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Mobile Mavens: Can Xbox's mobile games store succeed?

We ask industry experts for their thoughts on Microsoft's upcoming marketplace that aims to compete with Apple and Google
Mobile Mavens: Can Xbox's mobile games store succeed?

Reporting by Paige Cook and Craig Chapple.

Last week, Xbox president Sarah Bond revealed that the company would be launching the Xbox mobile games store in July.

The marketplace is set to start on web to ensure it is "accessible across all devices, all countries, no matter what, independent of the policies of closed ecosystem stores”. The store will launch first with titles from Microsoft's own portfolio, including titles like Candy Crush Saga and Minecraft, before opening to other publishers.

The goal for Xbox, Bond said, is to create a "true, cross-platform, game-centric mobile experience".

Platforms forced to open up

Historically, Apple and Google have restrictions in place for third-party stores through the App Store and Google Play, as well as for alternative payments.

Opportunities for new app stores have opened up since the European Union's Digital Markets Act came into force, requiring large platform holders to open up their ecosystems. Apple has done so, with stringent new business terms - which the European Commission is currently investigating.

To find out what the industry really thinks about the opportunities of new mobile marketplaces and Xbox's plans, we asked our Mobile Mavens for their thoughts on Xbox's mobile games store, and whether it has any chance of success.

Archie Stonehill

Archie Stonehill

Head of Product at Stash

The fact that Microsoft chose to make its upcoming app store web-based tells us a lot about their thinking in general terms, even if they’ve been fuzzy on the specifics.

Their strategy is still far from clear, but it seems likely that their new mobile store is not aiming for going straight for mass sideloaded distribution or positioning itself as a direct competition against Apple and Google (yet), although it may evolve into that over time. This caution makes sense, since third-party app stores haven’t fared well historically (Google’s Project Hug made sure of that).

Additionally, their mobile portfolio from Activision Blizzard already includes some of the most popular and well distributed games across varying genres, notably Call of Duty Mobile and Candy Crush.

It’s more likely that they’re aiming for a lightweight web store that can be used both for sideloaded distribution and out-of-app sales, at least in the short-term.

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In contrast to apps, there’s much more flexibility to monetise and engage on the web - perhaps they’ll create a mobile version of Game Pass, for example, or an expansion of the currently live Call of Duty web store.

Then, if Microsoft gets traction with monetisation or user traffic, we’ll likely see them focus more on distributing directly through sideloading.

Either way, Microsoft throwing their hat into the ring is a major indicator that the web is a worthwhile investment for game companies in 2024 and that they, along with Epic, see significant growth in alternatives for app distribution and payments on mobile.

Pasqual Batalla

Pasqual Batalla

Chief Operations Officer at Sandsoft

The Xbox mobile store’s arrival could revolutionise mobile gaming, offering titles like Candy Crush and Minecraft with exclusive discounts.

“The store’s launch may intensify competition and innovation among existing app stores.”
Pasqual Batalla

Its cross-platform play feature could set it apart, but success hinges on a smooth user experience and competition with Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

With Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the Xbox mobile store gains access to popular games like Call of Duty and Warcraft, potentially driving engagement and profits. While attracting users is crucial, Microsoft’s commitment to developers and publishers is equally vital.

The store’s launch may intensify competition and innovation among existing app stores. Smaller developers could reach new audiences, while larger competitors may face increased pressure.

Overall, Microsoft’s proactive approach presents a significant opportunity to expand its presence in mobile gaming and provide consumers with an alternative gaming experience.

Natasha Skult

Natasha Skult

CEO at MiTale

With the acquisition completed and Microsoft gaining valuable mobile IPs, it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to take this route, especially considering the Epic Games and Apple lawsuit proceedings.

“With more distribution channels, we are enabling a more diverse and healthier ecosystem.”
Natasha Skult

As an indie developer, I am excited about such initiatives, which we also see across different regions, particularly on the African continent, as they expand distribution channels and opportunities for developers in the mobile games space.

With more distribution channels, we are enabling a more diverse and healthier ecosystem, allowing a wider variety of games and more diverse teams to find their core audiences.

Regarding the Microsoft mobile gaming store, especially through web browsers, this could significantly enhance accessibility for both developers and players to match! We will see how their plans evolve and how everything is implemented in the coming years.

While this is long overdue, it is certainly necessary to create more diverse and inclusive business opportunities in the mobile games market. This can only be achieved by offering more options for developers and the ability to choose a distribution channel outside of the two major stores, as well as players being offered a wider variety of games outside of the “trending” genres.

I am definitely looking forward to seeing Microsoft’s next steps and hoping this may inspire even more companies of such scale to pursue similar endeavours!

Teemu Haila

Teemu Haila

Co-founder and CPO at Metaplay

“Discovery has long been broken and the promise of more platforms for finding new titles is exciting.”
Teemu Haila

Another established name with globally-recognised games committing to launching a new mobile app store can only be good news for mobile developers and players.

Discovery has long been broken, and the promise of more platforms for finding new titles is exciting.

What’s interesting about the Xbox case is the breadth and depth of brands, studios, and games under the Microsoft umbrella.

Being able to go to market with many leading titles already under their belt will stand them in great stead, and all the signs are pointing to the Xbox app store being a real, viable alternative to the distribution channels we’re already so familiar with.

While in many ways this move felt inevitable, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome it. I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to seeing how this space continues to evolve over the coming months.

Christian Lövstedt

Christian Lövstedt

General Manager at Midjiwan

Despite plenty of talk surrounding the Digital Markets Act, I'm skeptical as to whether an alternative app store can secure a strong presence in this market.

Still, if anyone has the experience and financial strength needed to succeed with an endeavour like this, it's Microsoft.

Stuart    De Ville

Stuart De Ville

Director at Fribbly Games

As a game developer, you're probably feeling a mix of curiosity and scepticism about what this means for your studio.

Absolutely, your scepticism is warranted. It's true that big companies like Microsoft often prioritise their own interests over those of indie developers.

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However, there's a glimmer of potential benefit here. Launching their own mobile game store might actually provide indie developers with another platform to get their games noticed, another avenue for exposure. Especially if Microsoft puts some effort into promoting indie titles alongside the big-name games.

That said, it's essential to keep our expectations grounded. Microsoft's main focus with this store seems to be on expanding its existing ecosystem, particularly by offering more opportunities for players to purchase in-game items.

As an indie game developer, this could be a game-changer. It opens up a new avenue for getting your games out there and maybe even reaching a whole new audience.

So, while we're still waiting on the nitty-gritty details, it's definitely something worth keeping an eye on. As always, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on developments and assess whether Microsoft's mobile games store aligns with your studio's goals and values.