How to save Xbox games for Windows P{hone Part 4
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How Microsoft can save Xbox games for Windows Phone: Part 4

Remember that huge five week long game drought we just went through? We didn’t get official word from Microsoft until the fourth straight week without a release, after the drought had almost passed (and not for lack of trying on our part). As every week went by, your humble author and most avid Windows Phone gamers became increasingly distressed. The whole situation brought to light the ever-worsening handling of Xbox games for Windows Phone by the platform holder.

It also led to the creation of this very series of editorials about how Xbox games for Windows Phone can be turned around. Microsoft has a wonderful gaming synergy on its hands with Xbox Live and Windows Phone, if only they will make proper use of it. We’ve already explored several ways to do so: overhaul the certification system that’s completely inappropriate for mobile games, get internal forces within Microsoft on the same page about the value of Xbox Live, and then promote Windows Phone directly alongside Xbox consoles.

Today we follow up on that last point by looking at the lack of public relations management that affects mobile Xbox games and makes it difficult for both Windows Phone and Windows 8 developers and publishers to promote their own games.

Windows Phone needs competent and dedicated PR staff focused specifically on Xbox features and games.

KooZac
KooZac coming to Windows Phone is kind of a big deal, but nobody at Microsoft seems to understand why.

When I talk about PR staff, I refer specifically to the people whose job it is to send out press releases and other Xbox Windows Phone gaming news to the press, respond to articles about the platform and its games, and answer press inquiries. Their goal at the end of the day is to maintain enthusiasm and confidence in the brand and software.

The release drought I just mentioned is the perfect symbol for how little effort Microsoft has put into Xbox Windows Phone PR as of late. Had there been even one full-time Xbox Windows Phone PR person, he or she would surely have contacted the press much sooner in order to calm gamers’ fears. Ideally we’d have been notified before the drought even started and asked to remain patient. It’d be nice to know that Microsoft cares about this audience and doesn’t consider it an afterthought.

Dial time back a bit to 2010 and 2011 and you’ll see much greater evidence of PR care from Microsoft and their third-party PR firm Edelman. In those years, Microsoft regularly announced Xbox Windows Phone games in large batches, either during events like E3 or directly to the media. Sometimes games like Top Gun ended up as vaporware, but at least fans had something to look forward to. What do we know we have to look forward to these days? What improvements are definitely coming?

To give you a better idea of the shift in PR attitude and efforts, the last time Microsoft announced more than a single Xbox Windows Phone game was February 2012. We do know of a few more Microsoft-published Xbox games in development: Pinball FX2 (announced February 2012), Ms. Splosion Man (announced April 2012), Ascend: New Gods (announced June 2012), Fairway Solitaire and Temple Run (both quietly announced July-August 2012).

Beyond those long-in-coming titles (the first of which could end up as vaporware) and 12 games that Gameloft announced on its own, we have no idea what Microsoft and third parties have in store for Windows Phone in 2013. Even the release schedule has become haphazard. Microsoft’s partners at Edelman used to let us know about new releases a week in advance, but nowadays we learn about titles one day before release at most. Third party games like KenKen and KooZac just show up, never having been announced in advance (and despite our efforts to maintain relationships with every known Xbox Windows Phone developer).

Longtime readers have probably noticed a drop-off in our Xbox Live Developer Interview series as well. The reason is twofold: one, Microsoft stopped presenting us with interview opportunities - the person responsible shuffled off of Windows Phone without being replaced. The good lady who gave us advance release dates is also gone and sorely missed. Two, so few Xbox Windows Phone games get announced in advance any more that we hardly have anyone to interview even when we reach out on our own.

Sharing is caring, Microsoft.

Big Buck Hunter Pro
If you want to know how NOT to promote a game like Big Buck Hunter Pro, just ask Microsoft.

Most of the PR problems I lament stem from budgetary cutbacks and simple negligence. But Microsoft and whatever PR agents do remain are also far too dedicated to the culture of secrecy. Basically, they like to keep an extremely tight leash on how and what information about digital Xbox games get out, even when there is no logical reason to do so. If some detail about a game hasn’t been published on Microsoft’s PlayXBLA blog and Microsoft has any say in the matter, that detail will not be given to the press. Remember, PlayXBLA barely shares any advance information in the first place.

