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Does Microsoft have the will to bring its Xbox gaming franchises to Windows Phone?

Although the year got off to a rocky start with an extended Xbox game release drought, the Xbox Windows Phone gaming situation has actually been looking up since February. Gameloft’s highly anticipated Windows Phone 8 titles finally started rolling out, and some weeks saw two Xbox games released instead of just one.

Don’t think we’re out of the thicket just yet. The Xbox Live certification process continues to cause games like Cut the Rope: Experiments to come out much later than on other platforms, and meaningful title updates come just as late or not at all – both Windows Phone Cut the Rope games are missing levels that iOS and Android already get to enjoy. Microsoft’s solution to this problem seems to be encouraging big games like Temple Run to release as indie titles in order to circumvent the Xbox Live certification process. Because why bother fixing a broken system?

The draconian certification process may be a major impediment to the quality and number of Xbox games on Windows Phone, but Microsoft’s unwillingness to release exclusive games and capitalize on their wealth of franchises is just as big a roadblock. Now enjoy the ultimate installment of our How to Save Xbox Games for Windows Phone series to find out which Microsoft games Windows Phone is missing and what Microsoft can do to turn it all around. And don't miss the video above in which Microsoft's Larry Lieberman, Senior Product Manager and Casey McGee, Senior Marketing Manager address many of our gaming concerns!

Windows 8 Xbox games with touch-screen support should also be released for Windows Phone 8.

WSOP: Full House Pro for XBLA

Full House Poker came to Windows Phone, but its sequel WSOP: Full House Pro will not.

You wouldn’t know it from the scant number of Windows 8 Xbox games that have made their way to Windows Phone, but it’s easier to port from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 than just about any other platform. One of our Xbox Live developer friends explains:

“The bulk of a C++ game can be mostly ported directly to Windows Phone 8 from Windows 8.  What takes the extra time are the platform and API differences, primarily in the shell around the core game, and there are enough of these for a C++ developer to make them dedicate a few resources to just tackling those issues…In Windows 8, everything is accessible via WinRT.  On Windows Phone 8, some phone features are only available via the .NET Framework, which is only accessible via C#.  How does a native C++ library call a managed code .NET API?  The developer has to code quite differently for this between both platforms.”

It’s not quite as simple as just flipping a switch, but when all you have to do to port a game is rework the UI and a few API calls, refusing to port from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 is leaving money on the table (while also discreetly pointing a middle finger at the dedicated Windows Phone user base).

Let’s look at the Xbox Windows 8 games that would port easily to Windows Phone 8 and yet have no mobile versions announced. Most of these are already available on Windows 8, while some are still in the works:

  • 4 Elements II
  • Adera
  • Crash Course Go
  • Disney Fairies
  • Dragon’s Lair
  • Field & Stream Fishing
  • Gunpowder
  • The Gunstringer: Dead Man Running
  • Microsoft Mahjong
  • Microsoft Solitaire Collection
  • Reckless Racing Ultimate
  • Royal Envoy 2
  • Taptiles
  • Team Crossword
  • Toy Soldiers: Cold War
  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
  • A World of Keflings
  • WSOP: Full House Pro

A few of these titles might actually be in the works for Windows Phone – as we complained in a previous column, Microsoft has completely stopped announcing Xbox Windows Phone games in advance. But it’s a safe bet that mobile versions aren’t planned for most of these. In fact, we know for sure that at least one of the listed games was actually pitched for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, but only the Windows 8 version got approved. Oh, Microsoft!

Considering that both platforms share touch screen interfaces and the majority of code is portable, there really is no excuse not to produce Windows Phone 8 ports of virtually every Xbox Windows 8 game.

Stop publishing Windows Phone-exclusive games on competing platforms.


Tentacles used to be a feather in Windows Phone's cap. Nowadays, not so much.

Part of showing solidarity is Microsoft releasing its own properties on its own platforms, such as the Windows 8 games I just mentioned. But another part is making sure those platforms actually have exclusive games that could attract new users. After all, Xbox Windows Phone isn’t exactly swimming in hot games, so why would Microsoft publish what few games it has on competing platforms?

