Last week, Gameloft kicked off their much anticipated wave of Xbox releases for Windows Phone 8 with Asphalt 7, a game I call the best racer on the platform in our review. They’ve followed up this week with the very strong The Amazing Spider-Man and the not-so-strong and highly skippable Real Soccer 2013. With at least 9 more games coming, including first-person shooters, action games, and even an MMORPG, it’s safe to say that Gameloft will keep Windows Phone gamers pretty busy this year.

Similarly, Electronics Arts and its subsidiaries Chillingo and PopCap have produced a ton of fine mobile Xbox games as Nokia exclusives within the past few months. All of the Nokia EA games are expected to become available to general Windows Phone audiences six months after release, so they really do benefit the platform as a whole.

However large and prolific they might be, publishers Gameloft and Electronic Arts can’t keep the Xbox Windows Phone lineup afloat all by themselves. The world of smartphone gaming is vast indeed. iOS and Android thrive thanks to many game developers and publishers, both great and small. Today we continue our ‘How Microsoft can save Xbox Games for Windows Phone’ editorial series with a look at the game makers that our platform needs in order to thrive.

Microsoft must work to retain Xbox Windows Phone developers and secure new ones.

Temple Run 2
While the first Temple Run is due at some point on WIndows Phone 8, iOS users are already enjoying Temple Run 2 (pictured).

I’ll admit that Windows Phone is still a niche platform compared to iOS and Android, so expecting a high-volume developer to port all of its games to Microsoft’s mobile OS is a bit much – especially when none of the big middleware engines like Unity and Havok are actually ready yet. But Microsoft can’t afford to just wait a few years and hope that more developers eventually sign on.

For one, we’ve seen evidence of Xbox Windows Phone developers of all sizes becoming disillusioned and leaving the platform, including previous supporters like Game House and IronSun Studios. The unpleasant and time consuming Xbox Live certification process, the relatively small user base, and a lack of financial incentives from Microsoft are all at fault. The platform needs to be gaining developers, not losing established ones.

Besides, if Microsoft takes a wait-and-see, low-spending approach towards the Xbox Windows Phone lineup, in a few years’ time there simply won’t be a Windows Phone gaming scene. Gaming might not be the number one selling point of a smartphone platform, but it’s still big business on iOS and Android. Every year that Microsoft neglects to put their might behind growing Xbox Windows Phone is another year that iOS and Android grow and advance further than this underdog platform. If someone doesn’t draw a line in the sand and get Windows Phone properly caught up, there will eventually be no catching up.

 

Key publishers that appeal to gaming enthusiasts must be encouraged to go all-in on Windows Phone.

Alright, so Xbox Windows Phone needs more developers and publishers, but which ones? Look at the existing Windows Phone lineup: it’s filled with puzzle games, physics puzzlers, and casual games. Those all have a place, but ‘core’ games are woefully lacking. The platform needs meatier, more hardcore games such as can be found in ample supply on iOS and Android. Hardcore doesn’t mean limited appeal; not only do more serious games sell great on other platforms, but remember that a lot of Xbox Windows Phone gamers actually come from the Xbox 360 and want to play console-like games on the go.

The lineup of Gameloft games that I discussed earlier are a perfect start to providing that deeper, more compelling console-style experience on Windows Phone. Now let’s look at a few more high-priority publishers that Microsoft should be wooing.

Square-Enix

Demons' Score
Demons' Score sports some impressive mobile graphics.

This Japanese publisher is already onboard with Windows Phone, having published Final Fantasy and KooZac so far. Both are fine titles, but the original Final Fantasy is clearly dated and puzzle games like KooZac aren’t what the publisher is known for. Square-Enix is dipping its toes in the Windows Phone waters rather than jumping in head first. But the publisher has some top-tier mobile titles that could be ported to Xbox Windows Phone, if only Microsoft would convince them to do it:

  • Chaos Rings II
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Demons’ Score
  • Final Fantasy Dimensions
  • Final Fantasy III
  • Final Fantasy IV
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
  • Secret of Mana
  • The World Ends with You

If left to its own devices, Square-Enix might possibly port Final Fantasy II this year – a 3-year old iOS port of an aged NES game that most RPG fans consider inferior to the original, and still quite dated for an RPG. But imagine if the publisher leapt ahead to their strongest games, and brought those over at a rate of two or more per year. The games listed above would sell like hotcakes, plus before too long Square-Enix could publish Windows Phone ports much closer to its iOS releases.

