Say what you will about Windows Phone, but even at this early stage, Microsoft's latest mobile platform has established itself as a leading video game platform thanks to its inclusion of Xbox LIVE services, services which are getting only better in Windows Phone 7.5 ("Mango"). But today on the Windows Phone Blog, Microsoft revealed some additional functionality coming to Windows Phone gaming, along with a ton of great new games.
First, the new features, which are coming "this fall" and appear to be Windows Phone 7.5-specific:
Avatar Awardables: Basically wearable Achievements. "Once unlocked, these items will automatically appear in your avatar closet and can be worn on your avatar's sleeve as a badge of honor." Yawn. A forthcoming Xbox LIVE game called "Chickens Can't Fly" will be among the first games to feature this capability.
Game Add-ons: In-game and downloadable game content (extras weapons, levels, and so on). This feature is already being used in at least one game, "Beards & Beaks," where players can purchase extra mushrooms and other items from within the game using Microsoft Points. Ah, the bliss of in-game app purchases. Just ask iOS users how they feel about this.
Parental Controls: Finally, in Windows Phone 7.5, parents will gain reasonable control over what content their children can access, including games that will be M-rated (Mature). The first M-rated Windows Phone title, "Splinter Cell: Conviction," is scheduled for "later this fall."
Fast Async: This is a new Xbox LIVE service, also coming this fall, which improves gameplay for multiplayer, turn-by-turn (or asynchronous) Windows Phone games.
In addition to these changes, Microsoft also announced 14 new Xbox LIVE games that will ship on Windows Phone this year: Beards & Beaks: Cave Area, Bug Village, Burn the Rope, Chickens Can't Fly, Collapse!, Gravity Guy, Farm Frenzy 2, Fight Game Rivals, IonballEX, Kinectimals Mobile, Mush, Orbital, TextTwist 2, and Toy Soldiers Boot Camp.
Looks good to me. But as I noted in today's Mailbag, one crucial gaming feature is really needed: The automatic ability to sync game progress to the cloud so that when you reset the phone or reinstall a game you can seamlessly pick up where you left off.