Tag Archives: Notch

Game Developers Concerned About A Potentially Closed Windows 8

Originally Posted at Techdirt.

A couple of years ago, we highlighted a story that asked the question, “What if Microsoft Had To Approve Every App On Windows?” At the time, this was a purely hypothetical experiment to highlight some of the weaknesses inherent in a closed platform such as the iPhone. Little did we know at the time, such a scenario might be coming to pass. Microsoft has been talking up its latest operating system, Windows 8, for a while now trying to drum up excitement for its bold new look and direction. Yet, some game developers are taking a step back and looking at the broader direction Windows seems to be going here.

Gabe Newell is one of those developers. In an interview at the Casual Connect conference, he questioned the move to a more closed ecosystem for Windows 8.

In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong tempation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’

We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’

Here Gabe states that many game companies, not just Valve, would not be in existence were it not for the openness of Windows in the past. Now that this openness is threatened, his company is looking at alternative operating systems. This is one of the drivers behind Valve’s recent push toward Linux compatibility.

The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.

We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. 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. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.

If you think about it, he is right. Take a look at the original marketplace for iPhone applications. When the iPhone App Store was released, it was a closed platform. If you weren’t approved by Apple you couldn’t release your app or game on it. Even with the presense of web apps and alternative app distribution through jailbreaking, the system remains essentially closed for the majority of iPhone users who are not aware of or don’t want to go through the trouble of using these alternative distribution channels. Can you image what the overall impact would be for something as widely adopted as Windows? Going back to that hypothetical question posted above, would Microsoft have approved Steam for release knowing it would compete directly with its own Games For Windows Live service?

Since Gabe raised this point, a couple of other developers have echoed his sentiment. In a tweet responding to Gabe’s “catastrophe” comment, Blizzard’s Rob Pardo stated, “not awesome for Blizzard either.” Rob later clarified the statement by tweeting, “Yeah… more trying to say that if everything comes to pass that Gabe said it wouldn’t be very good for us either.”

Next during a Reddit AMA, Notch responded to a question about the future of indie game development with the following:

I hope we can keep a lot of open and free platforms around. If Microsoft decides to lock down Windows 8, it would be very very bad for Indie games and competition in general.

If we can keep open platforms around, there’s going to be a lot of very interesting games in ten years, mixed in with the huge AAA games that we all love.

So not only is having a viable open platform ideal for large game companies such as Valve, but also the budding developers such as what Notch once was. If Windows were to close off in the same way that Apple has closed off the iPhone, many developers of not just games but other software may not be able to survive on the platform. Just as Valve is looking at moving to other platforms, those developers will follow suit. As more developers of games and software shift from Windows to other platforms, their users will potentially shift was well.

It will certainly be interesting to see where Microsoft takes Windows 8 in this regard. Is it willing to take a path so diametrically opposed to its own history and the growing desire of the public for more open platforms? As independent artists and developers continue producing and distributing their work outside gated pathways, can such a change be a viable business option?

Uniloc In Such A Rush To Sue ‘Minecraft’ For Patent Infringement, It Didn’t Even Spell The Name Right

Originally Published on Techdirt.

Last time we visited Notch, the creator of Minecraft, and his legal woes, he was being sued for trademark infringement over his company Mojang’s latest game, Scrolls. That suit was eventually settled—though unfortunately not over a Quake 3 match as Notch proposed. We probably won’t get a similar offer from Notch in this new scenario: he’s being sued for patent infringement by the Eastern Texas-based patent troll Uniloc. This is the same Uniloc whose suit against Microsoft led to the CAFC ruling that 25% of all profits for a single patent infringement claim was just a tad excessive.

So why exactly is Mojang getting sued for patent infringement? Well, Uniloc was awarded a patent for a “System and Method for Preventing Unauthorized Access to Electronic Data” back in 2005 (Patent # 6,857,067). The primary claim is that since Mojang has an Android game that uses a network to communicate with an authorization server to perform a license validation check, Mojang has willfully infringed on the patent. The game named in the suit is “Mindcraft”—which of course is not actually the name of Mojang’s game. While it is very possible that Mojang may be infringing this patent, Notch stated in a follow up tweet that he is more than willing to “throw piles of money at making sure they don’t get a cent“. On that same front, this patent could also be invalidated if it is successfully challenged in court.

Perhaps Notch can take some solace in knowing that he is apparently not alone in being sued. According to Reddit, a number of other game companies are being sued for infringing this same patent. This list includes the likes of Gameloft, EA, Square Enix, Halfbrick Studios and a number of other developers. This practice of suing multiple parties for infringing a single patent is a typical sign of a patent troll. It is also a symptom of the huge mess that is software patents.

In a followup blog post, Notch reflected on the idea of software patents and patents in general. He even provided a nice illustration of theft, copyright infringement and patent infringement.

But there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve.

A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?

The post is short but full of some really good insights. Some of them we have touched on before, such as the idea that patents are actually harmful to the software industry. This suit also illustrates another point we have recently written about: how it is impossible to avoid infringing someone’s patent. On the bright side, as more such patent infringement suits are filed and more companies and individuals are harmed by the current patent system, perhaps we will see those in Washington take notice and implement some real reforms.