At the CCXP comics and entertainment convention in Brazil, guest Phil Spencer (who leads the Xbox division of Microsoft) gave an interview with some enlightening hints about the company’s future mobile plans.
Microsoft has just completed its purchase of Activision Blizzard, which includes mobile gaming powerhouse King (maker of Candy Crush). It’s looking forward to growing a bigger mobile game presence but suggests that the current rules around the App Store (and Google Play store) are holding things back.
Epic Games’ lawsuits against Apple’s lock on app distribution and rules about payments (for which Apple will almost always get a 30 percent cut) are well-known, but naturally, all game publishers would rather not give up almost a third of every purchase.
The Digital Markets Act in the EU may force Apple to open up app distribution to avenues other than the App Store. That could mean sideloading individual apps, that could mean alternate app stores, but one way or another customers in the EU may soon get to download apps that don’t have to follow the App Store rules–including paying Apple a 30 percent cut of digital purchases.
Apple is challenging the regulation in court but is expected to have to comply with it by the March deadline.
An Xbox game store on iOS?
Microsoft is clearly planning for the day when it will be able to run a game store on iOS. Android already allows sideloading of apps and alternate app stores (Amazon famously has one), but Microsoft likely doesn’t want to run a store only for Android phones and tablets.
Apple not only takes a 30% cut of most app purchases and in-app digital purchases, but it forbids certain kinds of apps entirely, like game streaming. Xbox Game Streaming on iPhone has to be used through a browser, which is less than ideal.
Phil Spencer hinted at Microsoft’s possible plans in an interview at CCXP in Brazil late last month.
“It’s an important part of our strategy and something we are actively working on today not only alone but talking to other partners who’d also like to see more choice for how they can monetize on the phone,” Spencer said. “We’ve talked about choice, and today on your mobile phones, you don’t have choice…To make sure that Xbox is not only relevant today but for the next 10, 20 years, we’re going to have to be strong across many screens.”
While Spencer didn’t announce an Xbox mobile game store exactly, his comments sure do sound like the company is planning on one and is already lining up game publishers to participate rather than only selling the games from Microsoft’s own brands.
Spencer would not put a date on the new store, but the deadline for compliance with the Digital Markets Act is March 2024. So Microsoft is expected to launch the store (at least in the European Union) next year.
If Apple is required to open up the iPhone to app distribution outside of its own App Store in March of 2024 (in EU countries), this could be just one of several different app marketplaces, and the future of obtaining software on the iPhone could look more like doing so on the Mac.