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The state of play: Xbox for Windows Phone

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Recently we’ve enjoyed the announcement and launch of a few quad core handsets from Nokia/Microsoft. The Lumia 1520, Lumia Icon and the Lumia 930 all sport the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, four cores of immense speed and power. WP8 is reportedly developed from the low end up, meaning they ensure the OS runs well on lower end phones like the L520 and L625, before considering the high end line. The benefits of having quad cores is obvious, the Lumia 1520 processes 20mp photographs almost instantly, apps load up that little bit faster, and so on, but for me — the biggest and most obvious benefit is gaming.

Nokia Connects recently loaned me a Lumia 1520 to trial, and whilst I can’t deny its beauty, power and speed (full review soon), I found myself saddened. For me, that sort of hardware would make for an incredible gaming device, but recently, we have endured an Xbox-enabled drought, especially amongst the higher end games.

Xbox integration for Windows Phone games works as you would expect, achievements pop up reassuringly with the almost nostalgic tone, leaderboards load as promptly as they do on X360 and XB1, and most importantly, a level of quality is maintained that non-Xbox branded games aren’t restricted to.

I think its no secret that the rise of smartphones and tablets have eaten in to support for Nintendo and Sony handhelds. As proven by Gameloft’s higher end games like NOVA3 and Modern Combat 4, smartphones are now powerful enough to offer an experience on par with dedicated handheld consoles. Phil Spencer has gone on record to say that Xbox could be for Microsoft what iTunes was for Apple, I can’t see that happening unless they can put more Xbox’s in people’s pockets. One would hope with Microsoft’s recent purchase of Nokia and the combining of Nokia and Xbox into a singular Microsoft hardware division would usher in renewed focus on mobile gaming, Xbox for Windows Phone is a far cry from Phil Spencer’s vision.

Although touch screens as an input for controlling games is often not ideal, many people have to weigh up the pros and cons and make a choice about what device they buy, and what device they carry around with them. Many people now seeing smartphones as a necessity, having One Device, for Everything in Your Life (to use the Microsoft mantra) is very appealing to me, and many others, only if it includes gaming.

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Modern Combat 4 from Gameloft: You’d be forgiven for thinking this was an early X360 game!

Windows Phone enjoys some excellent first party and third party support, we finally got our Halo game last year, and heavy hitters like EA, Gameloft and Square Enix have ported some of their games over, having said that, some developers like Rockstar have snubbed the platform entirely, GTA: San Andreas arriving as a regular app with no Xbox support whatsoever, and Gameloft’s latest instalment of their Asphalt racing series also featured a lack of Xbox integration, in spite of previous ports. One can only speculate as to why this is, is the process of becoming Xbox certified not worth the effort? And if so, one can only hope the Xbox team be looking at making the process easier.

So in closing, whilst the Nokia Lumia 1520, and its quad core siblings are undoubtedly high-end gaming ready, Xbox for Windows Phone, at present, feels like an after-thought. Its lacking implementation in many great titles, and as Windows Phone continues to iron out the platforms shortcomings with the upcoming version update, and despite having a few great games from big and small publishers alike, the games store is beginning to stand out as Windows Phone’s weakest feature.

I think I can speak for #WinPhan’s everywhere to say that we sorely hope that the program won’t be abandoned, so that the incredible 1520, the Lumia Icon and the upcoming Lumia 930 can realise their potential as the Xbox in your pocket we know it could easily be.

I will be reaching out to Phil Spencer to comment on the state of Xbox for Windows Phone, both on Twitter and via a YouTube counterpart I made for this article. Hopefully we can get a response soon!

Jez
@MSFTY