Xbox live is a decent service, some would say it’s the best, some wouldn’t but, fees aside, it’s pretty good for gamers. Having access to XBL was one of, if not the ONLY reason to buy a Windows 8 phone/tablet over Android or iOS, that I can think of right now. So it comes as a shock that MS has decided to share the love with other platforms. One could argue that this move will be a boost for ‘brand awareness’, ‘mindshare’ or some other marketing hornswoggle but I, and many others, would say that the cost, in loss of exclusive features and high possibility of hacking from mobile devices, is greater than the return MS would get in ‘mindshare’.
With many mobile devices these days hacked, jailbroken, rooted and generally tinkered with beyond the manufacturers set limitations and warranty guidelines, it’s highly probable that XBL on mobile devices will become nothing more than a cheap way for people to manipulate their Gamerscore. This will further push the mostly arbitrary number of gamerscore over the cliff of irrelevancy and usher users looking for fair comparison and competition away from the XBL service and into the arms of competitors.
Now, while not ALL people who game primarily on mobile devices can be described as ‘casual’ gamers, there’s no denying that the majority of them are just that. This put’s MS’s intentions for the Xbox brand into further question about whether or not they will cater to the relatively niche market of core gamers next gen. It’s not my wish but in all honesty I can see them skimping on performance (with 720) to keep costs down as far as hardware is concerned and also cutting back funding of in house developers even further and halting the acquisition of new studios in favour of tempting iOS and Android developers to make a litter of free-to-play and casual games. MS’s gaming integrity has been called into question near the end of this gen with what is being perceived as a focus on Kinect and casual gaming rather than the core gamers that initially bought an Xbox 360 and helped catapult it to where it stands today. All of this could mean big business for MS should they succeed in capturing an audience similar to the Wii as well as poaching iOS and Android gamers but at what price? Will the core gamers stick around to find out or will they jump ship to similar services? With the lure of free online gaming on all other platforms this could be a very real future for Microsoft, however with casuals in their pocket they really wouldn’t care.
It’s certain that MS are suffering greatly from the success of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS and it’s a situation they allowed to happen by missing the boat on smartphones and tablet devices. They want very much to have an ecosystem such as iOS that locks people into its service by only allowing apps, music etc to be used on their OS, much like paying for XBL and achievements have made people reluctant to switch services because of the amount of time they have put into collecting scores and buying games/movies. Their way in so far has been through funnelling endless amount of money into marketing for very little return in actual market share because, as much as MS wish it was so, you can’t really buy a good public perception of your devices and services; it has to be earned by, for example, catering to not just the demographic most likely to make you more money.
So all in all I see the opening of XBL into iOS as a signal that MS are unable to lock people into their service with just the strength of their own devices and OS. All of which could lead to a general watering down of the service and a focus on making money before making good games. What I’d like to see is a guarantee that XBL will remain secure and cheater/hacker free (if it is now) as well as a clear focus on gaming for more than just casual gamers, only then will I stick with MS as one of my console providers next gen.