Microsoft’s Answer To Portable Gaming Is Windows Phone 7

Don’t expect a portable, dedicated gaming platform from Microsoft anytime soon. There will be no answer to the DS or PSP, no portable Xbox 360. That is unless you count the Windows Phone 7.

“This is our mobile platform for games,” Kevin Unangst, senior global diretor of PC and mobile gaming at Microsoft, told Kotaku during a meeting at CES last week. “The same people who make the Halo game, the same development folks, work on this, this is our mobile console.”

Since its launch in November, Microsoft has sold about 1.5 million of the Xbox Live-enabled phones.

Unangst says the device has 5500 apps in its marketplace and that they are working with more than 30 developers. The result is more than 60 Xbox Live-enabled games. In comparison, the iPhone has more than 300,000 apps.

Unangst declined to say how many of the Windows Phone 7 apps were games.

And while Windows Phone 7 does have the support of some major developers, including Electronic Arts and PopCap Games, there are also some obvious holes in their developer support. Neither Activision nor Epic currently make games for Microsoft’s phone.

Epic’s stunning mobile version of their Unreal Engine doesn’t even run on the device. Unangst says that they continue to discuss the possibility of bringing the engine behind such titles as Infinity Blade to Windows Phone 7, but that nothing has been agreed upon yet.

It is an investment by Epic to bring it over, he said, because it would have to work with Microsoft’s XNA tools.

One of the things that separate Microsoft’s phone from Apple’s iPhone is that there are a number of different models made by a number of different companies. There are also multiple providers.

The company handles that by requiring all Windows Phone 7’s to meet baseline requirements. Things like having a physical camera button and certain internal specs so games can run at a consistent level. Uangst said that Microsoft will continue to evaluate that baseline over time to decide when and if it needs to be changed.

The fact that the phone has multiple providers means that they compete with one another for customers, something that isn’t always a good thing.

For instance, one of the most anticipated titles for the Windows Phone 7 was ilomilo, but not everyone with the phone got a change to buy the game at the same time.

Instead, Microsoft allowed AT&T to sell the game exclusively to their customers for a limited time. Something, I pointed out, that is a great disservice to everyone but AT&T’s customers.

“ilmilo has been a huge success,” he said. “AT&T was excited about having a brand new game and they were are biggest launch partner. So we had a promotion with them that ilmilo was part of.”

He declined to say whether AT&T shared revenue with Microsoft or paid for the limited exclusivity of the game.

If the Windows Phone 7 really is Microsoft only dip into portable gaming the last thing they should be doing is creating competition among the models. It will only serve to fracture their still tiny market and cause resentment among the gamers who do pick the phone up as a gaming platform.

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