Late last week, Microsoft Studios secretly launched a clever little mobile phone title called Wordament.
It's essentially a digital version of Boggle that I'm ridiculously bad at. But that's not the point; the point is that it might signal Microsoft's strategic transition into the mobile gaming market, and, if this is true, we could be watching something big.
See, Wordament allows players to log into their Xbox LIVE accounts and earn achievements as they play. This may not seem like much, but it's suddenly an excuse to play a five-to-six-minute game while riding an elevator or sitting on the crapper (provided that I'm not already playing something on my Wii U, which has become a part of my bathroom ritual).
It's actually quite brilliant.
If Microsoft really wants to maintain their market share moving into the next console generation, they're going to need to revamp their strategy, and they have an interesting opportunity here. Both of their competitors, Nintendo and Sony, have a fair amount of money tied up in portable systems. Microsoft, however, does not, which means that they can focus their efforts on the mobile phone platform and carve out a niche that neither Sony nor Nintendo could ever touch.
It would give developers the chance to create serious mobile titles that don't require the additional purchase of a portable system and interact directly with their favorite games. What if you could level a weapon on your lunch break, or unlock a secret level on your bus ride? Then, when you get home and fire up your Xbox 720, or whatever it's going to be called, the items you unlocked would be ready to play.
That's the universe that I want to live in.
Wordament may be the first step into that world, but I somehow doubt that Microsoft actually sees the potential. The game is a nice little distraction, but it's not going to keep hardcore gamers busy for very long. And considering how terribly constructed their SmartGlass app has proven to be, I'm starting to think that Microsoft is missing their opportunity.
In the software development realm, Microsoft could potentially flex their muscle far more authoritatively than Sony and Nintendo, and they're going to need to. The Xbox 360 is a great system, but with the Sony and Nintendo focusing heavily on first-party titles, Microsoft will have their work cut out for them in the next generation.
That is, unless Microsoft finds their own niche.
Mobile phone gaming couple be just the thing, but Wordament isn't exactly what hardcore gamers are looking for. So, hopefully this is only the beginning.
Date: December 26, 2012