Yesterday Microsoft released Windows Phone 7, the company’s latest attempt to gain a foothold in the mobile space. With the smartphone market already dominated by Apple, Google, and RIM, some people are saying it might be too late for Microsoft. But could mobile gaming be its ticket?
While Microsoft only has a 3% share of the smartphone market now, it does have experience in disrupting the market when video gaming is involved. Remember, in the 1990s the video gaming market was controlled by three Japanese companies—Nintendo, Sony, and Sega. Then in 2001 Microsoft came out of nowhere to release the Xbox. The next year it introduced online social gaming to American households with its network Xbox LIVE.
If you had told me back then that Microsoft would become a big player in the video game console wars, I would have never believed you. But the Xbox 360 has outsold the Sony Playstation 3 for years, and this year it finally caught up with the Nintendo Wii to tie as the best-selling console of 2010.
Xbox LIVE is the backbone of the gaming experience on Windows Phone 7. Your gamertag (gaming identity), friends list, and gaming achievements are all available on the device. With more than 23 million members, LIVE is one of the best online gaming experiences you can get. Instead of playing a game alone, you can play online with your sister who lives across the country or with friends down the street. It makes gaming social, which is just plain fun.
Does Apple, RIM, or Google have anything like Xbox LIVE in place? Not yet.
There are a ton of great games available for the iPhone and iPad, but Apple’s social gaming network, Game Center, is just getting off the ground. Apple could implement features similar to Xbox LIVE, but it could be awhile before they are able to rival the LIVE community.
RIM is all about business. There are some games for the BlackBerry, but RIM probably won’t even attempt a gaming network.
Google hasn’t announced any plans for an Android gaming network, but not long ago, Engadget broke the news that Sony is working on a Playstation Phone rumored to be based on the Android operating system. A Playstation Phone would be able to play the massive back catalog of Playstation 2 titles and tap into the Playstation Network, Sony’s gaming network. While this could be a big gaming move for Google’s Android, the Playstation Phone is currently just a prototype and may never be seen by consumers.
If Microsoft wants to increase its smartphone market share, it should push it hard on the gaming front, where it now has an advantage. The smartphone is clearly the new gaming device. A recent Nielsen study found that 61% of surveyed smartphone users had bought and played a game in the last month. Mobile social gaming is the next logical step. The network effect is powerful, as are gaming addictions. If Microsoft is smart it will use LIVE as a disruptor again.
Brian Johnson is a recent graduate of the MCDM program with an interest in video gaming and social media. His Xbox LIVE gamertag is thepiecesfit. His favorite video game is “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”