When Microsoft launched Windows 10, it made one thing very clear: DirectX 12 and its support for low overhead draw calls and better overall CPU utilization would be reserved strictly for Windows 10. Other APIs, like Vulkan, might be available for machines running Windows 7 and 8, but Microsoft itself wouldn’t take that step. Just as DX10 and DX11 never came to Windows XP, DX12 would never ship for Windows 7, 8, or 8.1.
It’s with that in mind that I inform you of the following: Microsoft has ported DirectX 12 to Windows 7. But not for everything and that’s what makes this even stranger. Microsoft isn’t just bringing DirectX 12 to Windows 7. It’s porting DX12 to Windows 7 for specific titles, starting with World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth.
Now, BfA has been upgraded several times already, most notably with significant support for multi-threading in DX12 that AMD claims can increase performance on Ryzen CPUs substantially over and above DX11. Microsoft writes:
Today, with game patch 8.1.5 for World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Blizzard becomes the first game developer to use DirectX 12 for Windows 7! Now, Windows 7 WoW gamers can run the game using DirectX 12 and enjoy a framerate boost, though the best DirectX 12 performance will always be on Windows 10, since Windows 10 contains a number of OS optimizations designed to make DirectX 12 run even faster.
The company has not specified which features explicitly do not work on Windows 7, but we’ll undoubtedly see benchmarks comparing the two in coming days.
Microsoft also states that this isn’t the only game that’s going to come to Windows 7 running DX12. In an FAQ below the announcement, the company notes: “We are currently working with a few other game developers to port their D3D12 games to Windows 7. Please watch out for further announcement.”
It is not clear why Microsoft took a step for Blizzard that it’s been unwilling to make for any other developer. WoW is, to be sure, still a massive game — but it isn’t the largest MMO any longer. That spot has been claimed by Final Fantasy XV. Games like Fortnite command an audience of even more players.
One possibility is that this relates to China and Blizzard’s substantial WoW player base in that country. A significant number of Chinese gamers and computer users are still on Windows 7, and that OS remains quite popular. Connecting the dots would seem to suggest that games that remain more popular in that country would be the ones most likely to see a Windows 7 specific port.
Of course, this also raises the question of why Microsoft hasn’t opened up the rules to allow more companies to take advantage of this trend. The company’s blog post suggests that it will try to reserve this capability for specific titles. With Windows 7 leaving extended support in less than a year, it’s not a great time to try to extend the operating system’s life span, but that won’t stop some gamers who are unhappy with Windows 10 from wondering where their OS support is.