Yet the Windows Phone maker has done just that, time and time again. Tentacles, Kinectimals, Fable Coin Golf, and Wordament all started life as Xbox Windows Phone exclusives. But someone within Microsoft – the company that owns Windows Phone and should want it to succeed at all costs – decided that making money from iOS users was more important than supporting their own platform. Did I mention that Tentacles and Fable Coin Golf don't even run on Windows Phone 8?

We covered this issue in greater detail back when Wordament launched on iOS with Xbox Live Achievements, so please refer to that article for a lengthier discussion. It all boils down to this: as a minority platform, Windows Phone requires exclusive games and apps in order to attract new users. Selling previously exclusive games on iOS brings in money short-term, but it hampers Windows Phone sales long-term.

Internal politics and competing divisions are probably the single greatest obstacle Microsoft faces going forward. Let’s hope they somehow pull it together and get everyone on the same page sooner rather than later.

Even more importantly, Microsoft needs to bring its major franchises to Windows Phone. Yesterday.

Forza Horizon for Xbox 360

Gameloft gave us Asphalt 7, so why can't Microsoft make a mobile Forza?

After two years, which of its existing console properties has Microsoft even published on Windows phone? Let’s see…

That boils down to exactly one top-tier franchise (Fable) still being sold, with the rest being either XBLA or Kinect adaptations. I’m not complaining that these games exist (other than Fusion: Sentient, Boot Camp, and the too buggy to live Project Sunburst). But shouldn’t there be more games on that list?

As a matter of fact, not long ago we listed more than 30 games that Microsoft owns the publishing rights to but has failed to adapt to Windows Phone. One of those – Minecraft, technically belongs to Mojang, but the two companies have an excellent relationship thanks to the bestselling Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition. There is no reason that iOS should have an official Minecraft game while Windows Phone doesn’t.

Still, Microsoft owns several IPs that either sell or have sold gangbusters on Xbox 360 within the last few years: Halo, Gears of War, Fable, Forza, and Project Gotham Racing. (I list Fable because there’s much more life in the property than just Coin Golf.) Microsoft’s Zune media player had a Project Gotham Racing game, but Windows Phone doesn’t. Does the big MS not know how easily racing games port to smartphones? We should be playing PGR and Forza (either a sim or adaptation of Horizon) on our phones right now.

The real barometer of Microsoft’s Windows Phone support: Halo

N.O.V.A. 3: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance

N.O.V.A. 3 (above) is close enough to Halo, but many users still want the real thing.

In the end, it all comes down to Halo: Microsoft’s system-selling first-person shooter series. There is a sort of Halo/Mountain Dew/7 Eleven adver-game in the works for Windows Phone, along with iOS and Android. Let’s hope that deplorable idea dies in the conceptual womb. But Xbox Windows Phone cries out for not one, but two real Halo games: a shooter and a strategy title.

First-person shooters are quite popular on smartphones, as Gameloft’s Modern Combat 4 and Halo clone N.O.V.A. 3 prove. And Windows Phone 8 has the hardware chops to run a faithful Halo port without skimping on too many graphical details. Microsoft doesn’t even need to assemble a large team to make this game happen. Just collaborate with Gameloft to adapt an existing Halo game or create a side story to the franchise. We know Gameloft has an excellent FPS engine for Windows Phone 8 and they’ve admitted they’d love to work with the Halo license. Heck, even just licensing Gameloft's engine would save a ton of effort.

Some people don’t take a shine to touch-screen controls in shooters though. That’s why a mobile adaptation of Halo Wars makes perfect sense. Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game developed by the now-closed Ensemble Studios, and the only non-FPS Halo game to date. It might not have sold as well as mainline Halo games on the Xbox 360, but smartphones are especially suited to strategy games – just look at Skulls of the Shogun and Galactic Reign. If Microsoft wanted to make a smaller-scale Halo game for Windows Phone rather than a graphically intensive shooter (or in addition to it), Halo Wars would be perfect. Downsize the graphics, adjust the control scheme, and you’re golden.

When I spoke on the telephone with a Windows Phone executive two years ago, he seemed to anticipate a mobile Halo game within the next year or so after our conversation. But that executive has since shifted off of the Windows Phone team. It’s no coincidence that PR efforts and new game announcements died off after that time.

