Does Microsoft pose a threat to Apple when it comes to mobile gaming?

Tue, Mar 9, 2010

Analysis, News

For a company as historically disinterested in gaming as Apple, it’s somewhat ironic that the iTunes App Store is largely anchored by the popularity of games. Looking forward, Apple’s involvement in gaming is about to be taken a step further in light of the excitement developers are showing over the upcoming iPad, and more recently, the announcement that Valve Software is bringing their distribution network of popular gaming titles to the Mac.

For the first time in its history, Apple is arguably 100% on board with gaming. Apple’s success with the app store, though, naturally piques the attention of competitors looking to siphon off some of Apple’s thunder. Not surprisingly, one of those competitors is Microsoft who is looking to finally offer a worthwhile and competitive smartphone OS in the form of Windows Phone Series 7. Sidenote: That name is atrocious no matter how many times you repeat it.

With Windows Phone Series 7, Microsoft is looking to leverage the popularity of its Xbox 360 gaming console to create an attractive gaming platform on its upcoming mobile OS. What this means is integrating Xbox Live services right into the OS in addition to letting users play some of the very same games across varying hardware products.

Sounds sexy, right? But is it enough to establish Windows Phone Series 7 as a dominant gaming force in the mobile space? Sebastian Anthony from Download Squad seems to think so:

Apple, with its locked-down, isolated sandbox is in trouble. Do game developers have any reason to continue working on games for the iPhone or iPad now that Microsoft is offering so much more?

Not only is this a huge boon for developers — all they have to do is write different code for the device’s inputs — it’s also massive for gamers. You can be playing a platform game on your Xbox, save it, and continue playing on your mobile phone on the way to work. Now, given Microsoft’s renewed focus on cloud computing, imagine saving your game to the cloud — head over to your friend’s house and continue playing on their Xbox. Or their PC, if they don’t have an Xbox.

The problem with Microsoft’s gaming strategy is that it’s trying to seamlessly integrate games across multiple platforms without taking into consideration the practicality of that strategy. I can only imagine that Microsoft, on the verge of irrelevance in the smartphone market and under extreme pressure to release something mind blowing, decided that it’d be a good idea to sideswipe Apple’s success with the iTunes App Store by putting as much Xbox DNA into its new mobile OS as possible, utility be damned.

As someone who’s done their fair share of gaming, there are only a few types of games that can successfully be ported over to a smartphone whose controls are based on multi-touch input and an accelerometer. Popular games like GTA IV and FIFA 10 simply work better as console titles than as smartphone titles, and while the gameplay may be somewhat similar, the gaming experience is entirely different. That being the case, the lofty notion that users will be able to switch to and fro between games on their Xbox and mobile phone is utter nonsense. It might work for a game like Marble Madness, but that’s hardly a popular Xbox title.

Anthony also writes:

Can Apple really see themselves competing, with a minuscule desktop market share and 25% of the smartphone sector? Steve Jobs has announced Apple’s intent to move into mobile gaming, but can you really see developers siding with the iPhone when Windows Phone 7 is just around the corner?

Newsflash: Apple isn’t the one playing catchup here, Microsoft is. Apple has the mobile app market locked down like Andy Dupree, and if Apple is already this successful with a tiny desktop market share and only 25% of the smartphone market, just imagine what the future holds once the iPad comes out and Apple’s share of the desktop and smartphone market continues to expand.

So can I see developers siding with Apple with Windows Phone 7 just around the corner? Why, I believe they already have.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Financegozu Says:

    “all they have to do is write different code for the device’s inputs”
    So they just have to figure out how to replace a keyboard + multi-button mouse with some finger-swipes on a button-less* Windows Phone Series 7-Phone? Can’t take that guy seriously.

    (* I know the specs call for 3 buttons on that phone, but they are not reassignable)

  2. Constable Odo Says:

    It would probably be easier for Apple to develop an ARM powered home gaming console to go against the XBox 360 than it would be for Microsoft to beat Apple’s solid mobile gaming platform. Apple could probably come up with some really attractive hardware that would put the XBox 360 shame. Instantly downloadable content from the App Store for a home console would be pretty slick. Apple already has some pretty big developers to create Apple specific titles or to build ports of already successful games. The only thing Apple couldn’t compete with is the price since they would easily charge more for anything they build. However, there would unlikely be as many RROD with their products.

  3. Neil Anderson Says:

    Pose a threat? Kind of like the Zune?

  4. macs Says:

    Though where can Apple go. Will the new iPhone in June still bring anything really new or just be another incremental update. Will it have a larger screen or features that cause fragmentation. I think Apple are now coming to a crossroads, and the choice is to keep compatibility but offer only minor updates or be radical. The mobile gaming market and mobile market in general is extremely fast moving, for example the new Nintendo DS is to offer 3d gaming. Apple cannot afford to stagnate in this market.

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