Windows Vista: Indy Game Killer?

Vista ESRB ControlWhat you’re looking at on the right is, in the opinion of some of its most reputed developers, an interface that will throttle their branch of the game industry. It’s the game menu for Microsoft Vista, and it allows parents to block access to select games, based on their ESRB rating. Which is not a bad feature, really, but as with many Microsoft products, new features created with the best intentions often lead to unforeseen woes.

All this comes out in a GameDaily Biz story which interviews numerous fretful developers in casual/indy games, those low budget, low cost titles generally created for a non-gamer audience. The thing is, since most of them do operate on a slim budget, paying to have their games reviewed by the ESRB (who charge $2000-3000 for the privilege) just so they can make Vista’s rating requirement is a steep investment.

“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.”

The thing is, in aggregate, casual/indy/low budget games do sell well, as this top 100 list can attest. One classic, Diner Dash, has sold a million units, while Popcap’s Bejeweled has been played by an estimated 75 million people. Though most casual games (like their big budget counterparts) don’t reach those heights, charging a high toll to enter Vista will definitely help keep them down.

The result (unless Microsoft implements a quick workaround) means Vista likely won’t be featuring the next big indy hit any time soon. Instead, we’ll probably see small time developers move their products to Flash and other Web-based platforms— and away from Windows.

This isn’t to say developers of high-profile PC games are happy with Vista either, at least judging by a man associated with a game in the platform’s top twenty. “Microsoft has so many problems with Vista,” Gabe Newell grouses to Game Informer magazine. Newell is co-founder and managing director of Valve Studios, creator of the blockbuster Half-Life games. “I wish they were focusing more on the thing that runs on hundreds of millions of PCs rather than six million proprietary clients… [R]ight now,” he adds, “I’d go with a Macintosh as being a better solution for most consumers than a Vista-based PC.”

The brutal irony? Before launching Valve, Newell worked at Microsoft— Windows division.

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