Previously, Microsoft appeared poised to widen the reach of its gaming ecosystem, connecting games on iOS, Android, and even the Nintendo Switch to its Xbox Live multiplayer platform.
Only two of the three came through, however, as Microsoft announced Thursday that its Xbox Live SDKs would be ported to Android and iOS. As for the Switch, Microsoft had no comment.
Sharing achievements, friends lists, and gameplay was the first step toward establishing Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem within the Windows PC and Xbox console. According to Windows Central, Microsoft was preparing to unveil a cross-platform SDK (or XDK) at the Game Developers Conference in March at a special session. That session, once named “Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across iOS, Android, Switch, Xbox, and PC,” now has been renamed “Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across Platforms,” and its description scrubbed of the juicy details.
The original site description made the intent clear. “Now Xbox Live is about to get MUCH bigger. Xbox Live is expanding from 400M gaming devices and a reach to over 68M active players to over 2B devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK,” it said. “Get a first look at the SDK to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.”
Microsoft said Thursday that Xbox Live would be ported to both the Android and iOS mobile platforms, bringing Xbox's game identity and achievements to both of the mobile platforms. As the platform suggests, you'll be able to notch Xbox Live achievements on both the PC, Xbox, and now the iPhone and on Android devices.
The Xbox Live integration was actually just a small part of what Microsoft's calling Game Stack, a set of developer tools that includes Visual Studio, Mixer, DirectX, Azure App Center, Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code, and Havok.
Microsoft announced five new developer services: PlayFab Party, adapted from Xbox Live party chat; PlayFab Matchmaking, also adapted from Xbox Live: PlayFab Game Insights, offering player telemetry and data powered by Microsoft's Azure cloud, PlayFab Pub Sub, a content service, and PlayFab User Generated Content.
Tying mobile games to the PC
The Xbox Live integration concept doesn’t seem that far removed from the status quo. Microsoft published an Xbox app for iOS in 2013, and another for the Android platform. Both are slightly more limited versions of the Xbox app already on Windows 10, allowing players to view achievements, connect to friends, and see what’s available on the Xbox Store. A similar Game Pass app is also available on both mobile platforms, allowing users to manage Microsoft’s Netflix-like game subscription.
What Microsoft hasn’t done before, though, are actually connect iOS, Android, and Switch games to its Xbox Live platform. In that scenario, it’s possible that one day you’d gain an achievement for playing both Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) on the PC as well as on your phone.
Because the GDC description references games published in the Microsoft Store, it seems less likely that Microsoft wants to track your progress in Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild then it does in a game that Windows players play, too.
Microsoft seems eager to repeat the success of games that can be played on multiple platforms, including the smash hit, Fortnite, as well as PUBG and Microsoft’s own success story, Minecraft. Right now, though, it seems that less of an emphasis is being placed on crossplay, the ability to play across multiple platforms simultaneously, versus the social aspects of the game. (While crossplay is part of the Minecraft experience, it requires special setup in Fortnite, which allows for cross-play between Sony’s PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Android and iOS.)
What this means to you: With Fortnite as a notable exception, few games traverse both the PC, smartphones, and game consoles. Microsoft apparently wants more. A few years ago, Microsoft would have been happy waiting until you got home from work to begin gaming on your PC or Xbox. Now, it seems ready to assist developers who would like you to play a game or two on the bus home. Oh, and encourage developers to build using Microsoft's tools, as well.
This story was updated on March 14 to add confirmation from Microsoft.