 

Capcom

Street Fighter X Tekken
Street Fighter X Tekken is surprisingly playable on touch-screen devices, so why not Windows Phone?

Capcom is another Japanese publisher with a huge presence on both consoles and smartphones. Windows Phone has a single Capcom title so far: KenKen (mysteriously not available on Windows Phone 8). But just like KooZac, it’s not exactly a top-tier effort. Here are some Capcom games our platform really needs:

  • Final Fight
  • Ghosts n’ Goblins Gold Knights II
  • Ghost Trick
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 2
  • Mega Man X
  • Monster Hunter Dynamic Hunting
  • Phoenix Wright
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Street Fighter IV
  • Street Fighter X Tekken

Again, that’s an extremely solid lineup. If Microsoft and Capcom inked a multigame deal akin to the Gameloft 12 games agreement, Windows Phone could be swimming in stellar Capcom games in no time.

 

Warner Bros

Batman Arkham City Lockdown
Batman: Arkham City Lockdown relies on the Unreal Engine that we discussed in a previous editorial.

Another major force in entertainment, Warner Bros. produces smartphone versions of many blockbuster console franchises. Just look at this list:

  • Bastion
  • Batman: Arkham City Lockdown
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
  • Midway Arcade
  • Scribblenauts Remix
  • Tapper World Tour
  • Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

 

Activision

Black Ops Zombies
Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is a couple of years old, but Windows Phone could still use it.

Activision is one of the largest console publishers in the world, right beside Electronic Arts. While ‘The Big A’ is less prolific in the mobile arena than the two previous publishers, it still produces some very important iOS games.

  • Activision Anthology
  • Call of Duty Zombies
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies
  • Pitfall! (A 3D reimagining of the Atari 2600 already available on Windows Phone)
  • Skylanders Battlegrounds
  • Skylanders Cloud Patrol
  • Skylanders Lost Islands

That’s right, Call of Duty – the single bestselling videogame brand in the world – could be ported to Windows Phone. Microsoft already has a great relationship with Activision, often negotiating timed exclusivity of Call of Duty DLC for the Xbox 360. Leveraging that relationship to bring Activision into the Windows Phone stronghold makes perfect sense. Why let Gameloft’s upcoming clone Modern Combat 4 have all the fun?

 

Bethesda

Dishonored Rat Assassin
Dishonored: Rat Assassin - This screenshot speaks for itself.

This console publisher hasn’t been cranking out mobile games as fast as they used to, with Dishonored: Rat Assassin being their only recent release. Rat Assassin is a Fruit Ninja clone that ties into last year’s critically lauded console release Dishonored. Although a small-scale mobile title, Rat Assassin has that rare crossover of casual gameplay with hardcore appeal. Bethesda also owns id Software’s back catalog of iOS releases, all of which would be highly welcome on Windows Phone.

  • Dishonored: Rat Assassin
  • Doom Classic
  • Doom II RPG
  • Doom Resurrection
  • Rage 3D
  • Wolfenstein 3D Platinum
  • Wolfenstein RPG

Two of those games are RPG spin-offs of first-person shooters – both genres that Windows Phone badly needs.

Take-Two Interactive

Borderlands Legends
Can any phone gamer ever be truly happy without Borderlands Legends? I would argue 'no.'

This media giant consists of two gaming brands: Rockstar and 2K Games. The former has yet to touch Windows Phone development, depriving us of their fine Grand Theft Auto ports. 2K Games did produce decent Xbox versions of Civilization Revolution and Sid Meier's Pirates. Still, 2K's biggest mobile title Borderlands Legends is what gamers really want.

  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
  • Max Payne Mobile
  • Borderlands Legends
  • NBA 2K13
  • NHK 2K11 (This would need to be updated, of course.)

Next installment: The games Microsoft themselves should be making

Now then, how do you feel about the publishers in this article, guys, gals and hybrids? What other mobile game developers and publishers should Microsoft court for Xbox Windows Phone development? Let us know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed these articles, please comment and tweet them to everyone who would benefit from it. The problems Xbox games face on Windows Phone won’t change until the right decision-makers realize their importance. Let’s do our best to make a difference together!