Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (and the upcoming Windows Phone 8 ) have always been incredibly interesting platforms to watch for those of us into smartphone gaming. Just like Web OS, I really don't see Microsoft building up enough steam to become a serious competitor to either iOS or Android. However, also like Web OS, Windows Phone 7 and 8 are home to a whole host of cool features that I (likely somewhat foolishly) have my fingers crossed in hopes that they eventually dribble down into iOS somehow. Specifically, the way Windows Phone 7 integrates Facebook is really slick, and I promise if you spend some time with one of the devices you'll find yourself saying, "Huh, that's neat" several times. Adding Nokia hardware to the mix only makes things more interesting, although, again, we'll have to wait and see how the market reacts.

Sadly, one potential nail in Windows Phone 7's gaming coffin is the complete lack of Unity support. In a recent interview with Develop, Unity CEO David Helgason explained that Unity won't be making its way to Windows Phone 7 due to the closed nature of the platform, although support for Windows Phone 8 is being looked at. Windows Phone apps and games need to be either be based on XNA or Silverlight, and getting Unity on the devices would require an exemption to this rule, which Microsoft has decided against.

Just like Web OS, Windows Phone has seemed to be a promising candidate in turning this two horse smartphone OS race into a three horse one, but I'm not sure that's possible without Unity, as the engine has become a major player in mobile gaming. When you look at the best games of the Android marketplaces, they're almost all utilizing Unity. Take those away, and, well, you've got the Windows Phone Market.

I could get up on my soap box here and go on about how competition breeds innovation and all that jazz, but I think we're all well aware of that. In today's market, third party apps are vital to the success of any mobile OS, and it's sad to see Microsoft taking this approach with Unity. Windows Phone owning gamers are losing out, as are developers that have existing Unity projects that could be quickly and easily ported to the platform- Especially since quick and easy porting is among the greatest strengths of Unity.

[Develop via Pocket Gamer]

  • Per Elversson

    not supricing. when did ios get it? after 3-4 years? WP is 1 year old.
    and WP8 is probably less then 1 year away.

    • http://twitter.com/ChaoticBox Frank Condello

      iOS's native SDK was released a year after launch. The Unity port was announced months before that during the first beta. Microsoft is flat out not offering a (public) native SDK for WP7. I don't think anyone knows what they'll do with WP8.

      • Per Elversson

        looks like your right, guess they have to much on their plate :P

      • Treesong

        Did Apple not forbid non-native code for a while? Everything had to be programmed in obj C. They rescinded that, but presumably Unity and others were banned for a time?

  • David Howe

    It's even worse than it looks, Eli...  I'm not porting Mystery Ball to WP7 as WP7 doesn't support C++.  I opted to build the game's engine with C++ so that porting to Android from iOS would be a relatively easy hop (instead of using pure Objective-C), but WP7 flat-out doesn't compile C++ code (at least right now).

    There are apparently a couple hack workarounds, but they're awfully messy. With such an uphill battle to compete with iOS and Android, you would think Microsoft would be bending over backwards to assist developers with porting their already-built games (including Unity-based games).

  • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

    We are currently using Unity for our game and as a massive XBL fan I was extremely dissapointed to hear this. The weird thing is that MS has the most compelling meta game support with XBL (let's face it, it trashes GameCenter) but it's extremely unfriendly with how you develop for it. Ports may be worth it in the future if the market is there but until then only paid for MS Studio ports will likely be worth the effort.

    As far as comparing WebOS to WP7 that's pretty desperate, there will be 10 times the support for mobile devices as the whole MS ecosystem moves towards the metro UI look.

    The biggest problem MS faces is not being an OEM and hving to go lowest common denominator with hardware specs to support the price spectrum Samsung and HTC demand. It'll be Android all over again with that nonsense...

    • Anonymous

      Well.. XBL isn't so compelling if you happen to have a Microsoft computer. It actually gets along rather poorly with MS Windows, somebody should sign XBox up for an MSDN membership or something.

      • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

        It's not integrated at all in Windows 7 but is a core component of Windows 8. It was so bad the first time it was effectively abandonded and it left quite a few devs upset for spending a lot of time on integration that never went anywhere. That said, even the Live website is better than GameCenter.

  • Anonymous

    MS thinks it's still the 800 lb gorilla in the room.  

    • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

      Ballmer's at least 300 of those pounds. 