Xbox Windows Phone doesn’t appear to have a leader who believes in gaming or the Xbox brand any more. We’ll know that has changed when Microsoft finally announces a true Halo game for Windows Phone. Until the company is willing to take that important step, we cannot believe they take gaming on this platform seriously.


Wow, Microsoft actually did release a Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 Halo game this year - Halo: Spartan Assault. It's a decent title (albeit much smaller in scale than N.O.V.A. 3) and we could take it as a vote of confidence in Xbox Windows Phone. But as 2013 rolls on, we see more and more weeks without mobile Xbox releases. Unless Microsoft starts putting time and money into securing new Xbox games for Windows Phone, I fear the titles will eventually stop coming.

Series conclusion

Halo Wars for Xbox 360

Halo Wars and Windows Phone 8 are a match made in heaven.

So ends the final long article in our long editorial series! Don’t forget to check out the previous installments:

  • Part 1: Xbox Live certification
  • Part 2: The importance of Xbox to Windows Phone, game engines
  • Part 3: Volume control, redownloading games, advertising
  • Part 4: Announcing games and a download code system
  • Part 5: Backing up save data, cloud storage, leaderboards, and messaging
  • Part 6: Third-party developers and games
  • Part 7: Porting Windows 8 games, Microsoft franchises, and Halo

If you enjoyed these articles, please comment, retweet, and tweet them to the good folks at Microsoft. 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!

