Apple and Google have strong positions in the distribution of mobile apps through their app store. While Google’s Android allows for alternative app stores, they haven’t been able to compete with the Play Store in any significant way. Microsoft is now preparing to build its own mobile games store to break this duopoly, and the company is counting on regulation to do so.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of gaming, said the EU’s Digital Market Act (DMA) – which takes effect in March 2024 – will help the company fulfill its mobile app store ambition. DMA allows companies to load their app stores onto iPhones and Android phones by asking Apple and Google to open up their systems.
“We want to be able to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners on whatever screen someone would want to play on,” Spencer told FT.
“Today we can’t do that on mobile devices, but we want to build a world that we think will come where those devices are opened up.”
Microsoft has had issues with Apple around its Cloud Gaming app. The iPhone maker required users to download every available game to play through Microsoft’s cloud offerings, including Fortnite. That’s why Microsoft is now asking people to sign in through the Safari browser and follow instructions, which isn’t as simple as downloading an app from the App Store.
Given Apple’s restrictions on downloads and in-app purchases, Microsoft’s move to start building its own games store isn’t unusual.
Apple and Google didn’t immediately respond to questions about Microsoft’s ambition to build an alternative app store.
Over the past five years, Microsoft has acquired a bunch of game studios, including Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Bethesda owner Zenimax Media, and most recently Activision Blizzard. The company’s latest addition may give it a foothold in the mobile market through a separate storefront that features titles like ‘Call of Duty Mobile’ and ‘Candy Crush Saga’ along with upcoming releases. Activision Blizzard, in particular, makes significant money from mobile games. So controlling distribution through its own store gives Microsoft an edge.
The biggest challenge facing Microsoft is completing the deal with Activision Blizzard as US, UK and EU regulators scrutinize the merger. Last month, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is launching an antitrust investigation into the deal, as it could hurt the country’s gamers with “higher prices, fewer choices.” Microsoft has tried to appease regulators by saying it is willing to make a long-term commitment to making popular games like “Call of Duty” available on competitor platforms.
The tech giant recently signed a 10-year deal to bring Xbox games to Nintendo consoles. In addition, Microsoft has agreed to bring these games to cloud gaming services from Nvidia, Boosteroid, and Ubitus.