After four weeks with no new Xbox games for Windows Phone, we may have the actual cause

Last week, Windows Phone received no new Xbox game for the third week in a row. Our detailed editorial posited several theories to explain the prolonged release drought, and many readers chimed in with their own theories. This week marks the fourth consecutive dry week, and the sixth within the last two months. Microsoft has informed us there won’t be a new Xbox game or Deal of the Week once more.

Why another dry week, you ask? An Xbox game developer has come forward with information supporting one of our theories… And no, it isn’t the best news.


Shao-Lin's Road and Time Pilot MIA

First, a quick summary of the four possible reasons why new Xbox Windows Phone releases have been scarcer than a fully-clothed Rihanna sighting:

  1. Microsoft has decided not to allow Windows Phone 8-incompatible Xbox games to be released
  2. Microsoft is backing away from Xbox games on Windows Phone
  3. Third-party development is drying up
  4. Microsoft has totally forgotten about several games they could release right now (Time Pilot, Shao-Lin’s Road, and Loondon)

These causes are not mutually exclusive, and in fact it’s likely that at least three of them ring true.

The answer

Fable Coin Golf

Fable Coin Golf was the last major Microsoft franchise game released for Windows Phone, but doesn't work with WP8

Next, allow me to explain that our source (who must remain anonymous) has worked on several titles for a developer with a close relationship to Microsoft. This developer has successfully proposed Xbox-branded games for Windows Phone and then gone on to create them. Said dev’s experience might not represent the experience of other third-party developers, but given the facts we know, it seems very likely.

So, what does this developer feel is the root of the Xbox Windows Phone release drought? Possibility Number Two is the winner. Basically, the extent of Xbox-specific development is decided upon by Microsoft’s Business Development division. Unfortunately for gamers, that division is currently reevaluating its support of Xbox-branded games on Windows Phone. With their support in a limbo state, new Microsoft-published and/or funded games can’t be approved.

The above refers specifically to games that would have Microsoft’s name attached to them. It’s not likely that Business Development’s lack of support would cause all third-party developed and published games to be denied. However, like I explained last week: third party support will not continue to any great extent without specific will and funding from Microsoft.

Amazing Spider-Man

Gameloft's lineup of Windows Phone 8 games seems to have been planned before the hiatus.

Windows Phone remains a minority platform compared to iOS and Android. For relatively large developers who already make plenty of profits on competing smartphones, the profits from a Windows Phone game (combined with the cumbersome Xbox Live certification process) probably seem negligible. And even a small team might just decide that making a new iOS game will bring in more revenue than porting one of its existing titles. Much as I love Windows Phone (believe me, I do), these are the market realities for our up-and-coming mobile OS.

What attracts third-party devs then? Put simply, Microsoft must reach out and convince them to bring their games to Windows Phone. This often involves at least partially funding the game’s development, and possibly greenlighting projects for more established platforms like Xbox 360. That’s what has gotten us a great many of the Xbox Windows Phone games so far, and it’s necessary for the foreseeable future. But with Business Development apparently putting a hold on Xbox-specific Windows Phone spending, those development deals aren’t happening.

This news also means we’re that much farther away from getting games from major Microsoft-owned franchises created for Windows Phone. XBLA games that would be easy to port like A World of Keflings and especially the numerous Windows 8 tablet games that could be ported with very little effort: nobody is approving them and so they won’t happen.

Advantage: Nokia

The one silver lining we know of at present is Nokia's continued release of Xbox-branded games for their Lumia Phones. During the drought that many Windows Phone users have faced, Nokia released both Picnic Wars and iBomber Defense. Simultaneously, they've been steadily updating their existing exclusives, with the most recent update making eight out of the 10 existing exclusives fully Windows Phone 8 compatible. That means that the Xbox Windows Phone lineup looks 8-10 games better for Lumia owners. And these aren't just throwaway titles, either. All of Nokia's exclusives come from respected publishers Electronic Arts and Chillingo, and we've reviewed most of them favorably so far. Big-name franchises like Madden, FIFA, and Dead Space are still on the way - we'll have news straight from Nokia's mouth in the weeks ahead!