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • as I commented on the YouTube video: let me know when these guys actually answer a question
  • That's marketing dudes for you.
  • And this is why we can't have nice things.....
  • HA!
  • I couldn't have tolerated that myself. I would have shaken the guy or something for NOT answering the questions like that. I mean, what did I learn in those 9 minutes? Well, I now know that Microsoft looks at things and considers things and is always looking at a wide range of things.
  • But imagine what a dark world it would be if Microsoft DIDN'T look at and consider things! :D Yes, the interview presented some challenges. But I'm grateful to Microsoft and the two participants all the same.
  • Its time to fire the top executies who are in charge of WP and get someone who actually listens to what customers want; same way they did it with kicking out Synofsky from the Windows division and now there is finally talk of customer demanded desktop features making a comeback in Blue.
    Seriously Microsoft needs to wake up and get rid of these idiots that are holding it back.
  • Its actually more complicated then that. There are actually some great people at Microsoft. Problem is there is a board and a slew of investors that must be answered to, and all they do is count beans.
  • if Microsoft thinks it is not the best thing to do now to port xbox titles to wp, than why instagram and others would risk their time and money on it?..
  • Couldn't have said it better myself. You'd think we'd at least have a Halo 1 port by now.
  • Forget about Halo, same as Microsoft screwed the PC gamers it is now going to screw WP gamers. It's better to just accept this and move on.
  • They could do more for WP games. I think there's a Halo game (similar to star craft) that would do great on mobile.
  • Gee, if only someone had written an article about that...
  • Well said. Microsoft has a big management problem. Steve Ballmer needs to get the hell out of there. He isn't able to turn around the company. I mean come on, they have all they need to to make WP a successful OS. They can't exploit their partnerships successfully.
    They have not a clear strategy: they even bring some apps to iOS before bringing them to WP. And after they are complaining why Instagram isn't on their platform. Well to shorten my comment, they need to organise them and define clearly a strategy, an objective, and deadlines to reach them.
  • I'm sorry but "turn around the company''. You do realize that Microsoft is in good financial health right. It doesn't need turning around. Don't be hysterical.
    However, it is clear that under Ballmers leadership, there is a focus on enterprise because it brings in the money. This is why Windows gets all the resources ahead of windows phone. At Apple, the reverse is the case because iOS is their bead and butter. Heck, there are rumors that Apple pulled resources from OSX to speed up iOS development.
    Since Microsoft is unable to dedicate maximum resources to windows phone, I only hope that Blue successfully merges all the platforms WP, Xbox and Windows so Windows phone can finally get the attention it requires.  
  • Well, "turn it around," is more of a "save them from themselves." If the bad things about the Xbox rumors (specifically the always-online requirement) come to fruition, it could do some real damage to that market. Though I personally like Windows 8, it's not growing all THAT well, especially from a tablet market perspective. Windows Phone's growing, but people are clearly becoming frustrated with BS like this interview. The issue isn't that they're in trouble now, it's that they're looking like a company trying to set themselves up for a fall. That's not to say I expect them to fail or anything, just that they seem unwilling to use their resources to advance the brand and the products long-term.
  • If "always on" puts another dent in software piracy, I am all for it.
    MS just posted twice the profit Google did for last quarter.
    I do agree they are frustratingly slow or remiss at some things. Windows Phone did not move the UI or experience on very much from 7. I appreciate that they re-wrote the internals (and agree it was probably the right thing to do) but they need to speed up now. Adding some of the features required should be at 6 month intervlas, not yearly release (not for basic features like profiles, or separate volume for music and incoming call - or custom SMS sounds etc)
  • First of all, hysterical is a strong word. Secondly, having a lot of cash or a good financial situation in a giving moment doesn't mean that MS is going to live happily ever after. Apple too is financially sound, but the fact is they are going to be given a very good lesson by Samsung. Yes of course the Blue is going to make everything shine, just like the wp8 was to be the savior.
    Always hoping that the best thing is the next version, it's beginning to be the catch phrase of MS.
  • Paul, Xbox on WP is basically a second rate Game Center - without the dev support. Microsoft doesn't care. :(
  • Nice article Paul. By far the best writer on Windows Phone Central. Daniel give him more.
  • I thought Full House Poker was still only WP7 compatible, am I wrong?
  • Thanks for catching that oversight. Fixed!
  • No problem, I hoped I was wrong because I miss that game.
  • Isn't the guy on the right from the image the guy who was holding the prototype Asus device running mango?
  • I keep looking at these people in charge of Microsoft and Nokia etc...and I keep wondering if the companies wouldn't be better without them. With YOUNGER people in charge. 'cause the feeling I have, and I had it again with the guy in the dark suit, is that these people have no idea whatsoever about what the target of their phones demand. I'm pretty sure the guy in dark suit has no idea what gamers like or don't nor what gamers look for or don't. He has no connection with reality whatsoever. So, to have such a guy in charge of platforms like Xbox Live, is basically shooting themselves in the foot. But apparently we still live in a World were age=status instead of competence=status.
  • It's just yes men. The guy in the suit couldn't give a crap about the product, hence the spiel answers he gives to every single question.
