And why would someone place bets on the lagging third place pony, in what seems like a two horse race? The name of the game, so to speak, is convergence. Converging platforms, companies, industry trends and histories could all lead to an eventual come-from-behind victory that few would see coming.
During the early Xbox LIVE era there was an internal push at Microsoft to bring the Xbox platform to mobile as part of an initiative dubbed “Live Anywhere.” Integrating the console and mobile gaming spaces under a single over-arching platform was a foreign concept at the time, but its eventual evolution could be one of the factors that drives the success of Windows tablet gaming in the future.
Recent rumors involving Microsoft’s next evolution of Windows 8, codenamed "Threshold," point to the dream of convergence finally coming to fruition. Supposedly slated for a spring 2015 release, the new Windows could unify the Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One ecosystems, all under a single multiplatform store.
Imagine a world where developers could design a game for a video game console, and it would automatically be compatible with and could be sold across PCs, phones and tablets as well. Based on just the PC and Xbox install bases alone, that could potentially make Microsoft's distribution platform the largest in the world. Developers would have to be crazy not to support it, which could in turn provide Windows tablet gamers with the most diverse and technically advanced library of titles ever compiled.
Another addition that could take Windows tablet gaming to the next level is the influx of talent brought about by the recent acquisition of Nokia. Sure, Nokia is a company with a pedigree that rests more in the smartphone arena, but melding their knowledge of hardware design with intuitive game mechanics could be a match made in heaven. A perfect example of this is the recently announced Dragons Adventure, which is being developed by Nokia in partnership with DreamWorks Animation. This augmented reality game uses the Lumia 2520 tablet's internal GPS and integrated satellite imagery systems to craft a game environment that actually mirrors the player’s geographic surroundings.
With any luck, more developers will take cues from Nokia’s work and begin taking advantage of the features that are exclusive to tablets, which will in turn lead to gaming experiences that are not possible on any other platform. Inspiration helps drive innovation, and Nokia is in the unique position to show others how to best utilize the hardware and help steer the future of tablet gaming.
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Meanwhile the birth of the Xbox One signaled the demise of the Xbox 360’s lucrative Xbox Live Arcade platform. But with any luck, Microsoft could continue cultivating the support of the new and/or exclusive talent that drove XBLA’s success, which then could be set loose on doing the same for Windows tablets. Pile on top of that the droves of teams that developed for the 360’s “Indie Games” channel, and suddenly the number of developers who could potentially design games for Windows tablets is looking even more impressive.
With the industry’s recent push to highlight indie development, this trend could very well be wrangled into making Windows tablets the unofficial home of the independent game. Plus, the earlier-mentioned cross-platform store could aid in incentivizing developers who are on the fence, by making their games available on several different platforms simultaneously.
This leads into the most crucial factor working in Microsoft’s favor when it comes to tablet gaming: its history as a publisher. Microsoft Game Studios has a stable of teams churning out hordes of exclusive content for their Xbox platforms. Spending even a sliver of the budgets allocated for their console properties on tablet development would net a library of titles that could potentially be second to none. Exclusive brands like Halo, Banjo-Kazooie, Gears of War, Fable, Forza, and many more could then be used to attract the attention of an audience that otherwise would be focused on console games.
Neither Apple nor Android has exclusive and established development teams that could be dedicated to generating original content of this caliber. Also, Microsoft could leverage its long history of partnering with industry heavy hitters like Epic Games, Bungie, and BioWare to encourage some of the most talented AAA studios to bring their established or even original IPs to Windows tablets.
The pieces of the Windows tablet gaming puzzle are beginning to converge. It's up to Microsoft to ensure that these potentially mismatched pieces come together properly, but if they manage to do so successfully, that third place pony could steal the finish line after all. Either way, though, it's going to be a long and interesting race.