It's fair to say that while Microsoft might have dropped the ball with Xbox game support for its own mobile OS, Nokia doesn't mind picking up the slack. Nokia can't actually sustain the platform on their own; as far as we know, they only have 10 more exclusive Xbox games on the way this year. To thrive, Windows Phone needs somewhere in the neighborhood of 52 new releases: an average of one per week... And of course, many of those must be popular and/or completely exclusive titles that will appeal to avid gamers. Besides, Windows Phone doesn't consist solely of Nokia phones, so these exclusives haven't benefitted non-Lumia owners just yet.  That said, the Nokia Electronic Arts games are widely believed to be timed exclusives, so HTC and Samsung owners could just end up gaining new games to play before too long.

Other side of the story

Skulls of the Shogun

Skulls of the Shogun for Windows Phone

Naturally we asked Microsoft for comment on the release drought, but they haven’t come forward with an official explanation just yet. Although I have absolute faith in my source, I would be highly surprised to see an actual confirmation of this story from Microsoft themselves. The explanation carries such negative connotations that they wouldn’t gain much by openly stating it. They also love their secrecy. Still, we’ll continue to press for official word as long as we can.

Finally, while six weeks in the last two months without a new Xbox Windows Phone release looks about as good as modern day Val Kilmer and Laurence Fishburne wearing Speedos (opens in new tab), Windows Phone isn’t the only Microsoft platform undergoing a release drought. Xbox Live Arcade actually hasn’t had a release for two weeks in a row – a fairly unprecedented span of time. That dry spell ends with next week’s XBLA release of The Cave, but Windows Phone probably won’t see a new Xbox game until Skulls of the Shogun arrives on January 30th.

In the meantime, let Microsoft know that you want more Xbox Windows Phone games, including major franchises! You can make your voice heard by voting for this suggestion at User Voice, commenting in this Xbox forums thread (opens in new tab), and by tweeting @Xbox, @XboxSupport, @WindowsPhone, and any other public faces at Microsoft.

Header image courtesy of Wolfe's Lair.

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!

