Microsoft is keen to point out that the Windows Phone 7 platform is a game-centric platform. But there's a weak link in this gaming ambition.
Here's the plan, according to Mary Jo Foley:
All in all, there are 50 titles Microsoft is announcing today that will be available for Windows Phone 7. According to a spokesperson, these “are just the beginning of a full portfolio of games and applications coming to Windows Phone 7 this holiday – there is much more to come. Additional titles will be announced between now and the Windows Phone 7 launch this holiday season; once the phone launches, new Xbox LIVE titles will be added to the games portfolio every week.”
OK, so what's the problem here? It's simple - the touchscreen.
I know that Apple started this with the iPhone and the iOS platform, and I know that everyone else just copies what Apple does without really giving it any real though, because, after all, Apple can't make any mistakes. Problem with is photocopier approach is that these clone devices have the same flaws at the original, only amplified because the cloners are trying to avoid as many patented technologies as possible.
Gaming on a touchscreen sucks. It's not an issue of graphics, which is good on the iPhone, but the fact that the on-screen graphics have to share space with the user interface, and then you're fingers and thumbs which then obscure both the game graphics and the controls. With physical buttons, they're separate to the screen so you digits don't obscure the on-screen fun. Also, you can feel the buttons under fingers and thumbs, so you don't need to keep looking to make sure that you're on the right button or control.
Touchscreen gaming sucks.
Now, Apple isn't a company that has a gaming heritage. Sure, some games do run on Mac OS, but the Mac isn't seen as a gaming platform, let alone a hardcore gaming platform. Apple doesn't really do gaming, so its mistakes are easily overlooked.
But Microsoft knows gaming. Gaming has been Microsoft bread and butter for years, starting as far back as DOS, evolving immensely when Windows came along, continually evolving as DirectX and GPU power grew, and then evolving even further into the Xbox. There are Microsofties that have years of gaming know how, and one thing that should the patently clear is that good, immersive gaming requires decent controls, something which a tiny touchscreen can't offer.
The iPhone is a decent platform for casual gaming, the sort of gaming that appeals to the FarmVille and Happy Aquarium player. That sort of thing works because people aren't that invested in the game (heck, they're free games designed to absorb some free time). Investing good money ($10+) in a game that ends up being unusable because of the user interface sucks, and it's the sort of thing that will upset gamers.
So Microsoft is trading a dangerous path here and needs to be careful that it doesn't tarnish the Xbox brand by aligning it too closely to an inferior smartphone-based gaming platform. I know Microsoft is desperate to squeeze as much halo juice as possible from the good feelings people have for Windows 7 and the Xbox, but it's possiblee to take things too far. And I think Microsoft might be doing just that here.