Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Surprise! This is Microsoft's secret weapon against the iPhone, Android, and any other smart phone wanna-be's: Xbox Live, the super-successful online games service, is coming to Windows Phone, and it's doing so in a big way. In fact, Microsoft is making a bigger Xbox Live effort on Windows Phone than it did on Windows, if you can believe that. This isn't just big, it's huge. And it's immediately put Windows Phone over the top.

Here's how every single complaint about Windows Phone can now be answered:

Q: Hey, I heard Windows Phone doesn't even support copy and paste. What gives??

A: Copy and paste? Pfft!! Windows Phone has Xbox Live, baby!

While I'm going to thoroughly cover the Xbox Live functionality in Windows Phone as part of my exploration of the Games hub in the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Feature Focus series--I've already written up an entire Games chapter in "Windows Phone 7 Secrets" as well-- this week's news is so big, and has generated so much email, that I feel the need to at least provide some highlights. Here's what's happened this week.

We already knew that Microsoft was going to support its Xbox Live service on Windows Phone. And if you've been paying attention--and just a cursory look at the video game news sites suggests no one has been--a lot of the details currently being trumpeted as news are, in fact, old hat. For example, yes, Xbox Live games on Microsoft can provide up to 200 total Achievements points ... As Microsoft revealed in March. (Here's another details the video game kiddies missed from March: These games must have from 5 to 20 individual achievements.) And yes, game developers are free to take advantage of hardware keyboards ... but they cannot require one.


What is news is that Microsoft is making a much bigger bet on Xbox Live on Windows Phone than was previously understood. Consider how the company has supported this service on Windows: It renamed it, to Games for Windows - LIVE (yes, with the dash and the all caps), and then they didn't allow gamers to completely control their online personas from the PC as they could (and still can) on the Xbox 360. Let's say you want to create or edit your avatar, for example. Right now, this is only possible on the console, and there's no way to do it from a PC. But when Windows Phone debuts in October, you'll be able to do this from the phone.

Windows Phone even includes support for some unique Xbox Live features, like turn-by-turn casual games (think Checkers or Backgammon), where you play over time, waiting for the other person to complete their current turn. There's also a "try before you buy" Trial Mode that game makers can easily add to their Windows Phone titles.

But the most impressive aspect of Xbox Live on Windows Phone, clearly, is the sheer breadth and depth of game titles that have already been announced. Microsoft and many third party developers--including some serious tier-A companies--will be delivering roughly 60 games that we know of--Microsoft says that there will ultimately be more--in time for the holidays. And then it's going to release new games on a weekly basis.

Sure, you're thinking. Apple already does this. And there are thousands of iPhone/iPod/iPad games available already. What's the big deal?

The big deal is something that Apple belatedly figured out and is now racing to duplicate on iOS: Windows Phone games can optionally take advantage of the unique and useful features that come about by being backed by a pervasive and massive online service. A single online persona that persists across all games. Achievements. Chatting. Leaderboards. Friends lists. It goes on and on.

It will be neat when Apple implements this, probably sometime next year. But it will never match what Microsoft has already accomplished, because Xbox Live has been around for 8 years, and has tens of millions of eager and enthusiastic subscribers--half of which actually pay $50 a year for the privilege of using it--many of whom have already racked up all kinds of Achievements and want to keep that persona going. Only Windows Phone gives them the chance to do that on the road. Or on a console, with Xbox 360. Or on the PC, with Windows. Is the phrase "Game Over" too tired?

Here's a peek at some of the games Microsoft and its partners plan to have available at or around the Windows Phone 7 launch. I can't list them all--there are about 60 so far, after all--but here are some of the more notable titles. (The complete list is over on the right.)

The Harvest

The first Windows Phone game ever demoed is real, providing three character classes, four game areas, 20 different enemy types, and the promised "boss" guardians. This will likely be the premier action RPG at launch.

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst

The Crackdown games are hidden jewels on the Xbox 360, and this unique Windows Phone game appears to be a great way to take a popular franchise and do something unique on a different platform. What's neat about this title is that you use actual maps from Bing Maps--including your own neighborhood if you'd like--and set up defenses so that you can fight off invading hordes of mutant freaks. Microsoft bills this on, humorously, as "a social game with explosions." Good stuff.

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Ilomilo

This is a beautiful 3D puzzle game in which you control two characters, ilo and milo, as they try to get back together in a surreal landscape of over 30 levels.

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Bejeweled LIVE

Microsoft describes this as "the world's number one puzzle game," and certainly its available virtually everywhere, including now Windows Phone. This version provides achievements, of course, and global leaderboards, but also some new game modes.

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Halo Waypoint

Not so much a game as a central hub for all things Halo, Halo Waypoint brings together Halo news from all of the official channels into a single place, and will mimic the Halo Waypoint client that Microsoft previously delivered for the Xbox 360. It's basically the go-to place for all things Halo, and Xbox Live subscribers will gain access to additional data associated with their own in-game experiences. This app will be free.

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview

Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 Preview