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

May 16, 2024

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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, Head of Product at Stash, comments

"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).

"Microsoft throwing their hat into the ring is a major indicator that the web is a worthwhile investment for game companies in 2024"

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.

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." 

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