Nikkkei (via Reuters) reports that Microsoft plans to bring its first-party Xbox console and PC games to rival platforms iOS and Android this fiscal year. Japanese smartphone game maker KLab Inc. will reportedly be responsible for these ports, the first of which will be a free-to-play version of Age of Empires by the end of fiscal 2013.
The Japanese paper reports that additional titles will follow although the details are next to zero at this point. The original Age of Empires was developed by Ensemble Studios and launched on PC way back in 1997. We've already seen PC games from that era reduced down to run on smartphone and tablet-sized screens, so this should be no surprise game-wise.
But if the report is indeed true, it's a bold move for Microsoft who has thus far seemingly kept its IPs to itself. But there is likely a broader picture here than just Android and iOS: Microsoft may be porting these games for that multi-platform experience it's talked about for quite a while. Given Xbox Live's closed nature, actual multiplayer play won't be in the cards, but rather leaderboards and achievements.
We can't but feel a little excitement about the possibility of a mobile Halo, Fable, Forza Motorsport or MechAssault. The company already offers a mobile version of Kinectimals for both platforms, and Wordament for Apple's iOS.
Microsoft is the second of three console makers eying smartphones and tablets. Sony attempted its hand through the launch of its Xperia PLAY smartphone and Crash Bandicoot, but the company abandoned its plans to bring PlayStation classics to mobile and turned to originals on PlayStation Mobile instead (here in the States anyway).
Nintendo still has no plans of bringing first-party content to mobile devices despite investor feedback. Nintendo senior communications director Charlie Scibetta recently said the best way to leverage its brands is by releasing them on Nintendo hardware. Currently that doesn't seem to work for the Wii U, but the 3DS has reportedly become the top-selling console as of May, beating out the Xbox 360 thanks to Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Donkey Kong Country Returns and the then-upcoming Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Microsoft currently allows Xbox 360 owners to control their consoles through Xbox SmartGlass for Android and iOS. Users can use their tablet or smartphone like a touch-based remote, and view expanded features offered by games, movies and TV shows. There's also My Xbox LIVE that allows users to track and compare their achievements, connect with friends and modify their Avatar, and SkyDrive which provides access to the user's cloud drive.
UPDATE: Microsoft has acknowledged licensing Age of Empires, but isn't admitting to anything beyond that at this time.