Vista hurts casual gaming

Via Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, I read a very interesting article by Alex St. John on Gamasutra.com. In this article, entitled Vista Casts A Pall On PC Gaming, Alex writes that the combination of Vista’s security changes and the parental controls in the Gaming Center will have a chilling effect on the adoption of casual PC games:

One of the pieces of information a game has to supply to register with Game Explorer is a ESRB rating. Games that do not supply a rating will be subject to the “Not Rated” parental control setting. Since games are “trusted” to supply accurate ratings information, one might expect that they are also trusted to handle parental messaging themselves. Not so, any game that registers with Game Explorer becomes “subject” to Vista parental controls which will proceed to block the game from running and offer to delete the link to the game if you try to run it from anywhere on the system other than within the Game Explorer.

The heavy handed implementation of parental controls presents several problems for PC game developers. First, most free family and casual games are “unrated” because the ESRB rating service, designed for multimillion dollar boxed titles, is too expensive for most small casual game developers. Any parent concerned enough about the games their kids are downloading online to use Vista’s parental control system are likely to block “unrated” content and break most family appropriate content that can be found online. Note that Vista’s parental control system does not apply to web games and is not accessible from the browser so parents who expect them to protect their kids from “all” online game content may be in for a shock.

The bottom line of all this is that the idea of just trying out a casual Windows game on Vista is gone. Alex says he can’t speculate on what Microsoft was thinking, and I won’t try. I will point out that the obvious solution to the problem is to make your games web-based using Flash – the problems Alex complains about only effect games written to the Windows APIs that need to be installed locally. Longer term, Apollo will let you bring those games to the desktop as well.

[Update 1-17-2006] GigaGamez has a good followup article on the story, where an anonymous Microsoft executive says:

“It’s unfortunately a mercenary way of doing things,” a Microsoft executive tells GameDaily, explaining why indy/casual developers are receiving less support. “Certainly we want Blizzard’s ‘World Of Warcraft’ to work flawlessly on day one of Vista because 8 million tech support calls would be a very bad thing. The casual developers don’t sell quite as many.”

That’s pretty sad, and shortsighted to boot.

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~ by Andrew Shebanow on 11Jan07.

2 Responses to “Vista hurts casual gaming”

  1. Actually, Microsoft doesn’t ship Flash with Vista, so your kids will be safe from evil Flash games as well. They will require a download just like any downloadable game in Vista.

  2. Alex, it is true that Vista doesn’t ship with Flash. But there is a HUGE difference between installing Flash and installing a game. Flash is a well known product from a well known company so most users will install it without worrying about security issues. On the other hand, most cool casual games come from smaller, less well known companies like your own and it is much harder for those companies to gain the user’s trust.

    Furthermore, the Flash install is a one-time effort – once installed, all Flash casual games just work. For Windows native games, you have to make a trust decision for each and every game separately.

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