At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Microsoft is making a case to mobile game developers that they should use Xbox Live for their games. As it turns out, it’s about more than achievements and friend lists.
Xbox’s upcoming development tools to implement Xbox Live on non-Xbox, non-Windows platforms is currently limited to iOS and Android devices. Despite this week’s announcement of Xbox-exclusive “Cuphead” coming to Nintendo’s Switch this April complete with Xbox Live integration, there aren’t current plans to offer the tools to build that into Switch titles.
Instead, Xbox is at GDC offering what it believes to be a relatively painless means of not only integrating Xbox Live features into their games, it’s giving them access to a host of core functionality and features that might otherwise prove elusive — or that can only be found with some of Microsoft’s non-gaming competitors.
At the core of Xbox is offering is what the company is calling a “trusted gaming identity.” This is more fundamental than a Gamertag or handle. This is referring to the base identity tied to all of Microsoft’s services; the sign-in you might use for Live mail, Xbox Live, Office, Skype, or any of Microsoft’s other services. Attached to this base identity is payment and billing methods and of the security, Microsoft has developed, including two-factor authorization via app or text messaging. It also includes support for Microsoft’s parental content controls and restrictions, an increasingly critical element of mobile applications and games.
It’s clear that Microsoft believes that this feature set in and of itself is already a compelling pitch to indie developers hoping to build feature-rich games on mobile, but Xbox Live’s bigger-ticket features are also on the table. During the presentation, Xbox Live Services software engineer Ramsay Khadder demonstrated the process through which developers can add achievements and other Xbox Live features to their in-development projects with comparative ease, along with friends lists, leaderboards and the like.
There doesn’t seem to be a catch thus far, other than using Microsoft’s services and in turn agreeing to the company’s safety and privacy policies — a factor Microsoft is likely to aggressively enforce in the current climate of tech giant scrutiny and debates over privacy and personal information security, as well as issues of online harassment and safety. Other requirements are practical. While achievements and gamertag support is optional, if they’re used, they’re subject to basic restrictions; gamertags may not be truncated, for example, achievements must total 1000, and they may not be tied to microtransactions or specific purchases.
The question is what Microsoft and Xbox get from this arrangement, and the answer may lay in some of the stats the presentation opened with, particularly regarding engagement and its user footprint. According to Microsoft, Xbox Live currently sees a monthly active user count of over 64 million. As Microsoft looks to the future beyond single platforms and a Windows-focused mindset, it will be critical to build that monthly active user number, and allowing independent studios and developers to leverage it seems like a shrewd bet.