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Microsoft Needs More On Xbox Live For Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 – it’s the platform we hate to love. Why? Because despite being a fantastic example of what Redmond can achieve when it innovates, it’s been let down by slow reaction times and average hardware. And while the partnership with Nokia will help on the hardware front, the slow reaction times are still hanging around, as exemplified by Xbox Live.

Windows Phone 7 is over a year old now, and while it has in many ways lived up to the promise found in that first version, it has also been an exceptional disappointment in others. Despite having one of the strongest brands in the gaming market integrated into the phone, Microsoft’s effort on the Xbox Live WP7 portal is average at best.

Where are the games?

One of the reasons Microsoft was able to carve out such a strong position in the console arms race was the strength of its exclusive franchises. To this day, the mere mention of the word “Halo” conjures up images of an Xbox console with an oversized Duke controller with late nights on a CRT TV. Throw in Fable, Gears of War, Dead or Alive, Forza, and Viva Pinata and you have not only exclusive games, but exclusive franchises all waiting to be exploited for mobile gaming.

But it’s an opportunity being missed, and missed badly. To date, only Fable: Coin Golf offers any real access to any of those franchises in a playing capacity, and it’s nothing more than a virtual version of a game kids play during free periods to quell boredom. Halo Waypoint offers some integration between the Halo universe and the WP7 platform, but there’s no actual playing to be done.

Meanwhile, if we take a quick peak over at Cupertino, we see that the developers at Chair – a subsidiary of Epic Games, and the makers of the Xbox exclusive Gears of War, no less – have created a sequel to the breathtaking Infinity Blade for iOS. It exemplifies everything mobile gaming can be, and shows why Apple is becoming a leader in mobile gaming. There’s no real reason that a game like Infinity Blade can’t be developed for WP7, except the fact that it’s not really in the developers best financial interest to do so at this point.

It doesn’t even have to be an Xbox exclusive game to help drive the Xbox integration. Looking at soccer games, for example – iOS and Android both have the marvellous FIFA 12, which WP7 has an old, awkward version of PES. It’s fairly obvious that both iOS and Android have the market share to make developing for them an attractive option for games companies, but Microsoft is going to need to take matters into its own hands to even the balance if it really wants to compete.

But given how successful the Xbox brand is, the fact that there are only 90 Xbox Live games available on my HTC Mozart after 12 months is not only disappointing, it’s depressing.

Sorry, How Much?

Angry Birds costs $0.99 on the iOS app store. It’s free on Android, albeit laced with annoying ads. On WP7, the same game is $3.49. What. The. F^(k?

There is no possible explanation that could justify that price increase for the same game. And it’s ultimately going to hurt the Windows Phone 7 platform. The reason iOS is so successful in this space is that there’s a combination of affordable and free titles, mixed in with premium titles, all of which are significantly cheaper than a handheld console. Microsoft’s decision to price all its games at a level higher than iOS is an indication that it greatly underestimates the appeal of cheap games to casual users and developers alike.

Angry Birds is but one example though – its clear across the entire store that a premium is placed on all WP7 games. Coupled with the relative lack of variety on the store, and a lack of exclusive titles, and Microsoft is falling further and further behind its Apple rival as a gaming smartphone platform. Given it has the Xbox brand in there, that seems like a ridiculous situation to be in.