you allow large developers to bypass that process on Xbox One, it could seriously devalue what makes the console great.
Xbox gamers expect and value full Xbox integration with games on their console.
There are all sorts of other arguments and factors that could feed into how an open Xbox could be both a positive and a negative thing. On the plus side, it would give even more developers an opportunity to get their games in front of a large audience, both for gathering feedback and building up a community. It would provide Xbox with more digital revenue, simply by virtue of adding more "buy" buttons to the store. It could also help to drive adoption of UWP as a more popular platform for larger "AAA" developers, most of which have yet to release their games for the Windows 10 Store.
Of course, on the flip side, it could degrade the quality of the Xbox Store by a huge amount. It could dilute the value of achievements, and it could also lead to some nasty, fraudulent situations, as demonstrated by the lightly-regulated Steam Greenlight.
No right or wrong answer
I think maybe Xbox could benefit from a program like Steam Greenlight, as long as it was moderated more strictly. Xbox One's Game Preview has already provided us with some great games, but even then, the games are generally of a far higher level of quality than you might expect from a Steam Greenlight title. Perhaps there could be a program that provides a stepping stone to ID@Xbox, allowing the community to pitch in its own input via those project's Game Hubs.
Xbox and Windows 10 are getting closer together, but clearly, Microsoft does not want to eliminate what makes Xbox special. Either way, we'll likely learn more about any changes to Microsoft's plans for publishing on Xbox One, Windows 10, and Project Scorpio at GDC 2017 very shortly.
What do you think about opening up Xbox to even more game developers? Would you like to see a Steam Greenlight-type program on Xbox?