Update: Today I had a lengthy chat with Paul Foster, a Microsoft Developer Evangelist, about this post. I posted an update here.
Ever since I had my first iPaq with the .NET Compact Framework, I've wanted to code for a Microsoft mobile device. Coding in C# and Visual Studio is by far the nicest coding experience I've come across in the 15 or so years I've been programming. Unfortunately, up until now, Microsoft's mobile operating systems have all been absolutely rubbish.
Windows Phone 7 is set to change all that. Everything I've seen suggests Microsoft have finally got their act together, and WP7 looks set to be a huge success. Finally I can have the Windows phone I've always wanted!
Over the past couple of months, I've been reading more about developing for Windows Phone 7, and in the last few weeks, I've been playing around with both Silverlight and XNA as part of this. The experience is great, and I've been really looking forward to working on a game for WP7. I've spent the last few months of my spare time working on an iPhone app, and it's so nice to be able to switch Xcode/Objective-C for Visual Studio and C#!
However, there may be a problem...
I was just pointed to this page by a fellow XNA coder. Although not entirely clear, my interpretation of this text surprises, and shocks me. (Emphasis mine).
To answer, it's important to understand that we have a managed portfolio for Xbox LIVE titles on Windows Phone 7. As we looked at how the mobile gaming industry was evolving, it was obvious that there's a significant problem with the "race to zero" – or having too many, mixed quality titles available on a marketplace. Too many offerings makes it very hard for any specific title to stand out (no matter how high-quality), and negatively impacts the overall business ecosystem by making it almost impossible for developers to earn a fair return on their work. Our goal with the Windows Phone 7 games that utilize Xbox LIVE services is to cultivate a portfolio of high-quality titles that are regularly released – this is very similar to the portfolio management we do for Xbox LIVE Arcade titles.
This sounds to me, an awful lot like the current Xbox LIVE Arcade situation. Indie titles (eg., those created by people that do not have commercial relationships with Microsoft) are relegated to a crappy sub-category of "Indie Games".
You may be wondering what the big deal is here - surely we want to keep all this "indie crap" generated by bedroom coders hidden away so we can see stuff output by the real companies, eh? Well, not so. Not only are there "real games companies" that develop this way (because they're just not big enough to have this kind of relationship with Microsoft), there are also a lot or really good quality games output by "bedroom coders".
If you look at the Apple/iTunes App Store, every application or game sits equal. A game I publish, sits alongside a game published by a large company like EA. There are "league tables" for ratings and sales, which allow the best games (whether they're from a large games publisher, or a single coder in his bedroom) to rise to the top. For all of the faults with Apple's App Store, this is how it should be. If an individual puts out some work that is better than EA, then it deserves to be above them. Consumers care games, not about the companies (or individuals) behind them.
I have no real idea, but I would estimate that at least 75% of all apps/games on the App Store are created by individuals or companies too small to have relationships with Microsoft. That is a huge portion of apps/games to relegate to "the shit section". One of the reasons the iPhone did so well was because of the third party software. If Microsoft screws over the huge majority of developers like this, it will absolutely affect the success of their platform. We're already lacking things like Achievements - it's already going to be hard to convince users they should buy our game instead of EAs's, so pushing us into the amateur category will just make things harder (And therefore, less worthwhile).
My interpretation of the quoted text may be incorrect. I really hope it is. It's also possible this affects only games, and not apps. Who knows? If games created by me are relegated on Windows Phone 7 like they are on the Xbox, then I'll simply put up with Xcode/Objective-C, and go back to coding for Apple's platform. And this means, despite my desite for a WP7 phone, I'd probably end up buying a new iPhone, and not a WP7 phone.
Until this little mystery is confirmed, one way or another, my WP7 game is on hold :-(