  • Windows Phone is the most delusional team there is. I remember ~1 month ago Paul Thurrot talked about his conversation with WM guys and how iPhone got so successfully and why Microsoft wasn't the first to come to the market. Their response? we view iPhone as a good product for us because ..... WAIT FOR IT... It justifies our thinking that multi touch devices are the future
  • Well, you can't come up with everything in the market. As much as MS puts into research, they know how to recognize it when someone else in the market does something good. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Im glad WP in 2010 did an awesome job in fluidity and smooth navigation, unlike past phones. Unless I misunderstood your point.
  • Wait a minute... what do you mean Nokia? I'm no fan boy but they are fighting tooth and nail. MS gave up a long time ago, but don't drag Nokia into that.
  • I meant as a general assessment. Nokia is doing an amazing job they always did. However that doesn't exempt them from also being failing in some aspects. For example, Nokia should have realized already that they can't base the promotion of a smartphone only on its camera. Yes, Nokia has the best cameras in the smartphone market. Yes, Nokia phones seem to be indestructible. But the majority of smartphone buyers don't go for a phone because of the camera. Nokia should also bet on exclusive useful Apps (and I underline useful, 'cause Nokia also has plenty of useless Apps) and in pushing the OS of their phones further and further by forcing MS to correct basic mistakes that were absent in Symbian phones and improve from there.
    And I actually am what you could call a Nokia fanboy. They were the reason I moved to WP and they'll be the reason I'll leave it, if they move to Android or something else. But yes, we agree, in the bigger picture, Microsoft is the one to blame. Arrogance has played big parts in Microsofts downfall. And it seems that's not getting better judging by these kinds of interviews.
  • You know, it's really easy to sit here and be an armchair analyst, then blame management for things you don't like. Don't get me wrong, im not saying there isn't a problem, but you can't just make assumptions and then go off of that for your argument. The people at MS, especially most of the higher ups, are deceptively smart and know what is going on with the industry. But there are many factors that we don't know about. Again, im not making excuses for anyone, but to say that management is not capable of doing what is necessary for WP is insulting. I have seen this company go from personally hated to powering all of my devices under many of these guys. I understand WP is a somewhat different animal based on the given situation, but if you have a complaint, simply make the complaint. Call out management of they go back on their word, but saying that they don't understand the market because they're old is unnecessary. Think of their board and investors who the company must account to that are only looking at the monetary aspects. Just my two cents. I think all of these things are on the way, just in due time. Do I think they're taking too long? Hell yes. But if MS gave up on WP, believe you me, we wouldn't be seeing any of the stuff we've seen in the past 6 months.
  • Well, I've been with Microsoft since the days the only thing on computers was DOS. So I think I can fairly judge the people in charge at the moment. It also helps that I have superior education (meaning I have a University and a Masters Degree.) So I don't base my judgements only on what I like or don't.
    Actually, to be completely honest, Xbox Live is the last thing I could care about WP. Mainly because I prefer PS3 to Xbox and so I don't even use the gaming platform. But I can still see the potential in it. And I'm fairly aware of what's going on in gaming. That's why I think these people are miserably failing at their jobs. Now, I assumed that their lack of touch with reality was because of something called "generation gap", a thing that, wether we like it or not, plays always a role in company managements. That's why Apple thrived on MS's laziness/arrogance. Steve Jobs (whom I never really liked) had a much better understanding of the new generations than Bill Gates had or Balmer has. And yes, I know Jobs was not that much younger than Gates.
    Now, the reason why Microsoft's management is making so many strategic mistakes may not be the age. In which case is lack of vision or share stupidity. I still like to think that what's missing here is the capacity of understanding the new generations. There's a reason why MS with WP keeps being the kid running after the bus. As for Microsoft giving up on WP...that will depend on the amount of money they can do with it. But with the current lack of thrive to push the OS forward and correct/improve things faster, it's more likely that they will drop the idea sooner than later because consumers aren't willing to just wait for Microsoft to do things other companies already have available. Which will be a shame.
    I too have a master’s degree and an understanding of what a generation gap is. I also remember the days of DOS. All I’m saying is that it's a matter of perspective. What you see as laziness/arrogance, I see a concentration in enterprise for many many years. I believe that because they are relatively new to paying a good amount of attention to the consumer market, they need some time to adjust, not that they don't have the capability to adjust. I understand that it is taking longer than we want it to, but this game is far from over. Whether or not you agree, I believe that Gates is as much of a visionary as Jobs was. And Ballmer, while I love the guy, may not necessarily be the visionary his predecessor was. Regardless, he is excellent at keeping the board members and investors happy, while still bringing in tons of innovation and money. I don't think the people he has working for him have a lack of understanding of the younger generation, but things like this are a lot easier to say than do. I'm sure you've kept up with news on MS and how competitive each department within the company has been. With the departure of Sinofsky, things are supposed to change and I already think the company is headed in the right direction for the consumer market. Maybe there are certain people at MS that are stuck in the ways of old, but MS certainly doesn’t lack young blood either.
