One of Windows Phone’s strongest features is its viability as a mobile gaming platform. iOS has clearly set the bar, Blackberry is more a business platform and Android has faltered in the area of gaming because of its fragmentation issues. This leaves Windows Phone with only one real competitor for that segment, but its a strong competitor. Starting from scratch wasn’t easy to do against the large catalog of apps and games for the iPhone, so Microsoft leveraged one of its strongest brands into Windows Phone – Xbox LIVE. The integration of Xbox LIVE allows Microsoft to guarantee quality gaming and also provide their own achievement and tracking service which Xbox users love.
Let’s also not forget the indie gaming aspect of Windows Phone. Just as is the case with the Xbox 360 console, indie gamers can create and submit their own titles for Windows Phone, except that indies titles do not enjoy the advantage of Xbox Live integration, namely achievements. All of this gets wrapped up together in a hub known on Windows Phone as the Games hub. This is the central place for everything involving mobile games on the phone. Instead of bunching your games with your apps, they are installed separately to the Games hub. This is also where your Xbox LIVE friends, avatars, game requests, and spotlight features are stored as well. This has all been improved upon in the coming Mango update as the Windows Phone team decided to redesign the Games hub. Here is a closer look at what you can expect for the Games hub in the Mango update coming this Fall.
In the current Games hub both in the initial release and NoDo was a green background. This has been changed to a silver background which is a little bit easier on the eyes. The live tile has also undergone a slight change (the new live tile is in the upper right-hand of this post). Aside from the noticeable visual changes in the hub, the layout has also been improved as well. The “Collection” section now features a smaller icon and is a single list view in lieu of the side by side list with larger tiles as before. This also includes the title of the game to the right. The list is now divided into three sections: recent, Xbox Live and other. The recent section will list your last three played games with the most recent being the top. This will allow you to quickly jump back to games you were previously playing instead of scrolling through your titles. Xbox LIVE features your Xbox LIVE-enabled titles and the other section features your indie games collection.
The Xbox LIVE section has also been redesigned. Instead of a static picture of your avatar, you now have a 3D avatar which moves, gestures, gets bored and frustrated with your actions. If you have downloaded props for your avatar, they will also play with those props right on the hub screen. The Xbox LIVE section also lists your LIVE account type (Silver or Gold); gamerscore and options to view your profile, achievements and edit your avatar. Scrolling partially to the right reveals two tiles: Friends and Messages. The Friends section lists all of your current Xbox LIVE friends with pivots for messages, achievements and profile. Messages lists your messages with the same pivot selections as the Friends section.
The games hub also features a Requests section which is a placeholder reading “No game or turn requests. Pick a multiplayer game and invite someone to play.” Hopefully we will see this are of the games hub expanded to included real multiplayer gaming in the future.
Finally, the games hub includes the Spotlight section from before, although, the revised spotlight section now includes a name of the game being spotlighted and a double-wide tile of the game in question. This area, I’ve found, is great for finding the new Xbox LIVE titles as well as the “Deal of the Week” additions to the Marketplace.
Overall, the Games hub has undergone some evolutionary changes in the Mango update. The new look is cleaner and we now have access to more information on the main hub page, which is the point. The addition of a moving 3D avatar really adds to the experience and the new layout takes some getting used to, but is a much better way to navigate your titles.