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Microsoft to Brew mobile game offerings

Providing communities wherever users go

Microsoft has adopted yet another platform under its broad strategy to provide games and game communities wherever users go.

Under an agreement announced yesterday at the Brew 2006 Conference, Qualcomm will build extensions for Microsoft's Live Anywhere technology into its own Brew mobile software development and delivery platform. The extensions will allow Live Anywhere to be provided as an application on Brew phones.

Microsoft's Live Anywhere vision, laid out by chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates last month at the E3 gaming conference, calls for consumers to be able to use a common user interface on Windows Vista PCs and Windows Mobile devices as well as the Xbox 360 console.

Since the E3 launch, Microsoft has said it plans to extend Live Anywhere to other mobile platforms, including Java and Symbian, but yesterday's announcement marks the first time the company has given details about its work with a non-Microsoft mobile platform.

The idea is to let users move easily from one gaming environment to another and use a single player identity across several communities that are currently separate – namely MSN Messenger, MSN Games and Xbox Live. Scores recorded on one platform would be available on another. Microsoft even sees interaction between environments, such as a gamer sending a clip from his play on a console game to a friend's phone. Eventually, Microsoft hopes to let users buy a game once and then play it on all the platforms.

The entire vision will take years to make real, but users should see some elements of it on phones by the time of the next E3 in May 2007, said Chris Early, studio manager at Microsoft Casual Games.

Porting to Brew could allow Microsoft to reach a much bigger mobile market, though not as big as the universe of Java-enabled phones. Brew is offered on phones from 69 operators in 31 countries, according to Qualcomm, a San Diego-based mobile technology company.

Microsoft plans to work with handset makers, content providers and mobile operators in getting Live Anywhere products to handsets, Early said. It has not announced any such deals yet. Live Anywhere could be built into phones, provided by the carrier or sold over the air by third parties, he added.

Not many mobile subscribers play games on their phones as yet, but linking the offerings on MSN Games to the mobile world may appeal to that market segment, said Yankee Group analyst Linda Barrabee. Compared with console and PC gaming, 'casual' games attract older players and more women.

Letting consumers know that Live Anywhere is on consumers' phones and what it offers will be one challenge, Barrabee said. Another may be branding conflicts between Microsoft and the mobile operators, she added.


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