I can’t count how many innocuous questions I’ve asked only to be told no comment or given a wordy non-answer. The best example is when we asked Microsoft directly about Big Buck Hunter Pro in September 2012. The Windows 8 version (still unreleased as of this writing) had already been announced at PlayXBLA a few weeks prior. I sent them 11 questions, including the obvious “Will [this game] come to Windows Phone 8 as well?”

Their response: a refusal to answer any of those questions, although they did send over a description and images of the Windows 8 game. One month later, we received the standard one day advance notice of Big Buck Hunter Pro’s release for Windows Phone. The game was one month away and Microsoft just plain didn’t want anybody to know about it. We came to them with a perfect opportunity to hype that title and they turned us away.

The end result of all this secrecy is Windows Phone gamers never know anything about games in advance, the games that do come along don’t get hyped, and those games sell at least a little less as a result. Yes, controlling the flow of information is a basic part of PR, and I don’t insinuate that information shouldn’t be discussed behind closed doors before sharing it with the press. But Microsoft’s policy towards Windows Phone and Windows 8 games keeps the leash so unthinkingly tight that it strangles any potential for building excitement or even confidence in the platform and its lineup of upcoming games.

Windows Phone and Windows 8 badly need a download code system.

Xbox.com redeem code page

The Windows Phone Store needs a screen just like this.

Here’s a problem of PR and infrastructure. After more than two years, Windows Phone has absolutely no download code system or any other way for Xbox developers to ‘gift’ their games to outside parties. Nor does the recently-launched Windows 8 tablet and PC OS. This despite the fact that Xbox 360 already has a great code system, as does practically every other digital game distribution system: iOS, Android, Playstation Network, Steam, and Origin (Blackberry lacks codes but has a gifting system). We’re talking about a lack of independent volume control-level oversight here.

What effect does the lack of a code or gifting system have? This Xbox Windows 8 developer explains it quite well:

“Sadly, no codes for Windows 8. Frankly, I have no idea what is going on. There does not seem to be a lot of support for Windows 8 at this point. There would be so much more chatter if we could give you access to the damn game!”

For one thing, it’s impossible for publishers to give out Windows Phone and Windows 8 games via contests, limiting their ability to promote games directly to consumers. But they can’t give games to reviewers either. Here at Windows Phone Central, we have to purchase every single mobile Xbox game we review. Think of the unnecessary cost over the years. And we’re dedicated to Windows Phone games. Consider a site like Kotaku that only has a casual interest in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. The developer quoted above can’t send those guys a game and inspire them to review it, so the title goes unmentioned.

Software costs aside, developers and publishers can’t give out their games in advance. Reasons they’d want to do this include allowing the media to preview games and ensuring that games can be reviewed on their actual release dates. The day of release is when review interest is at its highest. But because we can’t play Xbox games in advance and our reviews are real reviews as opposed to quick impressions pieces, we always have to review at least one week after release.

Must Have Games 2012
Yes, they had to mail actual phones out to share these games with the press.

An example of the difficulties caused by a lack of review codes: back in January 2012, Microsoft actually had to ship us a phone preloaded with its assortment of Must Have Games in order to share those titles before release. Reviewers couldn’t use their own Xbox Live profiles to play the games, which conflicted with Windows Phone Central’s Achievement-centric style of reviewing. After a set date, recipients had to ship the phones back to Microsoft. What a costly and time-consuming workaround for a problem that could easily be fixed with a modicum of engineering effort.

In short, Microsoft must remove an obstacle to the promotion and reviewing of mobile Xbox games by creating a download code system on these platforms – just like every other platform has.

Calm before the storm

This article focused on the challenges we face in bringing Xbox Windows Phone game news and reviews to you, our terrific and impressively good-looking readers. Part 5 deals with problems gamers would encounter even if they never visited a Windows Phone site, such as the inability to back up save games as well as many online features. Come back this Friday to see it, and then stay tuned next week for the series conclusion!

If you enjoyed this editorial, please let us know in the comments below and tweet it to everyone you think would benefit from it. Let's make a difference together!

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Reader comments

How Microsoft can save Xbox games for Windows Phone: Part 4

65 Comments

Please write about more Xbox games already!!
 
