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Microsoft prepares to enter mobile gaming sector

MS exec announces 'major mobile push' for 2006

As Microsoft's next-generation Xbox 360 console continues to sell out in stores across the US, the industry behemoth is preparing to turn its attention to a brand new market: mobile gaming.

In a recent interview with BusinessWeek, Microsoft's casual games group studio manager, Chris Early, spelled out the Redwood giant's ambitious plans for its assault on the mobile industry. A major part of the company's strategy is to connect the gaming experiences across multiple platforms, incorporating PC, Xbox and wireless devices, as Early explained: "What we want to do is to offer the mobile community access to games that they're familiar with - that they've played on MSN Games or the Xbox - on a mobile device."

"What will also be key to the Microsoft mobile-gaming experience is that you'll be able to be part of the Microsoft gaming community whether you're on your PC or your Xbox or your mobile phone."

"What we're looking to do from a casual-games standpoint is let people have one game experience across any device where Microsoft software works... They will have one gaming identity on all those devices. They'll be able to play across all those devices."

This interconnectivity will be promoted with the use of various incentives and loyalty rewards. Players will be able to compete using different platforms, and still contribute high scores, enter competitions and climb the league tables in the same fashion.

"We would allow people to add to their total game score no matter whether they play the game using their cell phone or a PC or an Xbox. Competing against people playing on other platforms from Microsoft will be part of the mobile experience we'll offer as well," Early stated.

To date, Microsoft's foray into the mobile marketplace has been limited to product licensing deals. The company has a long-standing agreement with In-Fusio, which has published a number of Microsoft properties for the mobile platform, including the acclaimed Halo franchise. According to Early, next year will mark the beginning of an entirely different approach for Microsoft.

"Microsoft's gaming experience in the mobile space has so far been opportunistic. It has been based on licensing," Early stated. "It hasn't been a coordinated effort.... But next year, you'll see our first coordinated effort moving into the mobile space, and we'll want to make sure that as many people as we can reach are aware of it. We'll have a marketing campaign around this push."

The company intends to produce its own catalogue of casual games for the mobile platform, but remains intent on securing the best games from independent developers, which will be published under the Microsoft brand.

"We plan to make our own casual mobile games, but we also plan to aggregate games. It would be foolish of us to think that we can make all the best games in the world. Our primary focus is on the player. And so in order to provide the best experience possible, we're going to pull all the best games from around the world together."

This aggressive strategy, which is prevalent in the company's traditional PC and videogame markets, could have a detrimental effect on existing mobile game publishers such as Mforma and Jamdat, as the sheer buying power and industry weight of a giant like Microsoft may completely stifle competition for securing the best mobile games.

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