Microsoft chose the huge Gamescom conference in Cologne, Germany, to unveil the first batch of Xbox Live games that will be available for Windows Phone 7 devices when they go on sale this holiday season.
The company also confirmed that it’s building up a mobile games studio in Redmond dedicated to the Windows Phone platform.
As Microsoft takes on the iPhone and Android juggernauts this holiday season, a key weapon is going to be its Xbox business, including games, relationships with developers, game-building tools and the Xbox Live network.
Meanwhile, Apple has been pushing hard to raise the profile of games on the iPhone and iPad, and Google has been investing in mobile game companies as it grows its Android platform.
Leaders of Microsoft’s new mobile studio wouldn’t say whether the company is going to start buying or backing mobile game developers. But they did say Microsoft is developing new games internally to showcase the technical capabilities of the Windows Phone platform.
The overall effort is similar to the buildup of Microsoft Game Studios prior to the Xbox console debut, according to Matt Booty, the former chief executive of Midway Games, who was hired in March to start building a mobile studio.
An Xbox Live tile has been shown on the home screen of Windows Phone 7 devices since Microsoft rolled out the platform in February, but until now the company hasn’t detailed specific games. Word of the special mobile studio just surfaced last week in job postings.
Today, it’s announcing more than 50 games that will be available for the phone at launch. They include a few mobile counterparts of console games such as “Assasins Creed” and “Guitar Hero 5,” plus some familiar titles such as “Bejeweled” and “Frogger.” The company wouldn’t say yet how much the games will cost or whether any will be preloaded on the phones.
There will be two categories of games for Windows Phone. One includes games that connect with Xbox Live, using the online service’s achievement system and networking features. Those games will go through extra review by Microsoft, which will publish them.
Games without Xbox Live will also be available through the Windows Phone app marketplace.
During a demo in Seattle last week, a standout was a “Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst” from Microsoft Game Studios.
It’s a simple tower defense game in which you use cannons mounted on a building to repel attackers.
The twist is that you can set the cannons up on any building captured by Bing’s satellite imagery. You can pretend to be defending the Space Needle, the White House, Qwest Field or even your house, so you’ll be blasting attackers marching up your street.
At left is a screenshot showing the game overlaid on the conference center in Cologne.
A player’s Xbox Live avatar gets special treatment on the phone. The animated, cartoonish character waves and peeks out through the Xbox Live tile on the phone’s display, like a sprite inside the device.
Tapping on the tile, an avatar can be enlarged to fill the screen and poked and manipulated with the touchscreen. It can also activate applications. Instead of launching a flashlight application, for instance, you can choose a flashlight from a list of gadgets available to the avatar, which then picks up the light and shines it outward.
Microsoft’s new mobile studio will create some original games. But much of its effort will be working with game developers inside and outside of Microsoft, to get their titles onto the Windows Phone platform.
Booty wouldn’t say how big the mobile studio will become, but he said Microsoft is making a major commitment to the group and “we’ve got huge resources.”
Still being worked out is the path game developers might take with a game developed for Windows Phone and then extended to upcoming Windows tablets. On slates or tablets, Windows is the primary platform and it has extensive resources for developers, Booty said.
“We want the developer to have a number of avenues to expose their content,” he said.
Here’s the list of Xbox Live games available at launch:
“3D Brick Breaker Revolution” (Digital Chocolate)
“Age of Zombies” (Halfbrick)
“Armor Valley” (Protege Games)
“Asphalt 5” (Gameloft)
“Assassins Creed” (Gameloft)
“Butterfly” (Press Start Studio)
“CarneyVale Showtime” (MGS)
“Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst” (MGS)
“De Blob Revolution” (THQ)
“Deal or No Deal 2010” (i-Play)
“Earthworm Jim” (Gameloft)
“Fast & Furious 7” (i-Play)
“Fight Game Rivals” (Rough Cookie)
“Finger Physics” (Mobliss Inc.)
“Flight Control” (Namco Bandai)
“Flowerz” (Carbonated Games)
“Fruit Ninja” (Halfbrick)
“Game Chest-Board” (MGS)
“Game Chest-Card” (MGS)
“Game Chest-Logic” (MGS)
“Game Chest-Solitaire” (MGS)
“GeoDefense” (Critical Thought)
“Glow Artisan” (Powerhead Games)
“Glyder 2” (Glu Mobile)
“Guitar Hero 5” (Glu Mobile)
“Halo Waypoint” (MGS)
“Hexic Rush” (Carbonated Games)
“I Dig It” (InMotion)
“iBlast Moki” (Godzilab)
“Implode XL” (IUGO)
“Iquarium” (Infinite Dreams)
“Jet Car Stunts” (True Axis)
“Let’s Golf 2” (Gameloft)
“Little Wheel” (One click dog)
“Loondon” (Flip N Tale)
“Max and the Magic Marker” (PressPlay)
“Mini Squadron” (Supermono Limited)
“More Brain Exercise” (Namco Bandai)
“Puzzle Quest 2” (Namco Bandai)
“Real Soccer 2” (Gameloft)
“The Revenants” (Chaotic Moon)
“Rise of Glory” (Revo Solutions)
“Rocket Riot” (Codeglue)
“Splinter Cell Conviction” (Gameloft)
“Star Wars: Battle for Hoth” (THQ)
“Star Wars: Cantina” (THQ)
“The Harvest” (MGS)
“The Oregon Trail” (Gameloft)
“Tower Bloxx NY” (Digital Chocolate)
“Twin Blades” (Press Start Studio)
“Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet” (i-Play)
“Zombie Attack!” (IUGO)