  • I'm actually thinking about removing the Xbox tile off my home screen. I'm tired of people asking me what it does, and having to respond, "nothing".
  • Nothing? The tile its self lets you communicate with friends on live, view and edit your avatar, view friends activity etc. That's what I would be saying the tile does..
  • I'm being sarcastic. The whole situation is sour though. Besides the Xbox, everything in their modern era, Microsoft has put half a foot in. If they are bailing this easy on Xbox Windows games, I'm done. I have loved my Surface and Windows Phone but the lack of direction is getting ridiculous. They spend more time pushing stuff out on other ecosystems than I can tell you, while we sit and wonder why we didn't just stay on the other side of the fence.
    This is like the poor neighborhood kid who's a-hole father throws the ball with the rest of the neighborhood and tells you he will get around to playing with you later.
  • Remember this is all rumour only.
  • right and this is really giving me a WMPU-ish vibe here.  ugh
  • It's not a rumor at all. The article is filled with facts. I'm not sure how much more plain we can make it.
  • Is that a serious thing people want to do?  View friends activity and edit their avatar?  Possibly the only thing I can think of that is worse than nothing.  
  • So, if you don't have an Xbox, it's not really useful then.
  • So if you have an Xbox then Xbox branded titles aren't really useful then.
  • Honestly though, I think most of us at this site, have faith in their products than all of their lead positions combined x10000.
  • U gonna get the new Devil May Cry?
  • I see his point. "nothing" is obviously not the factual response, albeit a sarcastic one. It describes his feeling along with many others. In all honesty the reason I moved to wp was due to live titles on the phone. That being said if there are few live games that only leaves the slick OS for me. I love the OS, but I can be just as happy elsewhere and have games. MS is failing at the support and how the divisions within compete with each other does not bode well for our beloved OS. If this does not look up, improve, just the elegant OS only takes me so far. The last thing i want to do is leave wp, but this is a deal breaker for me. I am staying positive and there is time before I decide on my next device.
  • Yeah ur right....Its true games are not everything but for me at least, i bought Nokia 920 and happy with its Chipset, CPU and GPU and i was so interseted in testing the games i play on my iPhone 4 ( since iphone4 isnt strong for the new games) but sadly im not finding good games to really test them and i was hoping for MS to relase Halo in WP or something like that! i just hope MS+Nokia make efferts in making good games and apps for the OS 
  • You summed it up in better words. Thank you. But for crying out loud. Everything was headed in a positive direction. Then first they killed the best thing working for them... Zune. Why? Because 11 year olds made fun of its name. Even though almost everyone that used it and gave it an HONEST effort, would tell you it ran circles around iTunes. So now as a result of the train wreck known as Xbox Music and Video, I have to look for third party apps to save this mess. Thank God for Music Info. I am now left holding onto the promise of what eXPlay could become in the next update to completely fix the media portion of this all. But I then am still looking at the mess left by Xbox Games on the mobile side of it all.
  • I understood what you meant as I felt the same way. :)  I still remember the early WP commercials a couple years ago and the Xbox Live games advertised.  I was swayed the moment I watched the commercial.  I fell in love with the OS afterwards.  Like you mentioned the Zune fiasco and the Live titles have made me a tad bitter, a scorned lover.  :) 
  • That's funny!  :-)
  • Solitaire for the Win !
  • Down the bottom you say 6 weeks in a row, that should be 4 right?
  • Thanks - fixed!
  • If they are backing away from game deveolopment for WP8, I wonder if it has anything to do with needing more resources allocated to the work being done ahead of the rumored release of the next Xbox. 
  • They should really be focusing on gaming. MS has such a lead in gaming, they should make WP8 the phone every X-Box owner wants. Spend some of that money from those stupid commercials and pay your developers to get quality games on X-Box. 
  • Exactly.  With the Millions of Xbox 360's in households already why wouldn't they target the audience and fanbase they already own?!  It appears logical.  "Great Science!"
  • This.
  • Working on cross-platform games and integration for Windows Phone and the Xbox 360 and iits successor are part of that, though. The Xbox is THE premiere gaming console in America, and Xbox LIVE is the premiere online gaming service for consoles as well. They need to leverage that for Windows Phone gaming to truly thrive. I'm guessing the funding would be a drop in the bucket if they had all of the XBLA indie developers port their games to Windows Phone on Microsoft's dime. That would pump HUNDREDS of games into the platform by the end of the years, I'd bet.
    There are just too many OBVIOUS ways for Microsoft to make Windows Phone gaming dominate the smartphone news for this year, but they're choosing to do so by doing nothing and making all of the news bad news. All they have to say is "we're working on a plan" to at least SOMEWHAT quell to doubters, but their chosen silence might be the worst thing of all--the only time you choose to be silent during bad news is when reality is worse, and that's possibly the case here.
