Microsoft vs Steam – A Tim Sweeney Theory

Now you may or may not be aware of this, but Tim Sweeney – the co-founder of Epic Games and the co-creator of the Unreal engine – is not the biggest fan of Microsoft, or more specifically the way in which they have handled their business and competitors in the past. There has been a snifter of truth to what he’s said in the past and just recently, but also there’s been an element of…erm…well let’s just say that some of what he says could make you think that he sleeps with a tin foil hat on to prevent Microsoft from attempting an Inception style invasion of his mind at night.

It’s really a perspective thing, and I hope that he’s just being paranoid, especially after his latest comments that were published in Edge Magazine and picked up by PC Gamer regarding his theory that Microsoft has Steam firmly in their crosshairs ready to take down. But let’s look into what he said.

“There are two programming interfaces for Windows and every app has to choose one of them,” he said. “Every Steam app – every PC game for the past few decades – has used Win32. It’s been both responsible for the vibrant software market we have now, but also for malware. Any program can be a virus. Universal Windows Platform is seen as an antidote to that. It’s sandboxed – much more locked down.”

OK. So UWP is seen as a bit of an antidote to malware and viruses…surely not a bad thing. I can’t think of a decent minded gamer or general PC user that enjoys having to deal with viruses. But there are workarounds, protections you can get: Norton, McAfee and Kaspersky to name a few. I sense a bit of being “led up the garden path” on this one Mr Sweeney, please continue.

“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 manoeuvres. 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.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold your horses there Timmo. You think that Microsoft is going to take on and take down one of the most trusted and influential games platforms in the world in Steam? You think Bill Gates and his cohorts are going to try to topple Gabe Newell and the gaming powerhouse that is Steam? If this is a blackmail attempt to push Half-Life 3, I could jump on board with that, but it would still take some convincing. But as I say, Steam is a powerhouse, surely whatever Microsoft do, they could absorb and deal with in time? What could be a potential strategy for Microsoft in pulling the rug from under Steams feet?

“Slowly, over the next five years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken. 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.”

I can kind of see his point, or the point he’s trying to get across. But personally, I think that Steam, and the whole gang at Valve who are busy making Steam what it is instead of pushing Half-Life 3 are too big, too well resourced and too smart for this. They will have seen the potential for this, but as yet have not said anything – not that they would exactly. Kevin Gallo, Vice President of Windows, however did say in an interview with The Guardian back in March:

“The Universal Windows Platform is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, that can be supported by any store. We continue to make improvements for developers; for example, in the Windows 10 November Update, we enabled people to easily side-load apps by default, with no UX [user experience] required.”


Personally, I think Microsoft and Steam would have so much more to gain by working together than being on opposing sides. Steam is a big reason for many people choosing the PC as their platform of choice, and without it, I have no doubt that consoles would be even more popular than they already are by a country mile. Steam has really allowed the PC to flourish as a gaming platform, and for Microsoft to try to take them out of the picture would be absolutely foolhardy. I mean we reported here last month (in fact exactly a month ago, hey make a wish!) that Steam had made its way onto Windows Phones, clearly showing a sign of collaboration between the 2 companies.

For me it’s a nice conspiracy theory, but like I said, I feel that the benefits of the 2 companies working together by far outweigh this theory from Tim Sweeney. As respected as he is, he’s certainly shown his bias against Microsoft many times before, and will no doubt continue to as time rolls on. Speaking of time though, I suppose that will prove him right or wrong as it ticks by.

What do you think of Tim Sweeney’s theory? Tin-foil hat time or already in the works? Will Steam be kaput in 5 years or so or will it be stronger than ever? Whatever your thoughts on this topic, we’d love to see what you think, let us know in the comments below or in the RGM Forums.