Saturday, October 22, 2011

Windows Phone Woes

I just don't understand it. It bothers me that I don't, as well. Because I like to think of myself as a shining example of "Humanity: Non-stupid" in that I usually do find a way of understanding things.

Like Apple, for example. Their processes, and especially their software, may drive many insane, but at least they are designed to a common purpose. That purpose being "Make it as easy as possible to get people to part with their money in our direction." Whilst I may not agree with all of their methods, I certainly understand them. Apple want a slice of every transaction made through and about their devices, and thus operate a closed system. To Apple's credit, they appear to be quite lax about who they allow to peddle their wares inside the App Store/iTunes.

Microsoft also operate a closed system, presumably for the same reasons. The Windows Marketplace is only avaialable via Microsoft branded products and software, just so that MS can take their cut of every sale. Unfortunately, MS seem to actively fight customers who are just trying to spend money, making it unecessarily taxing to do so.

First of all, they slap a premium onto every item on sale. The minimum cost of a game on a Windows 7 is £0.79p. Compare this to an iOS game? £0.69p, which means that if I were to buy 9 games on WP7 I would spend £7.11p. I could actually buy the same 9 games and then treat myself to another one on iOS, and still have £0.22p left over. It may seem like a trivial amount, but it is an easy decision to make for those of us who have access to both markets; it's cheaper on iOS, so buy that one.

This problem is small, though, because a much larger one presents itself. If I find myself in the mood to buy a game on my Windows Phone, it takes me a lifetime to find one. The Marketplace appears to have been designed by a work experience kid, on his lunchbreak. It does precisely the job of listing what is available, but fails on a scale that should not exist in a Microsoft product when it comes to ordering or categorising applications. Under the heading "Games" I have the sub-headings of "XBox Live", "Top", "New", and, in an admittedly nice touch, "Free". The final one is "Categories", but this might as well say "Elephant porn" for all the use it is. One of the categories is, I kid you not, 'Racing and Flying'. Racing AND Flying, as if the two are inseperable. Surprisingly, one can find Sudoku games in this category. But only if they were one of the most recently released games. By a stroke of ineptitude, every single heading only lists games in descending order from most recent release.

This is great if you want something new. But piss poor if you want anything good. There is a reason the App Store dropped this method of listing, and it is because it makes it bloody hard to find something when Nobby Bollocks decides to release 257 different versions of a picture quiz game. Swiping your finger down titles so archaic that they may as well be written in heiroglyphics is a soul-destroying process for the gamer with an itch in his bank account.

It's not all bad news for the phone. After all, the phones themselves are all made to a minimum technical specification, which means that you know any game you download will work. This is vastly preferable to the lottery that is Android, where you more or less have to guess if your phone can handle the game. And it also sidesteps the feeling of utter inadequacy when you are told that this app is incompatible with this model iPhone. Seriously, it stops JUST short of pointing, laughing, and posting your failure on Facebook when a game determines that your iDevice is not good enough.

Even better, the single best feature of Windows phones is the 'Back' button. It may seem like a small thing, but when a game is programmed to give you a quick way of navigating or even exiting, it makes a huge difference.

Which makes the inclusion of the 'Search' button all the more baffling. In a failure of proportions so massive that they can only be measured mathematically, merely breathing too close to the search button is deemed sufficient contact to have pressed it. At which point, whatever you are doing is closed down so that you can go straight to a lovely image on Bing. BING? WHO THE HELL USES BING? There are Microsoft employees who get paid to use and even advertise Bing that won't touch it, let alone folk who don't scare the neighbours. Trust me, nothing is worse than a fast run in the excellent Hydro Thunder GO that is suddenly and egregiously interrupted by a picture of a puffin.

It saddens me to see this potentially awesome platfom in the hands of such morons as Microsoft. For every good idea they have, they pile on a few cock-ups, as if they really don't know anything about the market they are aiming for. Building in XBox Live is a stroke of genius, but making all the Live-enabled games cost £2.29 or more is astonishingly short-sighted. You know, I love acheivements, but even I draw the line at paying extra just because the game lets me earn some gamerscore. Angry Birds hit 5 million sales at 59p, and 200 million downloads at free. I would be willing to bet a months wages that it has not even hit 500,000 at £2.29.

