Windows Phone and Gaming – What Went Wrong?
Back in 2010, my attention was caught by a new entrant to the smartphone race. Microsoft unleashed their new mobile operating system: Windows Phone 7. I’m a massive smartphone fan, owning classics all the way back to the mighty Nokia 9210 communicator. One thing that has always stood out for me on smartphone devices is the gaming, so when I first saw Xbox Live services being buit into this new OS I started dribbling with excitement. The thought of earning achievements and the opportunity to play some of my favourite classic XBLA titles on the go was just pure heaven! However it’s now 2012 and Windows Phone just doesn’t seem to have ignited any real interest, not in the gaming world anyway. So what went wrong? Why hasn’t Xbox Live taken the smarpthone world by storm? I decided to try and find out…
The idea of having Xbox Live on the move was highly appealing. Combine that with the franchises that are exclusively available on XBL and my thoughts were full of expectations and hope. It also crossed my mind that this could prove to be a killer feature, one to take on even the mighty iPhone! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one and see what it was like, then a couple of months ago I finally managed to get hold of a Windows handset. I switched it on, logged into Xbox Live and my excitement grew… and vanished quicker than my dream to catch a Leprechaun with a pot of gold!
Upon firing up the Xbox Live hub for the first time, I was quite impressed with having my avatar on my screen, accompanied with all of my xbox friends. I loved how I could message mates who were playing online – even the spotlight channel was here in all of its glory. Things were looking good; I really enjoyed how instantly recognisable it was, it felt like a piece of home in my hands. Now onto the main part (well, for me) – some good old gaming.
I loaded up the games marketplace, looking for some titles to try out. There was a fair selection, something for everyone; from Sonic, Gun Bros, word games and some classic XBLA titles – ilomilo to name just one. I tried ilomilo and instantly fell in love once more with the puzzler, looking near perfect to its big brother, with the same mechanics and story. Then unlocking my first achievement! It proved to be quite the buzz, here was a way of upping my gamer score whilst on the move at long last. There was quality here to be had, yet something felt wrong… something was missing.
Admittedly at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on what felt wrong. Like I said the quality was there and some of the titles were good fun to play, but then I realised what it was. Playing games on the iPhone and Android devices, there had been some great developers delivering quality original titles, such as Kairosoft. On Windows these people were missing. Instead I was being asked to pay £4.99 for games I’d already played and owned on the Xbox. Sure some of them allowed you to unlock new features or levels if you owned both versions, however was this really value for money? Perhaps it was just me, but I felt a little annoyed that I was expected to pay for both versions. To be honest I think if the pricing was a little more competitive I wouldn’t have been so annoyed, or perhaps a discount for already owning one of the versions. Is that me being a cheapskate? Perhaps, but at the end of the day would you pay twice for the same game, even if there’s some unlocks for the original game included? Then there’s the sense that you’re missing something: social gaming.
We’ve all been there, listening to friends rave about the latest social game: Words with Friends, Hero Academy. These have been major hits on the iPhone and some on Android as well, allowing us to play socially within our spare time, using turn based games. I admit to having a weakness for them – games that can fit around my hectic life. Yet the choice on Windows is again slightly diminished; Zynga haven’t even released any games yet. For me this is a bizarre state of affairs, especially if Microsoft are serious about taking on Android and iOS. Admittedly I’ve heard that Zynga titles are being ported over, however two years after its initial release is this too little, too late?
There are some good examples on the platform though, one in particular stands out; a title that shows just what could be done. Kinectamals on the Windows phone is an outstanding little title, thanks to how it compliments the console version. You can play mini-games with your cub on the move; teach it new tricks, care for it, and then when finished transfer the cub back into your Xbox version via a QR code. It’s a cool way to combine both versions, adding a new depth to the game. However even this had a slightly bitter taste after browsing the net. On Windows its £2.29 – not a bad price I thought… until I saw it was available on iOS and Android for just £1.99! Call me dumb, but that seems to be a stupid fucked up scenario. Surely you would want it to be cheaper on your own OS rather than the competition’s?
Now you can get the Xbox Live experience on Android and iOS, a move that seems to have taken away one of the biggest draws (for me at least) to the newest entry into the smartphone wars. Don’t get me wrong it was one of the boldest moves by Microsoft to release the app for on it’s rivals platforms, yet I can’t help but see it as more of an admission. An admission that their brave new OS is failing… and failing fast! Perhaps with Windows 8 we will see a distinct change, with Microsoft getting a second chance. Then again, how many chances will Microsoft have to try and get it right?