A couple of weeks ago, we learned from an upcoming Microsoft session at the Game Developers Conference that Microsoft was planning a major expansion of its Xbox Live gaming network. The session described a new SDK allowing game developers to connect players between Xbox, Windows 10, iOS Android, and Nintendo Switch, as well as an expansion from “400M gaming devices” to “over 2B devices.”
Well, GDC won’t kick off until next week but Microsoft has just made official its ambitious plans for Xbox Live. Kareem Choudhry, CVP of Microsoft’s new Gaming Cloud division penned a long blog post to announce Microsoft Game Stack, a new bundle that includes all of the company’s game-development platforms, tools, and services. Xbox Live will be a major component of the Microsoft Game Stack, along with DirectX, Visual Studio, Azure, and PlayFab, the backend service for building and operating live games that Microsoft acquired back in January 2018.
Xbox Live first launched on the original Xbox console back in 2002, but in recent years we’ve seen a couple of Xbox-Live enabled games on Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android devices. On Nintendo Switch, the Bedrock version of Minecraft also uses Xbox Live to enable crossplay with other platforms. After these initial experiments, Microsoft is now ready to make Xbox Live accessible for all developers creating iOS and Android games, but today’s announcement didn’t mention the Nintendo Switch or the Playstation 4.
“Under Game Stack, Xbox Live will expand its cross-platform capabilities, as we introduce a new SDK that brings this community to iOS and Android devices. Mobile developers will now be able to reach some of the most highly engaged and passionate gamers on the planet with Xbox Live,” explained Choudry.
Using Xbox Live will provide several benefits for game developers. That includes includes a trusted identity network based on Microsoft accounts, a frictionless integration for developers (Xbox Live-enabled games were notoriously difficult to develop in the Windows 8/Windows Phone era due to Microsoft's strict guidelines), as well as many ways to keep mobile gamers engaged with achievements, crossplay, and more.
"Our company has a long legacy in games – and in building developer-focused platforms," said Choudry. While this is definitely true, it remains to be seen if mobile developers will prefer Microsoft's tools over others those already provided by Facebook or Google. Bringing Xbox Live to mobile games should probably have happened much earlier, and we've actually been hearing that it was coming since 2014. But as the adage says, better late than never.