In addition to your excellent gaming journalism, I want news about Xbox Music/Video, how bad it sucks, how they can fix it, and when they will fix it!!!
Music/Video<Games

I agree.  Someone has to push MS to get off their butts and get the rest of this ecosystem up to par.  There are so many good aspects surrounding WP8, Windows 8 & Xbox, but MS has become so blinded with their agenda that they have forgotten to close all the gaps and bring it all together.
 
If WPCentral can keep these great posts coming and continue to address the issues we the users face, maybe we can get some things fixed.  The more we post our opinions and filter them up to the people at MS, the more chance we have to get it fixed.
 
I know MS has said that they are in mobile for "the long haul", however their lack of excitement for the platform is very concerning.  They need to get off their butts, put a little effort and maybe a little money in the right places and get the apps that are important to everyone, fix the horrid music and movie experience, and hold to their promise of true Xbox gaming on WP.  How about it MS?  Do you even care?

+1 on this. Zune was great but Xbox Music is such a collossal step back it's mind boggling.
 
 
Love these articles though. Hope someone at Microsoft takes notice and gets things back in order.

It's pretty close to taking a step back. If you use music a lot, it probably is a step back. EXPECIALLY since 7.8 has been pushed out.

Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7, and then Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8, both in many respects appear to be a story of two steps forward and one step back. It's unfortunate that us consumers are placed into a situation of constantly waiting for the next update in order to "get back" features that were in an earlier OS version, or constantly waiting for the next update to gain feature parity with iOS/Android. Microsoft has so much resource at their disposal and yet deliver so little to its mobile customers. The whole music/playlist/album art synching issue is so shameful that Microsoft should have delivered a fix within weeks of the problem being identified. Instead we are left to WAIT, with no word on when, if ever, this will be at least back to the perfection that Zune app provided.

I agree... Any heat on Microsoft about WP8 is a good thing.
Dynamic lock screens and More tile size options is good.... but I'm starting to think it wasn't worth moving over to WP8... 

This... Personaly, i hate mobile games. They all suck donkey balls.
Put your focus on services that are more of use to a general population and are really "needed" to be fixed. More supported codecs on video player, better xbox musice xperience, a goddamn skype etc...

Another great read Paul, thanks. Sad that Microsoft obviously doesn't care about this issue, but it's the reality. There's only so much we as users and fans can do, if Microsoft isn't interested its on them.

I'm sure that from Microsoft's point of view, they are terrified of promising apps/games/features/bugfixes that might not end up being released, and then looking like a bunch of tools who can't deliver on what they promise. Especially with things like apps that are largely out of their control. The problem is that everyone is taking up sides at the two extreme ends of this issue. It's never going to be possible to make everyone happy, but IMO the odds go up significantly when both sides find a way to meet somewhere in the middle.

I'm not being extreme here. I've dealt with lots of PR companies who do a great job of promoting their games. In this case we have a company with seemingly little interest and manpower devoted to promoting Xbox WP games.

I think it spoke volumes about not having a way for the press to preview the app. This is just terrible marketing.

Nicely said!
Well, all these reveal 1 thing. Bad management.
How do you overcome this? Fire some people or outsource some parts.
(Not having coupons support is either because they do not listen or they do not know they should)

There really needs to be some sort of gift card system in place. On the iPhone it's so easy to buy an iTunes card and just use it to buy apps. Not everyone has credit cards. There are tons of college students out there and a CC is the last thing you'd expect them to have.
 
In addition to that it makes it relatively easy for people in other regions to purcahse apps. For example I live in Pakistan, but the PK region for marketplace is a barren wasteland. There's nothing here. I have to use another region to get my apps. Currently I'm using the Australian marketplace and I have borrowed my sister's(who lives in Aus) credit card for some must need apps. If there was a gift card system I could just buy a 50$ card and be done with it. No need to borrow credit cards or anything like that.

To overcome the lack of gift card, the only option appears to be to buy a generic Visa/MasterCard off the gift rack. In addition to being a stupid, not necessarily obvious workaround, Visa/MasterCard charges an overly high card activation fee.

