Only the Beginning
It's safe to say that Microsoft is off to an auspicious start with gaming on Windows Phone 7, but it's just that: a start. Xbox Live brings some good features, and Microsoft's relationships with major game developers and publishers have helped to seed the new platform with a number of top-tier titles.
Already the gaming situation is at least on a par with that of Android, whose Android Market is two years old. Microsoft has a long way to go to catch up to the strong gaming presence of Apple's App Store, but if sales are strong and if Microsoft continues to enchance the development tools, that should be only a matter of time. Issues with the Windows Phone Marketplace, from poor screenshots to miscategorized titles, could be rectified relatively easily. Xbox Live integration is basic right now, but Microsoft has lots of opportunities to introduce expanded features and integration with the Xbox 360 console and Games for Windows Live.
This is as strong a gaming presence as I've seen for a brand-new phone platform, but Microsoft is competing against well-established markets and has to make rapid improvements to keep the gaming market healthy on Windows Phone 7. The way forward is clear. If I may be so bold as to create a checklist for Microsoft (in no particular order):
- Integrate Xbox Live Extras into the main game hub.
- Enable notifications for Xbox Live messages, and game invites for Xbox 360 or Games for Windows Live games.
- Enable voice-message support over Live.
- Greatly expand the game library, and make it easier to see games that aren't Xbox Live enabled.
- Clean up the desktop Zune client by implementing better support for app images and better downloading and syncing of apps.
- Enhance developer tools by opening up hardware access and supporting third-party game engines.
- Clean up device issues such as resuming from sleep and allowing games to extend the sleep timer.
- Enable real-time multiplayer play over Wi-Fi.
- Tighten integration between phone and console with titles that cross between platforms.
If Microsoft can do these things over the next six months or so, in addition to selling a good number of phones, the company could easily have the premier mobile-games platform. If not, it will likely concede the market to Apple. The bad news for Microsoft is that it has its work cut out for it. The good news is that it's off to a good start, and Windows Phone 7 doesn't have any problems that can't be fixed with a few major, rapid software updates.