In May of 2007, Microsoft released a shoddy PC port of the critically acclaimed Xbox shooter Halo 2–a game that was almost 3 years old at that time–in support of its then-new Games for Windows branding and online service initiative. Response was lukewarm to say the least, both in online communities and amongst game critics, one of the major flaws of the port being the “Requires Windows Vista” stamp seared into the box. The general consensus was that Microsoft was attempting to force gamers to upgrade to its new—and severely criticized—operating system, even though the overwhelming majority of PC gaming enthusiasts were still happily tooling around on Windows XP, and even though Halo 2 had no real features that would require the rebuilt framework of Vista in order to run. Long story short, the initiative was a disaster, and only a handful of games ended up being Vista exclusives, Shadowrun being the other notable example, and the artificial push away from XP died down.
Fast forward four years and one well-received Windows version: major, respected gaming blog Press X or Die (you might have heard of us) get their grubby hands on a virtual review copy of Hamilton’s Great Adventure for the PC, only to be greeted by a big orange note on the game’s Steam page: “Hamilton’s Great Adventure only supports Windows Vista or Windows 7.” Windows XP users are left out in the cold, unable to join the quirky Hamilton on his quest with his friendly bird Sasha. PXOD reached out to the game’s developer, Fatshark, and CEO Martin Wahlund had this to say:
The game is built on our high end engine, BitSquid Tech. BitSquid Tech supports DX11 and the next generation of hardware, so we have chosen to focus more on the future. I think over 80% of the Steam population have computers that can run DirectX 11 and that figure will increase a lot in the next 12 months.
Even though there is no major technical reason the game could not have supported Windows XP, Fatshark took a step back, looked over the market, and decided they would take the risk and forgo the 20% of Steam users running Microsoft’s 10 year-old operating system. This time, though, writing as someone who owns two XP computers as well as two Windows 7 machines, I have no problem with the push toward newer operating systems, because it’s an organic, market-driven decision, rather than the mandate of some suits who wanted bigger sales numbers for the latest Windows OS. If Fatshark or any other developer wants to overlook the 20% segment of gamers who run an outdated operating system, let them. If targeting a smaller pool of possible PC configurations helps developers create better, more stable games, then good for them, and great for us. Those running legacy software are going to have to upgrade, or remain on their older systems without the latest releases—a perfectly viable option, considering the boatloads of awesome titles that support Windows XP—and those developers are going to have to take on the financial risk of missing out on those sales.
In short, if you didn’t complain that Dead Space or other major titles in 2008 didn’t run well, or at all, on the 10 year-old Windows 98 at release, don’t fault developers in 2011 for beginning to shift away from support of the decade-old Windows XP. It’s just a natural progression of technology, and hopefully we’ll start to see better games (and DirectX 11 use) because of it.