Microsoft needs to let devs bring more Xbox-enabled games to Android, iOS

While Apple is very controlling over how much influence third-party companies can impart its platform, Android is a lot more open. On Android, you can change the default browser to Microsoft Edge, the default assistant to Cortana, and practically switch every feature and service over to a Microsoft-based one, for example (save for Movies & TV ... but that's a whole different debate).

However, there is one missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to Microsoft's infiltration of iOS and Android — gaming.

Mobile is a huge, huge force in gaming, with publishers like EA, Activision, Tencent, and a range of independent firms, all siphoning billions of dollars of cash per year from users on their phones. Whether it's through microtransaction-stuffed games like Clash of Clans or standalone premium titles like Square Enix's Final Fantasy mobile ports, mobile gaming simply isn't going away.

So why hasn't Microsoft pushed Xbox further into the equation?

Bring Xbox APIs to third-party mobile devs

Xbox App on iPhone

Xbox App on iPhone (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft has a small handful of Xbox Live-enabled Android and iOS titles, but they're mostly lowkey. The biggest of them include Wordament, Age of Empires: Castle Siege, and probably Solitaire, but you have to wonder why Microsoft hasn't tried harder to get further into this space.

On Android and iOS, it seems like only Microsoft-built titles are allowed to use the Xbox Live API.

Back in the days of Windows Phone 7, 8, and 10 Mobile, Microsoft produced a few mobile games exclusive to those platforms, as it experimented with cross-platform functionality. Tentacles: Enter the Mind from Press Play Games was among my favorites, synchronizing progression between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 PCs. Nowadays, Microsoft is working on perfecting its cross-platform functionality between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, allowing users to buy a game once and play it on both devices or via full cross-platform multiplayer, as seen in Sea of Thieves.

The difference is third-party developers are allowed to tap the Xbox Live APIs if they're bringing UWP titles for Windows 10. Deep Rock Galactic supports cross-platform play between Xbox One and the Windows 10 Microsoft Store, as does Astroneer and various other non-Microsoft titles.

On Android and iOS, it seems that only Microsoft-built titles are allowed to use the Xbox Live API, which is a bit of a shame.

So why make a change?

Progress sync across Windows 10 and Xbox One is awesome, but even more awesome when you throw in mobile too.

Progress sync across Windows 10 and Xbox One is awesome, but even more awesome when you throw in mobile too.

As far as Microsoft goes, bringing more Xbox Live games to Android and iOS would help with mindshare on those platforms. Xbox gamers would be able to earn achievements, access leaderboards, share progress on Xbox Live, and more, if more games supported Xbox functionality directly. Microsoft also has a Mixer app for Android and iOS, supporting screen capture for game streaming. Clearly Microsoft has thought about its presence in terms of mobile gaming, but it looks like its focus remains firmly on consoles and PCs.

For developers, even just a bit of Gamerscore like the 200 to 500 that Windows Phone games had, would help bring further exposure to those games on Xbox Live. Xbox gamers might be more inclined to try a game on mobile if it had Xbox Live integration. If developers bought their games to Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One, it could also mean cloud saves and the synchronicity of progress, as seen with titles like Age of Empires: Castle Siege and Minecraft's Realms feature.

Potential problems exist ...

Even on Windows Phone, where developers had access to the Xbox Live API, many of them simply didn't bother to include achievements. I heard various reasons for this, including the difficult nature of using the API, Draconian approval processes from Xbox, and developer time versus value.

It seems that part of the reason those few Xbox Live-enabled games on Android and iOS do have integration is that they're available on Windows platforms. The Xbox Live API seems to require a store listing, and if those games are only available on Android and iOS, that presents a potential roadblock without substantial changes. I'm sure there are other systemic issues behind why this hasn't happened yet, but there's no reason Microsoft can't work out a fix.

Microsoft might have struggled to make Xbox Live a compelling feature on Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, but that doesn't mean it can't get it right with some proper vision.

Xbox needs to be on mobile

Nintendo has shown that there's an insatiable desire for core-gaming experiences on portable devices, both on the Nintendo DS consoles and the tablet-like Switch. I know developers are eager to bring "AAA" experiences to portable devices, too, despite the fact those platforms historically revolve around shallow experiences, often crammed with pay2win and pay2progress mechanics.

Microsoft previously expressed interest in building streaming services for Xbox games, getting streaming onto Android and iOS devices has to be part of that vision. However, it would also be awesome if Microsoft could sign up existing Android and iOS game developers to use Xbox Live APIs and other Microsoft authentication services, bringing more games under the Xbox Live banner, for achievements, social, and progress syncing between devices.

I know from talking to people at Microsoft that this isn't something they would be opposed to, so perhaps it's more down to resources, priorities, and investment. Perhaps if enough people express an interest, it could be a viable road for Microsoft to go down in the future. Do you care about Xbox games on phones and tablets? Hit the comments and let us know.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!