Microsoft has certainly been taking its lumps these days. Between their failures in the tablet market and the Xbox One debacle, it is tempting to count them out. Yet there are a few recent events that make me hesitant to label them a dinosaur. If these seemingly random events are indeed part of a pattern or grand strategy, Microsoft’s legion of haters may soon be eating their own words.
First, consider the recent release of Halo: Spartan Assault. While not a traditional Halo First-Person-Cover-Shooter, Microsoft Games opted instead to create a Top-Down Shooter. You won’t find many TDS games outside the PC platform – controllers don’t often have the same subtlety as a mouse and keyboard.
Choosing Top-Down was a brilliant decision. Not only is TDS better suited to the PC platform, but there is a lot of untapped potential in the tablet market, where touch is king. The controls in Halo: Spartan Assault have been described as intuitive, minimal, and well-designed. The game is also Surface- and Windows 8 Phone-only, giving a gaming bump to their flagging tablet platform.
By itself, Halo: Spartan assault just seems like an unusually savvy move from Microsoft, perhaps a fluke. Couple that with the recently announced Unity/Microsoft contest for developers, and we may be seeing the emergence of a new grand mobile strategy from Microsoft.
The contest, sponsored by Microsoft and Unity, invites game developers to submit “beautifully crafted, high-quality new or existing games or content” for the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 platforms. While the contest is open to content apps as well, they’re practically an afterthought both in this official announcement and this follow up piece on the Windows Blog. The only requirement is that the games be developed using Unity 4.
Mobile gaming has never sufficiently captured the AAA-gamer demographic. Consoles still rule supreme if you want eye-watering graphics, fluid gameplay, and access to high-quality immersive AAA games. For years, console fanboys have been publicly declaring the death of PC gaming. Yet a new gaming-centered Mobile strategy by Microsoft could change everything.
One of the main reasons the Surface RT tablet failed so miserably in its job to kill the iPad is that consumers didn’t believe they were getting their money’s worth. If you’re paying the same price for something, you expect that it will have more or less the same utility. The gutted Windows RT system left users with incompatibility, limited app selection, and noticeably slower-than-the-iPad performance, all at the same price point.
While not nearly the money-sink that the RT tablets became, Surface Pro’s suffered through their own price slashing earlier this year, a sure sign that they also aren’t selling well. However, what is one demographic that doesn’t seem to mind shelling out a few extra hundred bucks for better tech specs and performance? AAA Gamers.
Consider Onlive’s Game app. The prospect of playing AAA games on an iPad was incredibly tantalizing. Unfortunately, the service was canceled because of mismanagement and Apple’s own resistance to the idea. But that doesn’t mean the idea was bad; just that Apple didn’t like it and that the company behind it was too immature to produce the results that Gamers wanted.
Whether Microsoft plans to take advantage of Apple’s general indifference toward gaming remains to be seen. But if Halo: Spartan Assault and the impending game design contest are indicators of a new Mobile strategy, Microsoft may well be back on top before we know it.