Keep it going.  I agree with all the posts so far.  I have been extremely tempted to go back to my iphone but I am being diehard and eagerly waiting for everything to become cross platform and better games and os features.

Owners of phones with other OSs complain about how WP doesn't have the apps they want, so why doesn't Microsoft offer so many awesome Xbox games that other OSs won't have... They should capitalize on this...

Good stuff!!!  I really hope Microsoft gets their crap together...  If they take a lot of these ideas that seem like common sense to me, and implement them, I don't see how it can fail.  But they probably wont... they will fall behind, AGAIN...

I wish there was a "How Microsoft can save Xbox Music - Part x". At this point fellas, I believe the poor functionality of the XBM service is a much bigger problem than lack of timely game releases.

I agree on the 'redeem code' it works perfectly on the Xbox 360. I would want to get games on my phone but don't have a credit card & where I live we have the redeem code cards. so I say bring on the Redeem Code system to Windows Phone 7.x & 8 :)

These editorials are great, well done Paul. On a sidenote, any idea if there's a new Xbox title today then, Paul?

first thanks for all the nice post about xbox live games on smartphones
but i think XBOX live games belong on a console,, or a verry high end phone spec , like the one HTC x quadcore the fasted android phone in all benchmarks,, what i am saying high quality gaming,, not the stuff that is going on now
that meens microsoft allso has to put a highend phone on the market
just think of an tegra 4 phone , a windows phone 8 with quadcore cpu and 72 gpu cores running 1.6 ghz
then i am sold on the idear of xbox live games on a device like this
it has to high end of all spec,, then the games will stand out course thay run deticaded to the phone ,, and life time of a phone like this will be 2 years ,, and then again put the verry best hardware on the market again
i think you all get the  point,,,
let get back to now,, all xbox live games SHALL run on a windows 7 or 8 phone there are the rulls
but then the nokia 510,dell venu256mb, these are bad phones , so it has to run on the lowest hardware in the windows ecosystem
and we have phones that runs 800mhz to dualcore 1.2 ghz and this is bad for xbox live games
i my nokia lumia 800 runs 1.5 ghz single we have some games that are only for nokia phones and some of the games are xbox live and some are not and all these cool games, are verry cool , but the windows ecosystem is bad for games ,, microsoft shood have done the same stuff as apple does ,, the same phone and only 1 phone 1 set of hardware ,, and 14 month a new iphone enter the market just with more processor speed nothing more
that is the way to do it,, i think
Michael
 

This ish sux I coulda stayed wit my old Samsung for this most game don't work on wp8 and the one that are on 7.5 as well we got all this new fire power and potential for nothing

First of all sorry for my English!

I read with much interest this blog. In particular these editorials were very well made.

But, reading the latter part, I make some observations:

the problem of Windows phone/Microsoft is much bigger. Many negative attitudes that have pointed out especially in the latter, can be "linked" to other areas of Windows phone that currently don't go well!

For example, the Microsoft facebook application! For years that is criticized for lack of some features, lack of some push notifications or failure notifications.

Microsoft does not inspires trust with Windows phone. Seem abandoned in hopes that the next update brings real improvements. But we need certainties, not hopes! How is it possible that even Microsoft has failed to establish its own push notifications service? How is it possible that the facebook app is so scandalous? How is it possible for small variations in operating system spend months and months! Because skype is still a beta by November? And I could mention many other faults!

I believe a lot in Windows phone. I believed in wp7 and wp8 now. But the world of technology is fast. And Microsoft is slow in trying to solve its problems. And I speak from Italy, a nation where, thanks to Nokia, Microsoft has created a good number of customers. But the world is a big place, Italy is worth very little in large global numbers!

 

App developers respond to users ' questions. Promise improvements, sometimes indicate what they will do again and how long. Try to keep in contact with users! Microsoft, which should seek to uphold the value of its OS, however, does not represent anything. It retains more customers!

 

We need concrete and significant updates of OS, Microsoft and incentivaree app developers to work on Windows phone soon, very quickly. Otherwise the wait lasts ....

 

Hello!!

Disheartening read, to say the least. I know MS has focused on the business/productivity aspects of WP, but they are missing the point. The rapid consumerisation of smartphones, is what has driven sales, and people love a good selection of games, to fit their taste, on their device of choice. Especially when they based a LOT of the initial marketing, on Xbox Live.