    The point of the whole armchair analyst comment was that there are many things about MS internally that we don't know or understand. Do I know that I'm 100% correct? Of course not, but that’s exactly the point. We can point fingers all we want, and come up with all the reasons in the world, but we just don't know what is happening internally. That’s why I say, you can call them slow and say that you are not satisfied with the way things are, but to point out specific reasons about certain people at MS, unless you know them personally or internal MS info, I would say is somewhat unfair. It's all a matter of perspective.
  • Microsoft Official Question Deflectors, Larry Lieberman and Casey McGee.
  • Lol +100
  • Don't believe or want a Halo fps on my phone, a strategy game, like Kojima did for the PSP on the other hand would be great. Regarding the negativity towards on Xbox brand on the WP, count me out, I much more in pace with the article's tone than the comments remarks comparing it to the anarchic game center. It can only improve, but don't open the flood gates, keep in mind the nature of Xbox scene, mr. Microsoft.
  • I have trust in them, Microsoft is always blind but somehow a miracle shows them the light.
  • I agree
  • I have faith to, but its time to make things happen not wait for success to fall in your lap.. Those days are over, and its a different world now.. As far as mobile goes MS is playing in Google, and Apples stupid backyard,,, for now! They have to be proactive to change this.
  • Not true, Microsoft has made many failures without fixing them. I have no doubt that this is the least of there concerns.
  • To what extent would it possible to use the camera shudder button (on Nokias anyway) as a trigger button in a fps?
  • ... I feel like that might make FPSs on touchscreen phones more bearable, if not fun.
  • That's something I've never thought of before, but it is a good idea.
    However my problem with FPS on a touch device is the movement. A virtual joystick doesn't work as well with me as a physical joystick does.
  • I think it would work best if the left half of the screen was touch anywhere to move, the right half was touch anywhere to aim and the physical shudder for a trigger that would make fps for mobile devices near perfect (imho)
  • Not a bad setup at all. They could also make firing automatic as long as a target is in the crosshairs, but some people would feel that dumbs down the gameplay too much (not me).
  • What a bunch of excuses they gave! Yes, those were excuses and not directly answers.
  • If Microsoft was smart they would make an in house style MOGA controller that worked EXCLUSIVELY with windows phone. They could probably release actual halo games with that.
  • That gamepad is the one thing that Microsoft perfected this Gen and they should use it to their advantage.
  • Not a bad idea.
  • No offence, but I think that would be a terrible idea. Moga might gain success because they're going for a larger market (WP+android), but ms remaking a controller exclusively for WP would face tons of problems. When big retailers find out that it only works on WP, who would carry it? Amazon? MS store? Now if they were to make their next xbox controller with Bluetooth (or even WiFi, shudder) and work on all WP out of the box, that would be a smash hit imo. Use the market you already have to help another market you own (like using halo to boost WP), I believe that's the way to success.
  • Yeah, MOGA for now and possible support of the next Xbox controller later this year is the way to go.
  • Two things that I feel "ripped off" about with WP/Nokia. #1Nokia Drive sucks but was pushed like it was a polished app. #2 MS advertised games that you could play on your phone, pause, and then continue on the XBox - how many games can you do that with.
  • I believe only one at the moment, which is Skulls of the Shogun
  • Are you referring to the Nokia Drive "BETA"?!!  That has been "BETA" since its release?  Please point to the news release that stated it was NOT a "BETA" app?  Furthermore, I don't believe MS or Nokia said you had to use their app.  I'm sure there are other apps you can download that can live up to your expectations.  I like the Nokia Drive "BETA" app.  I can download my state map on my phone and don't have to worry about using or losing connection for it to work. 
  • If you think Drive will look or function any different when it finally comes out of beta you are sadly mistaken. Have to agree with ade333 on this one... there are MANY missing features. I also feel misled about it.
  • Then you don't seem to understand the difference between beta and complete.
  • Sucks? A work in progress maybe because it's beta, but apple maps sucks. Nokia drive has been called the best GPS on any phone from what I recall. Resuming games from phone to Xbox would be cool, but how many games exist in the same state for both? Maybe in the next Xbox? "A man can dream though. A man can dream."
  • Obviously more games would have to be released for both platforms in order for pass, play, resume to work. We mention the need for those games in this very article.
  • Go Paul! Ask the tough questions. I have to admit I have started to feel somewhat cheated buying into WP. I have been really surprised how Verizon has been with phones but I can get past it. But I REALLY REALLY believed there would be tighter Xbox integration on WP.
    And I never thought Zune would be Xbox Music... I mean I hate talking to people about there music apps of choice and then I have to say I subscribe to "Xbox Music". I mean Xbox means games for most people, Zune meant music, but Microsoft said they needed their naming convention less fragmented w/e....
    My BIGGEST gripe is the fact the Xbox messaging is not integrated into the message hub... wtf?! WP is suppose to be easy to use and quick access. I get why it would it would be hard for Gtalk but they Own Xbox messaging.
    Sorry for ranting and back to the point. They released Halo Waypoint which would show you real time map information to display your team location for Reach. This was awesome but I had no way to attach it to my controller so it was too cumbers