And there's another thing! Marekting! In the same week that Apple restructured their pricing so that the minimum rose from 59p to 69p, MS CUT the £2.49 pricepoint by 20p. But, did anyone know about this? Did MS shout this from the rooftops, as a way of getting some much-needed good publicity? Of course they didn't. They decided to trundle along in their own small-minded way, imagining that people would somehow psychically learn of this price cut via the same channels that they are supposed to miraculously learn about the few actual really good games on the platform.

All of this probably goes some way to explaining why so few developers are bothering to port to the phone. It has to be taken as a worrying sign when Radian Games, who published some of the best games available on the XBox Live Indie Games channel, opted to release Super Crossfire on iOS instead of on WP7. THE GAME WAS ALREADY IN XNA! It should have been the work of mere minutes to convert it, get it on the Marketplace, and start raking in the dough as gamers who are literally STARVED of quality on the phone all buy it in droves. If you happen to be reading, Luke, I promise you I will buy the game the very second I know it is available. I guarantee you I'm not alone. But, I suspect that MS have done their very best to make the prospect of developing for the phone as unappealling as the prospect of buying one is.

I find myself wishing I hadn't bothered getting a Windows Phone. Not only is my choice of gaming limited, I can't even have "Still Alive" as my ringtone. I can't have ANY custome ringtone! How is a gaming nerd like me supposed to deal with something so crippling as being forced to choose from pre-determined ring and text alerts? I was able to type in the Donkey Kong Hammertime music on my Nokia 3210, for crying out loud, yet here I am in 2011 having to rely on '8 Bit Kid' as the only even remotely-gamey tune for me to use.

Sort it out, MS, please. It wouldn't take much, the platform has the potential to be THE essential phone choice for gamers. Possibly even more so than Experia Play, if only because it doesn't make you look like an arse. In the hands of Apple, mobile gaming has gone from being seen as something that also happens to a viable method of entertainment. In the hands of MS, it seems to be seen as some kind of magical conduit to gamers wallets, without bothering to make us want to spend in the first place. Guess what, Major? It ain't gonna fly. We need REASONS to spend, and we're not getting enough of them at the moment.

(If anyone at MS reads this,by the way, I'd be willing to take the job of fixing it for you on.)


  1. Hold on, why dont you have the Mango update yet? You should have it by now; A lot of the things you complain about are solved or lessened with this, the first real update to the OS.

    One of the biggest problems is that WP7 launched as an infant of an OS when Android and iOS are already past puberty. We're past worrying whether an Android phone will run games, the hardware is advancing light years faster than the OS and pretty much anyone with a iPhone 3GS has nothing to worry about for iOS games, unless you want GTA3 that is >.>

    The best new update to the Android marketplace is the separation of Top free and top paid into top free new and top free as well as top paid and top paid new. Along with Top grossing, featured, editors choice, staff choice and 'trending'. it definitely feels like WP7 needs to speed up it's pushing out of fixes and updates, it's slowing down way too much. Mango should have been out 6 months ago, iOS dwarves it in features now and Android has always been ahead of everything feature-wise even if it lacks in the ease-of use and simplicity department.

    I REALLY like the look of WP7 from a usability and styling point of view, but it needs to serious step up it's game on the 'little-important' things to avoid being totally left behind. Hell, the required spec for WP7 is budget on Android now! Needs an update!

  2. Actually, Mango has done precious little of any good. Sure, multitasking has been enabled, but that is more or less it in terms of actual usefulness. The Marketplace is still like looking for a tree in a forest, and it still feels like the phone itself is definitely third choice for developers. Sadly, it is up to MS to remedy this, by making the phone desireable. Something they are not doing very well at all.

  3. At least now you can have custom ring tones! lol.

    I have to agree they've pretty much dropped the ball so far though. Thing is they're heading towards being a 'nothing' Android is open, free, flexible, complex. iOS is closed, controlled, usable, simple. WP7 is somewhere in the middle but not really great at anything.

    I'd still rather have one than a Blackberry though lol

  4. I'm a WP7 user reading this article in February 2012 and the same issues still exist. I am still regretting buying the phone and would go back to iOS in a heartbeat. Still wouldn't buy a Blackberry though...