I stand with MS now, and have since WP7, expecting growing pains, but I work at one of the largest MNCs, in the world, and I know that mediocrity follows, in the wake of a large bureaucracy. They need to run this division like a lean, mean, startup, that's nimble, and ready to respond to the core audience, in a timely, efficient manner, instead of a cube farm mentality. Untill they realize this, at the higher level, you know, the one's with the authority to hire/fire, and shovel cash, then this whole series of well thought out articles, has fallen, on those deaf ears, and been sorted into the round file.

If I get bad service at a store, good management knows how to placate me, with immediate gratification, by acknowledging my issue, and providing a timely, appropriate solution/workaround/substitution. That is not happening with MS, on games, music, or video.

I fear that I will have to jump on another bandwagon. I didn't think iPhone was incredible, when I had one, but they work, and they have what you need, when you want it. MS needs to understand what Palm found out with WebOS. A platform with all the promise of greatness, can still end up, in the landfill, if nobody wants it. Make me want it, Microsoft. I don't want Cam Newton's cake. I want Temple Run 2 (2, not 1, with achievements)

To add to your point, microsoft need to allow xbox live and other international apps available to more countries.
I'm from malaysia and while we are neighbour to singapore, xbox live is not available in our country thus the only way i can access it is by using singapore as my region (which is by setting a fake adress). The problem is most new wp buyer doesn't aware of this problem and how to overcome it. I'm lucky enough for be able to figure out how to change my region without doing hard reset on my phone. This is a crucial problem since with limited app marketplace as in malysia, it's hard to promote wp when you can't even get access to angry bird and many popular apps.
The price for wp phones are on par with other mid range android phones but with many apps that are not accessible to us, we better stick with ios and android. The only main reason for people to buy wp is great hardware offerings by nokia. I used android phones for 2 years, and i do have interest in wp but the only time i set up my mind to change from android to wp is when wp8 lumia series introduced (especially lumia 920 with a superior camera).
I believe i'm not the only one who want to migrate from their old os but when even the main feature of wp such as xbox live are not accessible to us, it's hard to make the jump. As for now, i'm using a lumia 800 which i traded with my old nexus s to test wp. I like the smoothness and cool interface of wp and i like the design of lumia 800 but as of now, i won't spend my money on any wp8 device. If microsoft still can't make it right, ios, android (again) and blackberry device will be my next upgrade

I think all the articles are spot on!
 
Microsoft need to plugging Windows Phone much more than they do especially the apps side of things.
 
They have a great bloody product (excuse my language) so they should be advertising it properly and shouting from the roof tops how good it is :)
 
Agree with the XBOX Live games, nothing is ever advertised, they need to promote stuff more, if we dont know anything about releases how are we meant to download them, not everyone visits this site, and are MS Geeks like myself.
 
Must do better Microsoft.
 
 

Paul, I don't see a tweet available? Did you send one out? If someone has it can you retweet me @inside_man_55, I want to send to Joe belfiore, Microsoft, Xbox, and windows phone

Thanks for all the cool articles. I was really excited about wp8, win8, and Xbox integration that I thought Microsoft could pull off, but it sadly seems this isn't so. For all the cool things MS does and resources they have it makes you seriously wonder about the quality of leadership within the company. I think if Gates was still running the company we'd see a much better experience

I'm not really a gamer but these editorials have been excellent. Microsoft has changed a lot for the better in the last few years but there are still significant parts of the organisation that do mot think in a proper good business manner and seem stuck in the wheels of a huge organisation. Microsoft needs to virtually scale down these areas and start thinking like a smaller business again.

Reading this coloum every week is like a depressing reminder of the sad state of gaming on my windows phone. I read gameinformer a lot and they publish this coloumn on mobile games. Each and every time I check, hoping against hope that one day Windows Phone OS will be mentioned. So far, nada. nothing!
At this point though, I have at least five games on my phone that I am yet to finish. So, the release drought is not affecting me yet. Six months down the line, it will really start to get at me. I hope by then, this game less desert situation will dissapear.

