bright skies ahead for Windows Phone

No new Xbox games for Windows Phone appeared this week, not even a game from Nokia. This marks the fifth week without a new release – the longest in Windows Phone history. But Windows Phone 8 did gain a new playable title in the form of Shuffle Party (which was previously incompatible), and all Windows Phone users can look forward to the highly-anticipated Skulls of the Shogun next week.

It’s no secret that we consider the ball to have been dropped pretty far as Xbox games for Windows Phone go. You might even say the ball had rolled across the street and into the scary old neighbor’s yard. Throughout the release drought, Windows Phone Central has worked hard at getting an explanation from Microsoft themselves. At last we have official word and a bit of good news to go along with it.

The untold story behind the drought

Angry Birds Star Wars
Maybe another WP8 game besides Angry Birds, please?

Here’s the official word behind the prolonged absence of new Xbox Windows Phone releases:

“I saw your earlier article and confirmed with the team that the Xbox Live pipeline is looking good. We saw many publishers push hard to deliver new or updated titles for Windows Phone 8 launch and holiday sales, which creates a bit of lull in the weeks to follow. Others are updating titles for Windows Phone 8 as we speak. There’s been no change in strategy or concerted effort to hold titles back.  

I can’t go into specifics, but I hope that helps. We’ll keep our gamers busy.”

I’m not sure that many Xbox publishers pushed hard to deliver new games for the Windows Phone 8 launch, since only two Windows Phone 8-specific Xbox games exist even now: Rovio’s Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars. And nobody can claim there was an actual push to update Xbox games to Windows Phone 8 considering that Microsoft doesn’t even alert developers when their games are found incompatible. But several more incompatible games are likely to gain compatibility in the months to come, so the representative is not wrong there.

Developer response

WSOP: Full House Pro
Windows Phone was not invited to play at this table.

We ran Microsoft’s quote by the Xbox Live developer who originally revealed Microsoft’s reluctance to approve new Xbox Windows Phone projects. Here’s his take:

“That was a bit fluffy with no detail, wasn't it? We haven't seen a large push to get any of our stuff onto Windows Phone 8, and as you mentioned last week, WSOP doesn't have a Windows Phone 8 version.”

Speaking of which, when asked for an explanation behind WSOP: Full House Pro coming to XBLA and Windows 8 but not Windows Phone, Microsoft declined to comment.

Promise for the future

Skulls of the Shogun
Skulls of the Shogun

Now for the actual good news! First off, our Microsoft representative was kind enough to provide a response to this week’s editorial How Microsoft can save Xbox games for Windows Phone: Part 1:

“We do pay attention. We’ve set a high quality bar for Xbox and Windows Phone, but I’d agree that we don’t want to create insurmountable hurdles for talented devs. There are steps we can take to improve certification within Xbox, but also ways we can promote indie games via Windows Phone Store. We’re using new features like Collections, Picks and New & Rising to help some of the smaller guys get noticed too. Even the Windows Phone App Star contest is aimed at giving more devs big time visibility. We’re working on it.”

Refreshing to see them acknowledge some room for improvement. We’ve also heard through less official channels that the editorial has made its rounds within Microsoft’s mobile division. We can’t know for sure whether the actual executives with power will read the article, but some of their subordinates have definitely laid eyes on it. As a passionate Windows Phone gaming enthusiast, I very much appreciate everyone’s efforts to tweet the editorial to relevant entities within Microsoft.

At last we come to the best news I can give you today: after this week, we may be done with Xbox release droughts for good! When asked whether regular Xbox Windows Phone releases would resume after Skulls of the Shogun comes out, our Microsoft contact revealed:

“We expect to have new games in early February.”

That’s not one hundred percent conclusive, but it certainly sounds like we can expect a new Xbox game on February 6th. Many of us will still be busy with Skulls of the Shogun come that time, but more games is always better. And don’t forget, Skulls of the Shogun will debut at a special launch price next week!

Photo courtesy of Deanna Lynn