  • Anonymous

    What's funny about Windows Phone 7 is that Microsoft controls it so much, yet they do not produce the hardware themselves. It's a more closed and less fragmented platform than Android and even iOS. There are certainly advantages to keeping limits on the hardware specs, but it makes it harder for hardware developers to make phones that stand out. Another disadvantage to Microsoft's OS strategy, is that they must make Windows Phone 8 a whole new platform if they wish to keep their platform unfragmented. That would mean that Windows Phone users would have to buy a new phone every year to get the new OS.

    • Eric Schönholzer

      >>It's a more closed and less fragmented platform than Android and even iOS
      I'm not sure, but isn't Apple the only one who make the hardware and more closed? I would say it's between Android and iOS.

      And why they need to do for WP8 a need platform? WP7 is capable to grow, if it will open for Unity is another question.

      • Anonymous

        Nope. iOS has some fragmentation because of the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. An example: The iPad can do things the iPod and iPhone can't, and it has better specs. Windows Phone 7 has set limits on specs, so they're basically all (almost) the same phone- just made by different hardware companies. Microsoft has more restrictions on their platform than Apple, which is pretty ridiculous considering how restricted iOS is.

      • Anonymous

        Actually its the other way around. iPhone is the most capable hardware, has all the necessary sensor and hardware APIs. iPad differentiates itself by having more screen estate. I'd say iPhone4S/iPad 2>iPad 1>iPhone 4>iPod 4th gen>3GS.

        In terms of iOS fragmentation, the developer only has to worry about GPU (OpenGL ES 1.1 vs ES 2.0) and 3 screen sizes (HVGA,Retina and XGA). All apps will work on iOS 4.3 as the minimum OS requirements. Pre 3GS can run only ARMv6 instruction sets or couple it both with ARMv7 as a universal binary to support every device since inception. 

        So if I want to support every device from iPhone 1 to iPad 2, I would have 2 GPU codebase to cover, have 3 different UI art sets and set the compiler to universal ARM architecture and package it as a universal app.

        (Edit: Technically, iPhone 1 is no longer supported by developers since its stuck at iOS version 3.1)

  • Alex Aspinall

    Windows Phone will be interesting. It looks to me like they are looking to align their pc, tablet and phone platforms with windows 8. If that happens, and they make them integrate well, that may well sway a massive amount of people towards their handsets - particularly as the current version (7.5) seems to be getting such positive press (I played with one the other day actually, and I agree with you about some of its neat features).

    I'm not sure they will have a major impact on the mobile gaming industry yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made a massive leap in the phone market when windows 8 comes out.

  • Anonymous

    I read here every day, but the only phone device I have is a WP7 device.  I love it and never plan to get an iOS phone.  I hope to maybe one day get an iPod Touch at most, but for my phone I'll stick with WP7 on my personal device as I like it way too much to leave.  My work phone I'm provided is an Android device so I have two OSs covered now at least!

    I wish more developers would make the leap, I've never purchased an iOS or Android app ever, literally never.  I purchased two games just tonight as I wanted to support the Devs for making such good games for WP7.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GHIIHTRJXIOZCAF2GESNKZH264 himanshu

      And yet you read here daily? Interesting.

      • Anonymous

        Yes I do, might be strange to some but I like the site, I like the interactions I see with the developers, I like the reviews on here, and I get to see games that many times will eventually get ported to one of my OSes. 

        Plus, like I said I may get a touch one day, I also use the FAAD type of sites to get the good ones when they are free so when I do get something running iOS I'll have a nice games collection to get me started too.  I'm up to over 100 or so of good quality or well reviewed games.  Never played one of them lol, but one day, one day I will!

        Been reading here for at least two years now.

  • Anonymous

    Yes unity is so much more innovative and large in the market than ... xbox - WHO THE HELL WRITES THIS STUFF?
    Better yet - who believes it!?!?

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      ...what?

      • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

        If I just need to write crazy stuff to get you back in the conversation Eli I can do that.

        ,

    • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

      @jabberwolf:disqus Hi. You have somehow wandered into territory unknown to you. You'd do best to look around for a moment and get your bearings. Also, maybe delete your post to diminish embarrassment. :)

      • Anonymous

        So you're sayng that the XNA framework being used with wp7, xbox and MS systems isn't large enough for MS not to worry about Unity- isnt a valid argument?!

      • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

        Yep. You are mixing markets. The phone market is HUGELY tipped in favor of Android and iPhone and Unity works across those platforms easily. Windows phone is a tiny sliver or the smart phone market, though it shows promise. It's disappointing to see them hobble themselves with XNA.

        Furthermore, XNA is a programming framework where the engine for any particular game must be built from scratch for Windows, XBox (basically as a hobby), and Windows Phone. 

        Unity3D is a programming environment with a complete underlying graphics and physics engine already tuned and optimized and an editor for quick and easy integration of assets... plus a store for buying easy assets and a successfully managed multi platform engine at that (PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Xbox, PS3, Wii, and more).

        I'm not knocking XNA because it is very cool. I'm not knocking Windows Phone either because I find it to be a truly different take on things and an interesting start.

        The problem is that your comment is comparing apples to oranges with the markets (windows/xbox vs. smart phone) and the same with the tools (xna vs. Unity). It honestly seemed like you wandered in here from a different place not realizing that we are talking about the phone market which is completely inverses against Microsoft in comparison to the PC world.

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Windows Phone games? What's next, Mac gaming? :P

  • http://www.thestrategicinsight.com/ Outsourcing web development

    I believe that Microsoft should come up with a something more innovative now

  • Anonymous

    Obviously you are not a developer with XNA experience. Windows Phone 7 is miles ahead of iPhone and Android when it comes to ease of development. There will not be Unity because there is no need for it! There is a 'native' support for C#! Also Unity is more for scripting typical games, if you need something innovative you need to roll your own engine anyways. Check the facts.

    • http://angryant.com AngryAnt

      Quite an... interesting response. Could you please describe how you came to the conclusion that Unity is designed for- or limited to developing typical games?

    • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

      I'd say you are obviously not a developer with Unity experience... or even the most basic knowledge about it. Check the facts?
      Unity game list:
      http://unity3d.com/gallery/made-with-unity/game-list

      Did you know that Unity supports C# for programming as well (as Mono)? Or a javascript-like language if you prefer something a little less formal.

      Don't be fooled by the fact that it has a powerful and multi platform optimized graphics/lighting and physics engine. It's extremely flexible and doesn't have roots in an FPS platform like the Unity Engine.

      • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

        Ahem... that last sentence should end: like the Unreal Engine. Just couldn't let that sit there.

  • Eric Schönholzer

    Microsoft is targeting the XBOX world. Many XBOX games are written in XNA, so easily portable/adaptable to WP7. Why adding other, probably unstable, gaming runtime?

    • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

      Very few XBox games are going to be easily portable/adaptable to a tiny phone screen with no control pad or game buttons. Doesn't seem to justify the narrow thinking. Why would another gaming runtime "probably" be unstable? It's not unstable on iPhone or Android. 10-20% of the top-selling games on the iPhone are made with Unity. How unstable could it be?

  • Anonymous

    One can argue the pros and cons of technologies. However, I
    personally believe the discussion should also focus in another direction called
    Microsoft market catch up. Whether a technology is better or worse is not as
    relevant as us techies would like to perceive. Therefore, it’s not only about
    the technology; it’s also about managing customer’s expectations. In my humble
    opinion, Microsoft presently lacks customer focus. Customers want innovation
    but without sacrificing the games everyone else has on the Android and Iphone.
    Microsoft does not need Unity because of the technology but they do need all
    the Unity games. And, Microsoft needs all the beautiful minds that created all
    those beautiful games to be supporting the Mobile Phone 7 and 8 platforms.
    Otherwise, they will not acquire sufficient market game traction to support
    their mobile offering.

  • Anonymous

    One can argue the pros and cons of technologies. However, I
    personally believe the discussion should also focus in another direction called
    Microsoft market catch up. Whether a technology is better or worse is not as
    relevant as us techies would like to perceive. Therefore, it’s not only about
    the technology; it’s also about managing customer’s expectations. In my humble
    opinion, Microsoft presently lacks customer focus. Customers want innovation
    but without sacrificing the games everyone else has on the Android and Iphone.
    Microsoft does not need Unity because of the technology but they do need all
    the Unity games. And, Microsoft needs all the beautiful minds that created all
    those beautiful games to be supporting the Mobile Phone 7 and 8 platforms.
    Otherwise, they will not acquire sufficient market game traction to support
    their mobile offering.

  • Morten Elkjær Larsen

    Hit the nail on the head there paulwmoody, but shh, don't tell them :)