The answer starts at the question about the end-game. The release of Wordament on Android this week follows the previous release on iOS. Wordament, which started out as an indie title, is now a Microsoft property, and this franchising is an interesting move. Hence wondering what the end-game is and what Microsoft are hoping to gain.
The end game that it isn't, is all Xbox Live on Windows Phone. One of the most notable gaming brands on the planet has been baked into Microsoft's modern mobile platform since it was launched. 'If you wanted mobile gaming', so the thinking must have gone, 'you'll want the platform that has Xbox'. It was a smart idea, but one that Microsoft never followed up on.
While the long certification process for developers and erratic release schedules for users were all contributions to the weak results that Xbox Live has delivered, the biggest issue is a simple one. The volume of gamers, or in this case a lack of volume of gamers. Without a significant market share belonging to Windows Phone handsets, there isn't a significant pool of gamers to interact with the titles, to work online multiplayer, or to even buy the games.
Many of the current Xbox Live titles are from the big development houses such as Gameloft and Electronic Arts. Those titles are mostly powered by franchise names, and if you look at release dates they generally are released first on iOS and Android, and only then will they come out for Windows Phone. Yes it's great to have the titles on Windows Phone, but gamers are all about being first, and if the other platforms are going to get the releases before WP, then the other platforms are going to be bought.
Microsoft's moment to build up Xbox Live on mobile using just Windows Phone has passed. The brand name was never leveraged, and the market share (at least in America) is so low that there's not going to be a groundswell of support in the immediate future.
Microsoft is taking a holistic approach to the issue of games. It needs a volume of users that can support the Xbox brand, it needs to attract publishers to go through the Xbox Live store, with gamer points, challenges, social features and more. As it stands right now, in the lucrative US market, Microsoft is not going to get that with Windows Phone.
So it's time to reach out to where the gamers are, and that is on the other platforms. The 'Xbox Mobile' team need volume to attract the top line publishers. Wordament, as an own-brand title, is the perfect tool to explore the lie of the land. The first steps to map out iOS have been undertaken, and the next step is Android.
Where does this leave Xbox on Windows Phone? That's an interesting point and one that is open to speculation - after all, Microsoft has never made the best use of the property. The smart thing to do would be to build up an Xbox ecosystem over a number of mobile platforms which includes Windows Phone. Microsoft's work with Unity to help the cross-platform development tool is probably the biggest signpost.
By growing Xbox as a whole, but working with a middleware engine that allows fast cross-porting between Windows Phone, iOS, and Android, Microsoft can increase the reach of the gaming brand, and at the same time enhance the software catalogue on Windows Phone with the marquee names being released across the three ecosystems at the same time.
Expanding out the brand to other platforms may weaken the exclusivity of Xbox on Windows Phone, but in the long term it may help the brand on Windows Phone to attract more titles from developers both large and small. A small sacrifice now should help the platform over the next few years.