Microsoft Takes Wraps Off Windows Phone 7 Games

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If Apple's always taken an "if you must" stance toward gaming on the iPhone, Microsoft's attacking from the opposite angle, making gaming front and center on its Windows Phone 7.

At the GDC Europe 2010 games conference in Cologne, Germany today, Microsoft took the tarp off a who's-who of game studios, all on track to release games for its upcoming powerhouse handheld. Studios like Gameloft (Hero of Sparta), Konami (Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania), Namco Bandai (Tekken, Soul Calibur), PopCap (Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies), and THQ (Company of Heroes, Dawn of War II).

Those five and others will reportedly contribute some 60 games to Windows Phone 7, including Assassin's Creed, Bejeweled LIVE, Castlevania, Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst, Frogger, Guitar Hero 5, Halo Waypoint, a cutesy slice of new IP weirdly titled ilomilo, Max and the Magic Marker, Rocket Riot, Splinter Cell Conviction, Star Wars: Conviction (and another Star Wars--Battle for Hoth), The Harvest, Tower Bloxx NY, Uno, and Zombie Attack!.

The games will be available through the company's Xbox LIVE Marketplace, which Microsoft revealed back in February would be part of its Windows Phone 7 series. At that time, Microsoft claimed the Windows Phone 7 Series would deliver "the first and only official Xbox LIVE experience on a phone, including Xbox LIVE games, Spotlight feed and the ability to see a gamer's avatar, Achievements and gamer profile."

Demonstrations of the service seem to jibe with those earlier claims. The phone does indeed offer fully realized avatars (they look essentially identical to their Xbox LIVE counterparts) and these can be fully reclothed or accessorized. Achievements, profiles, friend lists (with status), and scoreboards, i.e. leaderboards are all present and accounted for, rendering said information in realtime.

"We believe that no matter where life takes you, the best in gaming and entertainment should follow," said Microsoft Xbox LIVE VP Marc Whitten in a press release. "Windows Phone 7 takes a different approach to handheld gaming, utilizing Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Game Studios, leading game publishers, and innovative indie developers, to create powerful, shared experiences for everyone."

New games for the Windows Phone 7 will reportedly appear every week via Xbox LIVE Marketplace, mirroring the way the service already works for Xbox 360 owners. "Try before you buy" demos will be available to let you sample before spending. And while realtime multiplayer isn't (yet) in the offing, turn-based multiplayer should be available at at launch.

The differences between Microsoft and Apple here are striking. Where Apple opens the door on its products, then passively observes as game studios and/or independent designers flock to the trough, Microsoft's bringing its own thunder and proactively courting major studios to design to the Windows Phone 7 platform, much as it would its Xbox--or Sony and Nintendo would their respective consoles.

It's tough to say how well the Windows Phone 7 will work as just a phone or personal information management tool when it ships in October, but when it comes to gaming, Microsoft's already well ahead of Apple in terms of focusing, laser-like, on the platform's gaming possibilities. With Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst and Halo: Waypoint in the mix, it's clear Microsoft's (wisely) planning to leverage its existing console IPs to at the very least make the phone immediately appealing to anyone with an Xbox 360.

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