Xbox and Xbox Live are the stuff of business legend. Dogged for years by reporters and analysts as a money hole, the product has become the poster child of what happens when a product team stays true to their vision and adapts with changes in an industry. It’s Microsoft’s iPod, their entertainment juggernaut. It understands marketing, it listens to customers, it doesn’t overemphasize it’s partners. In short the Xbox and likewise Xbox Live, is the gem of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business. So when Microsoft announced that going forward Windows Phone 7 would be their “mobile console” we had dreams. Dreams of playing miniature versions of our favorite Xbox games on the go.
How gullible we were. We were dreaming of handheld console games akin to Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable, what we got was iPhone games with achievement points. For me it’s a bit of a letdown. Xbox on Windows Phone seems to have the same problem that plagues Zune on Windows Phone; it has too little of what actually makes the brand great.
On the Phone
While having to only think about navigating to the “Games” section is nifty and all, Xbox Live in my opinion needs its own Tile and section. It makes no sense to have the Xbox brand on a Live Tile for other games that don’t boast Xbox Live functionality. Second the Games hub itself needs a giant makeover and I would settle for something that looks at least close to the New Xbox Experience on its console counterpart. I also can’t stress enough the need to get rid of Xbox Live extras and have that functionality built into the Games Hub. It’s Xbox for God’s sake, seeing your messages and a friend request isn’t extra; it’s essential. Another sore spot is there being no audio notification for receiving messages. Sure the Live Tile tells you but if your screen is off will you notice? Nope.
A huge sore spot for some users is the price of the games themselves and while I don’t necessarily share they’re concern I do get their reasoning. Many Xbox Live on Windows Phone titles aren’t exclusive to the platform and have cheaper cousins on iPhone, and Android that are available for less on those platforms, begging you to ask yourself a serious question: Just how much are achievements worth to you?
Once you’ve decided to fork over the 50% markup on an Xbox Live title then there’s the games themselves. From what I hear casual games are cool in the street these days. Titles like “Angry Birds” have sold millions because of the relatively simple controls, and even simpler objectives. Meeting this demand should be a top priority for Microsoft, even I’ll admit that. What I won’t do is call these Xbox Live titles; because they simply aren’t. When 50 million users think of Xbox they think in-depth story, and compelling gameplay. I’ve found almost none of these titles offer either. Instead their more Xbox Live Arcade titles than anything else. Sure shooting pigs with birds is creative but what about appealing to the 40 million or so users who use Xbox Live for something more than casual titles?
The foresight to include Xbox Live on every Windows Phone device was brilliant and in my opinion changed the game. In a world where users spend more time gazing at their smartphone’s screen then their spouse; this was a move they needed to make. All I’m asking for a little respect as a non-casual gamer.