Microsoft plans new app store for games on iPhones and Android smartphones

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Microsoft is preparing to launch a new app store for games on iPhones and Android smartphones as soon as next year if its $75bn acquisition of Activision Blizzard is cleared by regulators, according to the head of its Xbox business.

New rules requiring Apple and Google to open up their mobile platforms to app stores owned and operated by other companies are expected to come into force from March 2024 under the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

 “We want to be in a position to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners across any screen where somebody would want to play,” said Phil Spencer, chief executive of Microsoft Gaming, in an interview with The Financial Times  ahead of this week’s annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Microsoft is fighting with regulators in the US, Europe and UK, which have all raised concerns about the potential impact on competition from the owner of the Xbox console buying the developer of Call of Duty, one of the world’s most popular games franchises. PlayStation maker Sony has been a vocal opponent of the deal.

However, Spencer argues the deal can boost competition in what he called the “largest platform people play on” — smartphones — where Apple and Google currently operate what some antitrust authorities have called a “duopoly” over distribution of games and other apps. “The Digital Markets Act that’s coming — those are the kinds of things that we are planning for,” he said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity.”

Under the DMA, the EU is expected to designate Apple and Google as “gatekeepers”, requiring them to change the rules that govern how apps are distributed on iPhones and Android devices. However, the Big Tech companies could appeal the designation, delaying enforcement beyond next March’s deadline.

While acknowledging it was hard to predict exactly when Microsoft will be able to launch its own store, Spencer said it would be “pretty trivial” for Microsoft to adapt its Xbox and Game Pass apps to sell games and subscriptions on mobile devices. Microsoft’s current lack of mobile games was an “obvious hole in our capability” that it needed Activision Blizzard to fill, he added.

Hit titles such as Call of Duty Mobile, Diablo Immortal and Candy Crush Saga, as well as more currently in development, would be “critically important” in attracting players away from Apple and Google’s marketplaces to an Xbox mobile store, he said.

Read more via The Financial Times

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