Windows Phone successes and failures at E3 2012

Mateo Nunez and Paul Acevedo at E3

E3 2012 – the Electronic Entertainment Expo turned out very much like we predicted. During their press conference, Microsoft touted upcoming Xbox 360 sequels: Halo 4, Forza Horizon, and Fable: The Journey; a new Gears of War prequel from Epic; plus several non-exclusive but cool console titles like South Park: The Stick of Truth, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Tomb Raider. They also announced several Xbox Live Arcade games, including Ascend, Lococycle, Matter, and Wreckateer. Oh, and Usher mystified us with a performance in the name of Kinect update Dance Central 3. I fear Harmonix may be in danger of running the dancing genre into the ground with these yearly sequels as once befell the music game genre, but time will tell.

Xbox entertainment library

We also knew to expect the rebranding of the Zune service to Xbox Music and Xbox Movies. Not a particularly exciting announcement, since nothing but the branding changed. The SmartGlass initiative is more noteworthy. Basically an evolution of the Xbox Companion App, it allows users to control Xbox 360 system functions (including the upcoming Kinect-enabled Internet Explorer), plus interact with movies, music, and games in new ways. Specifically, we can expect far more console titles to connect with Windows Phone – definitely a good thing.

Head past the break for our full E3 coverage summary, new videos, and lots more!

Windows Phone: small fish, big pond

Just like last year, Windows Phone didn’t quite get its due either during the press conference or on the E3 show floor. Besides the aforementioned connectivity features, the sole mobile game mentioned (in passing) was Signal Studios’ Ascend: New Gods, which we thankfully managed to investigate while playing the XBLA version.During the actual convention, Microsoft’s Windows Phone display consisted of something like six phones stashed off to the side near the Forza Horizon display. Comparatively, Square Enix had more than 10 iOS and Android devices in their own area, each running a dedicated game. Could it be that Square Enix is more serious about their iOS games than Microsoft is about promoting Windows Phone to gamers?

Each Windows Phone device held the same seemingly random selection of 8 Xbox Live games: Civilization Revolution, geoDefense Swarm, iStunt 2, PES 2012, Wordament, Battleship, MUSH, and Shoot1Up. Let’s think about these for a minute: Civilization Revolution takes anywhere from 1-4 hours to play, has a cliff-steep learning curve, and looks as pretty as the smear under a person’s shoe. It is impossible that playing it on a show floor could give someone a positive impression of the platform. We were glad to see the three upcoming games in the mix (two if we count Battleship launching during day two of the show), but even that number is smaller than 2011’s selection of new Live titles.

Why wasn’t this week’s release, Final Fantasy I on-hand? We’ve seen far more interest re: that game than any other title this year besides maybe Wordament. (Final Fantasy I should also have been at Square Enix’s booth, but I digress.) Speaking of Wordament, the phones we saw weren’t actually connected to the internet, so I doubt that title managed to win anyone over.

Room for improvement

From Microsoft’s E3 Windows Phone area we can take away two things: one, the big MS should really give their mobile platform at least as much attention and room as other large software publishers. Yes, the Xbox 360 division brings home the bacon, but you can’t grow your other platforms by neglecting them. Besides, phones don’t exactly take up that much room to begin with. When plenty of other publishers who don’t even have their own platform are showing off more mobile devices and games than Microsoft, things look a little off.

Two, the team responsible for advertising mobile Live games at trade shows and elsewhere could seriously benefit from the presence of a knowledgeable gamer. The games on the show floor should fall into one or more of these categories: upcoming (and thus exciting for both the press and readers at home), exclusive, graphically impressive, and/or easy to learn. Civilization Revolution (despite actually being quite a good game) doesn’t meet any of those qualifications. Some existing games that would’ve been better choices include Chickens Can’t Fly, Gerbil Physics, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Zombies on the Phone – heck, even BulletAsylum. And again, let’s bring more new stuff to the table next time, please Microsoft?

Big publisher support

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was super fun. How about a mobile version, SEGA?

Sadly, big publishers like SEGA and Konami who have been producing Windows Phone games for quite a while now did not choose to voice their support at E3. In their defense, SEGA had no mobile section at all, and Konami’s consisted of nothing but a couple of awesome Frogger Pinball displays. Rather than actual spurns, the absence here seems due to the general misconception that mobile games don’t belong at E3. It’s true that in years past, the presence of mobile games at the show has been negligible. But virtually no one in the gaming industry fails to see the growth and potential of the mobile market – some publishers are just slower to react than others. Let's hope Japanese publisher Gree hops on the Windows Phone bandwagon sooner rather than later; their booth actually dwarfed many console publishers'!

Windows Phone love

All this talk about what wasn’t at E3 threatens to overshadow the cool stuff that actually was there! First and foremost, the indie team at 17-BIT wisely chose to promote Skulls of the Shogun, a beautiful strategy game that’s coming to Windows Phone, Xbox 360, and Windows 8. We managed to sneak a peek at the mobile version as well as snagging a great interview.

Glu Mobile, one of the most successful publishers of freemium games, took the time to meet and speak with us about their plans for Windows Phone and Windows 8. Naturally we had to play Gun Bros and Contract Killer, two Xbox Live titles that should release this summer. Both games will be free with the option to purchase weapons and items as DLC. Since freemium games don’t bring in any money unless players actually like the game, Glu has a lot of incentive to make sure their titles are actually fun. From our time with Gun Bros and Contract Killer, they look to have succeeded.

Fun with consoles

With so many Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and now Wii U titles on the show floor, a mobile-focused site like ours could never manage to play or cover them all. Still, we spent our extra time checking out a couple of categories that should appeal to many of our readers: Xbox Live Arcade games and Kinect titles. The XBLA platform has grown truly massive since the Xbox 360 launch, making for a huge variety of downloadable console games. Of the dozens present at E3, our top XBLA picks (that don’t have mobile versions) are Double Dragon: Neon, Retro City Rampage, and Pid. We squeezed in a fantastic interview with Double Dragon’s producer, so be sure to check it out.

As for Kinect, the library of motion-controlled Xbox 360 is truly taking off. Microsoft pushed Fable: The Journey, Avengers: Battle for Earth, and Wreckateer pretty hard. We were also taken by several third-party efforts. Majesco’s NBA Baller Beats combines the sports and rhythm/music game genres for an amazing effect. The sight of someone dribbling an actual basketball (included with the game) while matching the beat of numerous catchy songs was mesmerizing. Our newest staff member Mateo Nunez and I also played a couple of fun licensed games at the Namco Bandai booth: Dragonball Z Kinect and Power Rangers Super Samurai. Both titles are sure to hit home with kids and the young at heart,

Without further ado, here’s a full directory of Windows Phone Central’s E3 coverage:

Pre-E3 coverage

Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference

Windows Phone games and apps at E3

Console games and more at E3

We look forward to bringing you even more Windows Phone stories from E3 next year!

Paul Acevedo

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!