Getting a leg up on the Law and the Competition
For its Windows app store and future gaming console marketplaces, Microsoft has introduced the Open App Store Principles, a set of best practices. They essentially amount to Microsoft agreeing not to do things that Google and Apple have been accused of doing, such as getting unfair advantages over developers who use their app stores. The principles are meant to assuage concerns about Microsoft's recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard and to set the company apart from two of its major competitors, whose app store limitations have prompted lawsuits and legislation.
The Open App Store Principles, according to Microsoft, are "based on app store legislation being debated by governments throughout the world," including the US and the European Union. "We want regulators and the public to know that Microsoft is dedicated to adjusting to these new regulations as a firm, and we're going forward with these principles," says a blog post describing the new policies.
They don't simply apply to Windows, where Microsoft has previously made concessions such as allowing developers to use their own payment systems, opening up the Windows Store to third-party app stores, and lowering its cut of Windows games. "Just as Windows has evolved into an open and widely used platform, we envision the future of gaming following a similar path," Microsoft says now.
The Principles are divided into four categories:
Microsoft provides consumers privacy controls and assistance for all developers who fulfil "reasonable and transparent requirements" in terms of quality, safety, security, and privacy.
Accountability: Microsoft will hold its own apps to the same high standards as third-party apps, and it will not compete with third-party apps using private analytics data.
Fairness and Transparency: Microsoft will not intentionally rank its own programs higher than those of competitors, and will use consistent, clear moderation procedures.
Developer Choice: Developers are not required to use Microsoft's payment system for in-app purchases, and if they do, Microsoft will not penalize them. Microsoft will not oblige them to supply Microsoft with better conditions than rival app shops; instead, developers speak directly with developers about pricing offerings.
While Apple and Google already claim to be fair, transparent, and accountable, as well as offering privacy and security controls, both of Microsoft's rivals have stuck to their in-app payment systems and are facing huge legal battles.
The restrictions, however, are identical to those proposed by Microsoft for Windows last year, and they closely resemble the text of proposals such as the Open App Markets Act, which was approved by a US Senate committee last week. The voting on the Open App Markets Act was praised by Microsoft president Brad Smith, who tweeted that it will "encourage competition, ensure justice, and innovation in the app industry." Microsoft's support for legislation is reiterated in today's post.
However, Microsoft is not holding its Xbox platform to the same standards as Windows, as it has in the past. The current Xbox store will adhere to the concepts outlined in the first three parts, but not the developer choice regulations, which are the most contentious and potentially costly restrictions, and which Apple and Google have battled the most vehemently.
"We're dedicated to bridging the gap on the remaining principles over time," according to the release, which will apply to "the next-generation marketplaces we'll establish for games."
That's convenient for Microsoft because it has a popular, valuable store on Xbox, one where it strikes special deals with certain companies, but it has struggled to get users to accept its Windows store, even after many years, and it has no mobile platform at all following the failure of Windows Phone.
For the time being, the firm has committed to particular decisions that promote openness in the gaming industry, including one that may assuage players' concerns regarding Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard: Call of Duty and other Activision Blizzard games will continue to be available on PlayStation platforms "beyond the present arrangement," according to Microsoft. However, it appears that these commitments are made on a case-by-case basis.
Microsoft explained why there is a difference between Windows and Xbox. "It's critical to note that new legislation is being drafted to address app stores on the platforms that matter most to creators and consumers: PCs, mobile phones, and other general-purpose computing devices," the report states. "For good reason, emerging legislation is not being designed for specialized computing devices like gaming consoles." For example, the Open App Markets Act effectively exempts consoles from its proposed requirements.