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gdc 2016

Epic's Tim Sweeney Doubles Down On UWP Criticism, Challenges Apple To Open iOS Platform

by Matt Bertz on Mar 17, 2016 at 05:30 AM

Last week Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney wrote a scathing editorial about Micosoft's UWP initiative, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to monopolize the Windows ecosystem. Given Epic's close past with Microsoft, working on both the Gears of War series and operating as a sounding board for the development of Xbox technology, I asked him if he voiced his concerns with Microsoft before he took his gripes public.

"We've been following UWP for a long time," he says. "The idea of running apps in a more sandboxed way that makes installing new apps safer, borrowing techniques from the iOS app store and elsewhere to create a next generation safer Windows environment. I've always been concerned that it will be tied to an effort to close Windows as an open platform. With Windows 8 and the initial release of Windows 10 it was certainly a closed format.

"Microsoft has since then taken some half-steps to open it up further, but we've been talking with them confidentially for about 18 months expressing concerns and having really good, engaged discussions about whether or not there is a solution, but here we are. What really initiated this was Microsoft's marketing launch of a bunch of games built on UWP, which drew a lot of attention to it. I felt personally that the other side of the story needed to be told so developers and publishers are aware of the danger that lies in Microsoft giving itself the keys to lock down the Windows ecosystem if we all moved to that format. I wrote the editorial to really point out the dangers and to suggest a path forward that averts those dangers. If Microsoft opens it up, that will be a great step forward for Windows gaming. It will keep the benefits of Windows' open ecosystem and also respect the existing developer and publisher and customer relationships."

Citing the ease of a user finding an application via a web browser, clicking on it, and installing it as many do on Mac and Win 32 platforms, Sweeney points out that when both Windows 8 and 10 launched the only way that users could download UWP apps was via Microsoft's store. While they force patches some hot fixes, Sweeney says finding a workaround to letting users install these UWP apps is needlessly complicated and betrays the original vision for the operating system.

I then asked Sweeney what separates this UWP initiative from the iOS, a closed platform that Apple has operated for some time. Epic is no stranger to the App Store, having appeared during Apple press conferences numerous times to showcase games like Infinity Blade. 

"Windows has been an open platform all along," he says. "Windows has a far more vibrant app ecosystem than iOS. If you look at it, something like 90 percent of apps sold are fairly shallow, fun games, but they are all very limited entertainment experiences. Whereas Windows spans everything from extremely rich game experiences – some of the best games in the world are exclusive to Windows like League of Legends or World of Warcraft [sic] – all the way up to AutoCAD, industrial design software, Microsoft Office [sic]. It's a huge platform that supplies not only a need for simple apps on your mobile devices, but the world runs on Windows. It has to remain open or else it's a serious threat to world commerce. Windows is exceptional in that way. "

So would Sweeney prefer that Apple adopt an unlocked platform as well?

"We have to be honest and say that Apple kind of got a free pass by creating an awesome device, and then adding support for apps through a store," he says. "Because it started out as really nice, strong ecosystem they were able to grow that platform to a billion users. But if you stand back and look at it from a fresh perspective, I find it very questionable that any billion user ecosystem is a closed ecosystem and does not support third party open installation of apps from other sources and open commerce through sources other than Apple. That seems like something that Apple should revisit some point in the future. If we recognized from the beginning that it would be a billion user ecosystem, we probably all would have had a different view of it."

This story was originally posted on March 16, 2016 at 06:33 PM.