I made a tweet this evening about how I’m surprised by the hype over the Xbox Live features in Windows Phone 7. I wanted to touch on a few more details with that.
First, I want to make clear that I am actually very excited about the Xbox Live functionality – but I’m more excited about the unique, Xbox Live-specific features than what was announced earlier this week.
So lets start with what was announced.
As far as Xbox Live in general, we were told that there would be achievements, friends lists, chat and Avatar viewing/creation. This is really great stuff, especially considering that you can’t do much of anything with Avatars on Xbox Live under Windows.
As far as the games that were announced – I get the impression that the people getting excited about this don’t play games very often. Because, frankly, they’re pretty lackluster. They have big franchise names attached to them (Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed, Halo), but they have no uniqueness to them. For example: Halo isn’t a game. It’s just Halo Waypoint, which has been out on Xbox Live for months and is rather unimpressive. (Then again, I might be biased since I don’t play Halo.) No details were provided about Assassin’s Creed, but based on what we’ve heard so far in other aspects of the franchise, this will probably be a port of the other mobile versions of Assassin’s Creed, which suck. And then there’s Crackdown: this is probably the most unique in that it supposedly scans your current location and builds a game based on real maps. But the screenshots look a little disappointing, and I get the impression that there is no depth to it – it’s Crackdown in name only.
There are a couple of winners on the list of launch titles, but let me be clear about this: consumers generally won’t care about the game list unless they’re a diehard fan of a particular franchise. Why? Because a lot of these games exist on other platforms – and yes, I’m implying that the iPhone has a large selection of games already, which consumers can easily point to and say, “why do I need that? I have lots of fun games here!” The hope, of course, is that truly unique games will start to come out, like we’ve been able to enjoy on the Xbox console. But first you have to attract an audience, and the launch titles alone won’t necessarily do that.
Instead, Microsoft needs to set themselves apart with the same sort of unique features that has helped make Xbox Live so successful in the console world. Sadly, a lot of this stuff has elicited a “no comment” from Microsoft. Stuff like: transporting your gamer profile from console, to phone, to a different console at a friend’s house. Keeping save game data on your phone. Being able to play a game both on the console and the phone – think Pokemon and Pokewalker. Being able to play multiplayer with one person on a console, the other on the phone. Video chat. And so on.
That is the kind of stuff that gets people excited. The kinds of things that make you sit up and say, “really?!” I can already play Assassin’s Creed on three different platforms. But Windows Phone could be the only platform that lets me put an assassin character on my phone, interact with others who also have the game on their phone, then link it back up with my Xbox to get various rewards.
Now THAT is worth getting excited over.