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Microsoft Plans for Zune Gaming in the Future

With this week’s release of the Zune HD, Microsoft’s portable music player has been the recipient of a fresh blast of buzz. In order to keep lips moving and to keep competing with the iPod, Microsoft issued a press release stating their intention to begin releasing gaming apps on their handheld device soon.

Casualgaming.biz reports that in addition to Facebook and Twitter apps, the Zune HD will receive a number of downloadable games later this year. Early entries include (in order of our excitement) Vans Sk8: Pool Service, Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition, and Audiosurf Tilt.

Of course there’s still one major difference that will set Apple’s app store apart from Microsoft’s plans for the Zune HD: third-party support. All of the aforementioned apps will be first-party and free to download. For now, at least, third-party devs will not be able to create or publish games for the Zune HD.

Microsoft’s excuse for lagging behind in this area despite their attempt to catch up? They say they don’t want to get ahead of themselves. In an interview with The Seattle Times, Microsoft marketing manager Brian Seitz explained that the company “didn't want to…build two parallel app store experiences that didn't work together.”

The Zune team is waiting on another Microsoft group – “Windows mobile or another group inside the company that’s building an app store” – before they will allow any third-party apps to be downloaded for the Zune. Apparently Xbox Live Marketplace and even its indie games counterpart aren’t close enough to an app store to count. We’ve contacted Microsoft regarding this discrepancy, but have yet to hear back.

We got in touch with Matt and Chris Donnelley over at 2-4BOT Entertainment, the team behind Blisters Dice Game for the iPhone, to get an iPhone developers perspective on the Zune news. The Donnelley brothers said they would definitely be interested in creating games for the Zune and as such find Microsoft’s decision to hold off on third-party games “frustrating and a bit confusing.”

They explained: “With Microsoft allowing independent developers to create and post games and apps for sale over Xbox Live, it seems counter-intuitive to not allow for something similar on the Zune, especially when people have come to expect this functionality from, and it has been proven a success on, Apple's products. I would also wager that a wider variety of people would buy a Zune than would buy an Xbox 360, and we think they are missing new potential markets by keeping the system closed. Looking at what Apple and Twitter have done by opening themselves up, and letting users create new ways of interacting with their products, we can only imagine what users might dream up in the way of Xbox Live (or even Windows) integration with the Zune: account management, gamerscore apps, messaging, avatar interaction, game purchases, etc.”

The Donnelleys went on to say that until Microsoft opens the device up to third-party development, it’s “not attractive” as a gaming-related purchase. Hopefully Microsoft will change their mind and open things up soon, because as the team at 2-4BOT points out, “Zune users need fart apps!”

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