You know who also loses in this? Pirates. How is a Pirate suppose to earn a living with Microsoft keeping everything so tightly wrapped? They just don't have any sense of fair play... =/

Dont get me wrong with above comments, I love my Windows 8 Phone and dont regret ditching Android one bit, but its frustrating that Microsoft dont seem to capitalise on the areas where they are ahead of competitors, XBOX Live side for instance.
 
I know WP8 has only been around a few months and we musnt expect the earth overnight, perhaps Microsoft and their Wp8 team have lots of fantastic developments around the corner for us? Who knows :)

Microsoft seems still have a lot of in-fighting going on, even after realizing the need to consolidate and coorperat between different departments. That has been said for, what, a decade now? A really big shake up is needed, otherwise, MS will fade into irrelavance. 

Xbox is one of the main selling points of WP and they are seriously devaluing it.
They need to take it seriously and put some real muscle behind it otherwise what is the point in being in a race you are not trying to win??

i'm more upset about lack of bluetooth in my 710 than lack of games, but handling games better would be nice

I notice a few comments about bad management and firings. Although this is a result, it is not the cause. This type of mentality is driven from the top. If the top manager(s) are not interested, then nothing will be resolved. I've seen flippant comments spewed from top managment that reflects the results we're seeing. Until this piece gets fixed, and that person lets go of his ego a litlle bit and allows a few good ideas in, nothing will happen. Please MSFT managers, take a chance and drive some of these ideas into Mr. B's priorities. They are great ideas and well worth implementing.

Paul, I forgot to mention, on point as always, these are major snafus. This platform has so much more potential, this is where the lack of consumer savvy on Microsoft's part is evident. Lol, funny thing is I retweet all of these parts and I have yet to have one person on the other side acknowledge them. Do Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates use twitter?

Paul, love the articles.... My only gripe is that the always leave wondering WTF.... You mean they don't have someone doing these roles? Sheesh, how is this so? It beggars belief.

One other thing they need to do is look at the 50 best apps on OKI, or whatever they called the old store, and sling those developers some phones and some help to bring their apps to WP.

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, a lot of these problems could be solved with just a few smart people in the right positions.

No worries Paul. You guys are great ambassadors for the platform. What troubles me are the fact that MS seems to be missing a trick in so many ways. Excellent series of articles. Also, thanks to you guys for pointing me in the direction if many free games and apps. I'm not much of an app hound, but I always have a gander at the freebies. My kids enjoy Mirror's Edge, and the price was right....gratis!

You would think that MS might try to shove some incentives to those that have Xbox Gold. A free phone game or Arcade game each month or so. They good hook a lot of gamers i. With some cross platform incentives. I hear Sony give out free games frequently.

Really good point. Might generate another Xbox live revenue stream and do what ms seems to want which is create that one ecosystem that locks a person in. Xbx live is by far better than psn, but they are doing some amazing things for the psn plus members (games, themes, add ons). It may be because + isn't required for game play or Netflix so MS feels like you're already getting what you pay for, but it still illustrates a difference in buyer loyalty. If I were given darksiders 1 for free and liked it, id probably buy its sequel. I think that's the way ps is looking at it.

Hey Paul, great article! I've actually been using this site for quite some time now but this is the first time I'm commenting here. I am really liking this series so far, it definitely addresses the many issues that plague the WP gaming platform. Looking forward to Part 5!

Glad to see you here, Dudumeister! Thanks for the kind words. It's a lot easier to put in the effort to make these lengthy articles when we know that cool readers who will appreciate them.

Until reading this, it never even occurred to me that download codes aren't available for phone games.  Now that I know, I feel like I'm missing out.  Go figure.

I don't have a credit card, and I desperately would like to buy some games. Please Microsoft, include carrier billing as an option for purchases......

Carrier billing actually is an option here in the US. Not sure why it's unavailable in your country. A code system with in-store cards would solve the problem for you too though.

Agree about the PR, that said it's difficult to spin a positive on something that does't exist.
"Hey folks no game this week, so more time to play the ones you already have !!!"

I most agree about the PR side of things.  Informing gamers of what's coming, what to expect, when to expect it, how much it's going to be, etc is all vital information.  Major Nelson does a little bit of this on his blog, but I'd like to see a lot more of this from MS and Xbox.