    I love Microsoft's products, don't get me wrong. I have had an Xbox, Xbox 360 (3 of them, actually), a Zune 30, a Zune HD 32, a Windows 7 PC upgraded to Windows 8, and have a Lumia 920. I've convinced MANY people to join me on Xbox, Xbox LIVE, and with the Zune. My sister got a Lumia 822 because of me. I have the purchase history of a fanboy, basically, and it's because they've provided me with many quality products that I enjoy, not because I believe in the benevolence of Redmond or something.
    However, this news is so bad that I cannot even begin to figure out if it affects me. I've found plenty of games to pass the time with my phone already (more than I found on Android in 2 years), but the very thought that Microsoft is letting political garbage within its company threaten the platform this quickly is just pathetic.
  • The whole xbl arcade indie developers coming over to WP is really not as easy as you would think. For anyone who has tried to obtain XBL status on Windows Phone would know how nearly impossible it actually is. I know a stack of other developers with great games and you essentially have no chance of ever getting live status.
  • If any of their games are really strong, send them my way. I'll point them in the right direction.
  • How about Shantek's Wheel of Wealth?
  • Dragons Blade!!!!
  • yup. Microsoft are baffling at times. The obvious is just that, obvious. I'd love to get in there and kick some butt.
    WP8, custom tones for email/sms please. Notification centre please. Proper Skype integration, Xbox live messaging always on please. More sophistiation in profiles please. An LED please.
    Super slick syncing of media across all devices via Skydrive please.
    Surface, a more functional email client please. A metro verion of Office, and drop desktop please. Metro Skydrive for RT with selectable folder sync please. sort the calendar out.
    So so many "obvious" things to do, but they keep missing. They've done ok of late, but never quite fnisih anything properly. Frustraing company to deal with.
  • Obviously MSFT doesn't put much efforts into development of windows phone any way. After nearly 2 months of release, they didn't even update their weather app......
  • Microsoft doesn't believe in its own mobile OS. Color me surprised.
  • It's more the "Microsoft game" all employees must be playing. This sometimes has the described effect.
  • I agree.  Seems like a typical one division pitted against another division.  I was hoping with Sinofsky out, that this kind of petty in-fighting would have come to an end but apparently not yet.
  • Considering the platform has been out 3-4 months (WP8, not 7) it's safe to say I don't think it's worth jumping on a doom and gloom bandwagon just yet. With WP8 sales being higher than most expected, and marketplace revenue increasing they're sure to see support in the future - albeit possibly cautious. Not to mention I have an incredibly strong hunch that we'll see some kind of tie between downloadable W8 games and NextXbox games being incredibly easy to port - I'm thinking the XBLA style games. Which will probably carry over to WP8.
  • yeah its always the next thing that will make this all worth while...tell you what if thats the case they lost me. feel sorry for nokia, at least they are trying
  • Sorry but I don't know what you expect from a third place operating system released 3 months ago. These things take time. I constantly see WP8 ads on tele, and plastered over billboards etc. They're supporting this thing heavily unlike WP7. It just makes logical sense when they're pushing W8 too. The NextXbox will follow similar branding and Microsoft will have an aim to push the ecosystem as a whole. Maybe it's just working in marketing that gives me this perspective, but it doesn't take a genius to see they're not giving up. Doom and gloom is pointless.
  • That's a matter of opinion, that they're supporting the platform. They might be pouring money into advertising, but that's a "lipstick on a pig," matter right now. They should be pouring money into having XBLA developers port games ASAP, and quality ones at that. Get Mojang working on a Minecraft port. Have SEGA porting all of its Sonic-based stuff. Get Hexic, Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, Geometry Wars, Trials, and the like over to the WP platform. Yes, Windows Phone 8 has only been out 3 months. However, Windows Phone 7 has been out for more than 2 years. You can say "this time, it's different" all you want, but it has to be proven for it to be true. They should see things like a lack of developer support as the obvious causes for Windows Phone 7's shortcomings, so even if THIS version of WP is only 3 months old, they have 2 years and 3 months of results to see what caused WP7 to fail. I love the platform, but the "it's new" excuse doesn't work just because the kernel's differen.t They should have seen the app issues from 2010-2012 with WP7 and adjusted by giving devs the tools to make WP8 games much earlier so the platform could tout loads of new games, and they should have had loads of money ready to throw at those devs to get them moving.
  • Mojang refused Microsoft's offer to help bring Minecraft to Win 8, so I don't even see a remote possibility the game will be coming to WP. (From Mojang's comments, I'm not sure they even understand the difference between Windows 8 and RT.)
  • Relax guys. MS is in this for the long run. Games will come. I am assuming they are restructuring the Xbox backend so all games have some sort of cloud functionality.
  • I personally believe they are working on "bundles" for buying the game or app and getting copy on Xbox, WP and Windows 8. This is a must that, if not coming in the next 6 months, might make me go fully Apple from being fully Microsoft at