If you consider yourself a gamer, there is a very good chance that you’ve been exposed to Havok Inc’s software. This company is responsible for the creation of the the very popular physics engine, Havok. The Havok engine can be found in Halo, Call of Duty, Skyrim, and hundreds of other franchises. This past Friday, Havok was bought by Microsoft after being with Intel for nearly eight years.
Microsoft claims this acquisition will help with their “tradition of empowering developers by providing them with the tools to unleash their creativity to the world.” They also say the main reason for this acquisition is to improve their cloud computing servers that can be utilized by the Xbox One. Currently, there isn’t much information about how this feature will work in games, but it’s clear that this is something Microsoft has a lot of faith in.
In addition to cloud computing, Microsoft seems to be taking a lot of big steps to make themselves more prominent in the gaming industry. The most notable example of this would be DirectX12, which will also benefit from the acquisition. While DirectX 12 and cloud computing seem to be really great on the surface, there are some fairly major downsides that need to be considered.
The biggest issue with this acquisition is further segmentation of the gaming industry. It is more than likely that Microsoft wants to use the Havok engine as a selling point over other consoles. In reality, this is already coming true due to the fact that their cloud computing servers will not be available for use on other machines. If this sort of segmentation is happening on the consoles, it’s fair to assume the same thing will happen on the PC.
Microsoft is already battling other, more open, pieces of software like the Vulkan API with DX12. If Havok is tied in with DX12, it will just give developers more of a reason to use DX12. This, of course, will only hinder the multi-platform progress that other APIs have been striving to achieve. It is possible that Microsoft doesn’t completely lock down Havok to their software. However, we could see a scenario similar to PhysX and NVIDIA hardware, where Havok performance is hindered on non-Microsoft software.
Whether all of this speculation actually comes to fruition depends on the developers. Fortunately, the support for other APIs and operating systems seem to be steadily increasing. It should also be considered that mobile devices are becoming more and more popular for gaming, but Microsoft isn’t doing so well when it comes to mobile devices. This means it’s fairly unlikely we'll ever see a mobile implementation of DX12, while other APIs support a wide range of platforms and operating systems. Lastly, there are a lot of other physics engines, such as Bullet, that could replace Havok if such a switch is needed.