Microsoft has embarked on a wave of game acquisitions in recent years. Smaller studios like Double Fine, Undead Labs, and inXile have joined the Xbox stable, alongside larger teams like Bethesda, Playground Games, and more. Microsoft also signaled in its recent investor appeals that it intends to make more game acquisitions in the future, in part to boost the attractiveness of Xbox Game Pass, its game subscription service at. will.
Many of us in the Xbox community and the podcast circuit (check out my podcast besides) often discuss the subject of acquisitions, while fans and commentators imagine which studios or publishers could fit into Microsoft’s strategy. There are always new rumors about who can join the cast, with everyone from EA to Sega and Capcom being seen as a potential acquirer.
While I don’t have any concrete information or knowledge on potential upcoming Xbox acquisitions, I have a few thoughts on what kind of studio Microsoft maybe should be using, at least analytically speaking.
Here’s why I think Microsoft’s next acquisitions should go beyond the TV screen and towards that smaller device in your pocket.
Why should Xbox buy a mobile game studio?
Simply put, the mobile gaming industry is absolutely huge and accounts for the lion’s share of recent industry growth. According to Newzoo, the industry is worth around $ 180 billion in 2021, 59% of which comes from mobile spending. Most of the growth is also in mobile, reaching 26%, while consoles and PCs reached less than half of it during the same period. Despite its size, the mobile gaming industry presents significant challenges.
The cost of acquiring users in the mobile gaming space is also huge. The competition is incredibly aggressive, and curation on storefronts like the iOS store and Google Play means the biggest studios and teams literally have to pay. millions dollars just to get their apps seen. Apart from the unique indie hits exploding on social media, navigating the market is complex and quite expensive, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Without doubt, I would say that Microsoft has shown a lack of expertise in this area – or at least a lack of will.
Microsoft has launched into mobile games with mixed success. Understandably, they acquired Minecraft Pocket Edition, but many of their recent local mobile gaming efforts have not been successful. Halo: Spartan Strike, Gears POP !, Forza Street, Minecraft Earth, and other mobile games haven’t really set the world on fire. Microsoft acquired a mobile studio when it bought Bethesda called Alpha Dog, but they don’t appear to be having much success at the time of writing.
Mobile games, especially free-to-play games, require persistent updates and updates to stay viable for a bigger business. Of course, Microsoft also owns Minecraft which dominates on mobile, as well as Fallout Shelter and Microsoft Solitaire, which are all successful. Microsoft also competes with serious heavyweights in this space, including Tencent, the King division of Activision and many others. However, I’m not suggesting that Microsoft competes head-on with native mobile games. My central argument for choosing a mobile studio goes beyond construction native mobile experiences.
Mobile experiences for Xbox Game Pass are a must
I don’t think Microsoft necessarily needs a studio or a mobile publisher to create native mobile games, although that’s certainly a potentially lucrative option. More and more, as I use Xbox Game Pass on my phone, I realize that most of the games available are just not good experiences on a small screen.
Most games made for Xbox Game Pass (also known as Project xCloud) cloud streaming are TV-first, which poses a lot of challenges for mobile cloud streaming. Of course, some of them work quite well. Streets of Rage 4 with its side-scrolling action and bright comic book-style art really shows up on a smaller screen. The touch controls also work well, given that you don’t need to rotate the camera, etc. The vast majority of games, however, have a litany of little ergonomic issues. Pillars of Eternity, for example, has incredibly delicate controls, even with a regular Xbox controller, let alone touch. It also has a lot of text, and the fonts in the menus and dialogs are incredibly hard to read. Other games have similar issues, ranging from overly complex controls that require an Xbox controller phone clip to play properly, or tiny fonts. Even things like long game loops represent a poorer experience on mobile, where you may be called upon to put your phone away to respond to a notification pop-up or hide your device from your boss in a short-term meeting.
There is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Minecraft Dungeons represents the first truly cloud-enabled game on the Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming platform. The menus respond to touch inputs. The touchscreen user interface has a bespoke design. You can use shorter game loops by selecting smaller cards. The fixed camera perspective also assists in video encoding for cloud streaming and gaming with a touchscreen.
The problem with Minecraft Dungeons is that it is the only play on the Xbox Game Pass cloud play that feels like a truly “cloud-aware” mobile experience right now. All the other games out there feel stuck in your phone. If it’s unplayable without a controller or a bigger screen, I’d say the whole point of getting Xbox quality games on your phone is taken away.
If Microsoft chooses a mobile game studio (or even a publisher), they could help rectify this situation. They could be dedicated to making more Minecraft Dungeons level cloud compatible games from other Xbox studios. They could focus on games designed to be platform independent, like Minecraft Dungeons, and also help move the platform forward.
If Microsoft wants Xbox Game Pass to grow faster on mobile, it’s absolutely essential to create experiences that feel native.
Xbox must grow beyond the console
Console games are growing, but they are developing significantly more slowly than mobile games. Of course, you can argue that this is because of the more predatory pay-2-win strategies often deployed on mobile, but even still, Microsoft has a responsibility as a platform owner to expand into this market. potentially lucrative – both for developers and the future of their own business. And no, that doesn’t mean cloud streaming will replace console gaming. Naturally (and crucially) they complement each other, as the cloud is made up of console hardware and a console-centric developer environment.
It could help Xbox reach beyond its tens of millions of customers, towards its first billion customers.
And I am speaking here in a fully analytical manner. I’m not a mobile gamer by any means, and like many of you reading this, I’d rather Microsoft picked some of the major kernel-focused studios over the competition. That said, growth on mobile ultimately helps Xbox grow on console as well, reaching the next generation of gamers wherever they are.
Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming is the obvious first and right to enter this brave new world. Games like Halo Infinite will undoubtedly help to strengthen this platform on mobile and tablets, just like Starfield. There are rumors that Microsoft is working with Hideo Kojima (and possibly other developers as well) on cloud-centric games, which will most likely be device independent. There is no doubt that Microsoft is already planning to strengthen the Xbox Game Pass mobile-friendly offering, with games like Minecraft Dungeons, Monster Train and Slay the Spire in the lead.
A studio (or several) dedicated making or enhancing games for Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming could help boost the platform on mobile devices and the web. It could help Xbox reach beyond its tens of millions of customers, towards its first billion customers.