Gabe Newell and Windows 8

There's been a lot of silliness spreading across the internet over the last few days regarding Windows 8. Much of it written by people who a) haven't used Windows 8 and b) haven't bothered to do any research.

The latest flurry of criticism started when Valve boss Gabe Newell said Windows 8 would be a "catastrophe for everyone in the PC space". Notice he said for everyone in the PC space, not calling Windows 8 a catastrophe itself - how it was misreported around the internet echo chamber.

Valve: Windows 8 a 'catastrophe' - BBC
Valve's Gabe Newell calls Windows 8 "a catastrophe" - Tech Digest
Gabe Newell: "Windows 8 Is Kind of a Catastrophe" - IGN
Gabe Newell Predicts: "Windows 8 is a Catastrophe" - Gamespy

All of which slant it in such a manner to say Windows 8 is rubbish. When that's not quite what Gabe was saying at all.

He went onto say "I think we'll lose some of the top-tier PC OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people." Margins were destroyed by PC manufacturers racing to the bottom, squeezing every last cent out of a machine to get sales volume, all while sacrificing quality. There's a reason real PC gamers build their own systems, to avoid cheap low-end components and to avoid all the bloatware that OEMs have traditionally installed on their machines, in many cases reducing modern hardware to a crawl. Secondly even the largest OEM announced they would be leaving the PC space - before Windows 8 was announced. If Hewlett Packard, the world's largest PC manufacturer thinks about leaving - they shortly after announced they wouldn't exit the business - what chance do some smaller OEMs have? Not exactly prophetic vision by Gabe there.

PC makers would be going out of business with or without Windows 8. In my opinion they've got a much better chance of staying in business with Windows 8. Margins are reduced due to competition between each other, and Apple, not so much due to the Macintosh, whose sales fell below forecasts in the last quarter but because of tablets. Within a year or two, we could be in a situation where most personal computers sold are tablets. That's a trend many have been predicting, including Microsoft back in 2002, but now few would doubt that we're on the verge of a new shift in computing. The Windows desktop is fine on tablets for power-users, I've used it on tablets for over eight years, but it can't be considered a touch-first interface - something new was required.

What is Microsoft's response? To try and keep themselves in business by building Windows 8, either that or iOS (you won't be porting Steam to that now Gabe) and Android will run off with the tablet market. A half-hearted approach wouldn't work - they've tried that before, so Microsoft went all in.

What's Gabe's real motive? His own product Steam - the market leader in selling downloadable games on the PC, is at risk from Microsoft's new online distribution platform, the Windows Store. It's like Xbox Live Marketplace meets the App Store. Built into Windows 8, its where you'll be able to buy metro-style applications for Windows 8. When he's talking margins, is he talking Steam?

Of course Gabe Newell is open to lots of criticism himself, for years Steam was loathed by PC gamers, yet it was forcibly pushed upon users through Valve's own games which required it, EA are now pulling the same move by forcing Origin on us. It was always promised that digital distribution would make games cheaper for gamers. Is that true? Not when you compare the prices on Steam to online retailers selling boxed products, heck even High Street retailers are often cheaper. Games stay at their RRP on Steam far longer than other retailers. Sure that might keep Gabe's margins nice and wide, but what about good value for gamers?

After a decade, Steam is firmly established we don't see many games from Valve anymore. Remember the much delayed Half-Life 2? After Valve shipped it, they proudly said there would be no more five year waits between games, they were going to deliver episodic content. Episode 1 followed fairly shortly, Episode 2 however came in 2007, 3 years after the release of Half-Life 2. Frequent episodic content? Not exactly. The Half-Life 2 story-line remains unfinished to this day, with Valve seemingly uninterested in wrapping it up.

What happened to you Valve? You used to be cool.

You used to make quality games like Half-Life (the first one), and well you brought the Team Fortress guys. So err, but I suppose we could count TFC. Now what do you do? Sell other people's stuff, you're just a retailer out to defend their store from Microsoft's new store. Transparent Gabe, transparent.

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