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 (opens in new tab), Age of Empires: Castle Siege (opens in new tab), and probably Solitaire (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for 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 caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

28 Comments
  • There is a lot of things MS could do to enter and profit of the mobile nowaday, including launching an MS branded android device but... I'm pretty sure "it's not needed" and they'll stay as they are: passive.
  • Why should they do that? Microsoft is still a software company. They make hardware to sell software (Xbox) or promote their software and it's capabilities (Surface).
    It's way better to cooperate with companies like Samsung and Huawei the biggest players in the Android market.
  • I agree with you Apfel, Microsoft is a software company and not are not game developers. However, the mobile gaming market is blooming and it would not be a surprise to see Microsoft trying to get a piece of the mobile gaming market share.  Jay  Real Media Now Ltd
  • Yes of cause. Gaming is actually pretty important for MS. But games are software. They don't need their own Android smartphone for this.
  • Microsoft did make a few amazing games over the course of their history.  In the early 90s their Flight Simulator was a reference.  So they can if they want but it's true it's not their bread and butter. 
  • @GrandGerminator. Microsoft branded android device. Seriously?
    Explain where would that fit into one core, Polaris, windows core, windows on arm and single store.
    Not to mention the time, resources and effort Microsoft has spent trying to unify it all together.
  • Could not agree more. :)
  • And most importantly: Games.
  • I've been thinking at this functionality for years. Going from Android phone (which I love) to Surface Pro (which I love) is something I need! Syncronize saves is what I need most. Google is now more than ever a gaming platform. So Xbox on Android is more important than ever.
  • What about Movies and TV? I have many movies that I cannot watch on my Android. Are they going to build this app for Droid or does licensing issues prevent this? 
  • Don't worry they are gonna strike of Movies and TV section altogether in future build due to declining user engagement. For replacement they will partner with Netflix just like Groove. In this way you can get to watch in Android as well. win-win situation.
  • How is that a win-win situation?
    It simply concedes another revenue point, which is a loss.
  • It's a win-win situation because as per Microsoft every service which has less engagement should be immideately slashed instead of improving it. In this way they believe loss from such services can be stopped in short run but they don't know the impact of their decision on long term.
  • If they'd applied this theory to the XBox we wouldn't have seen a second console...
  • And a better Xbox app as well.(current one looks like a beta app)
  • Mobile games suck
  • I miss being able to earn achievents on my phone.
  • If Xbox needs to be mobile, it needs it's own mobile platform, not Android or iOS. If you can run Xbox games on your smartphone or tablet, why the hell would you spend the money to buy an Xbox in the first place?
    Then again, at 60 yrs of age I am hardly the target audience for mobile games. I grew up with Atari, Coleco Vision and everything that came after and playing on a tiny handheld screen holds no interest for me at all. Give me a huge 65" display any time over even the most sophisticated smartphone. the way things are going, the 65" will probably cost less than your next smartphone anyways.
  • I hate being negative. I really do but I have to ask the question. Has anyone else really lost interest in microsoft since the death of windows phone???
    I had the ms band 2 a 950xl and a surface pro 4 and was on this site every day....... now my heart just isn't in it.
  • I've had alot of stuff from Microsoft but I sold my soul to Google because I just don't have the confidence that Microsoft cares about consumer products anymore. so no thats not being negative that just seeingt things clearly.
  • Hey, Google has a long track record of killing off things suddenly too or migrating the features into something else, or just plain dropping it altoghether. What Google has over MS is much, MUCH better integration between their apps, and when it comes to running on iOS, well, The $2 billion/year Googgle give to Apple gets them Featured Placement and LOTS of access to Apple's API's and dev that MS just can't get, even with that cross-licensing agreement they signed in 1995 (when MS saved Apple from going under so they would have something to point to as a "competitor" in the anti-trust lawsuit with the US Gov.) MS is not alone in that.
  • I'm kind of at the same place and I wish I wasn't, but it's very true.
  • I'm nowhere near as passionate about MS since they killed Windows 10 Mobile/phones. Phones tie my ecosystem together, and Android/iOS don't do it as well as Windows 10 Mobile did sadly.
  • On my phone I prefer Xbox integrated games for the achievement tracking. If I ever get an android, it would be nice to have some xbox live games there.
  • Doesn't the mythical Andomeda Scribe/Note also fill the role as a potential mobile gaming platform?
  • If it doesn't get cancelled, maybe haha.
  • Do this at your own risk, good chance these apps have maware in them that can infect Windows PCs
  • Yeah, I would really love this. It's what I really miss about my old Lumia 920. Infact, I signed up to Xbox live on mobile!!