One of the stories I told to a few people at the Game Developers Conference was about the bright idea I had on Tuesday about a psychological trick Microsoft could play, if they wanted to.
I guessed that this company, eager to sell the world its new cell phone platform — and therefore probably convert people who would otherwise be using iPhones or some other devices from carriers not running Microsoft's new service — could hook people to their service by offering them easy Achievements.
The idea sprung into my mind during a Tuesday Windows Phone 7 meeting with Ron Pessner and Michael Klucher, two Microsoft officials who wanted Kotaku to have a closer look at the first cell phone platform that will connect to Xbox Live, run video games programmed through XNA, the same publicly available game-making program that is used to build some Xbox 360 games, and, maybe best of all, support the wildly popular Xbox system of Achievements and Gamerscore.
Games on phones running Windows Phone 7 will be able to offer 200 points of Gamerscore, via Achievements, adding to the total currently tallied through a gamer's time playing Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live games.
The Microsoft men showed me some games on a dummy phone that ran Windows Phone 7. And even in the brief time we looked at these games, maybe a cumulative eight minutes, they unlocked some Achievements. Remember, there can be an Achievement for just about anything, from pressing a start button to killing 1000 demons.
Klucher and Pessner unlocked one Achievement on their cell phone almost immediately after they started a game. The game was some sort of fairy tale fighting game made by a company called Gravity Bear. The Achievement one of the Microsoft men unlocked was earned with the light labor of manipulating the appearance of one of the game's characters — before the game proper had even started.
Klucher, who unlocked the Achievement, was apologetic. This was early, not a final game. This wasn't tuned. This wasn't done.
Okay, I said, as the part of me that could consider an unlikely career change into a marketing executive shuttled a thought through my brain (a career change that will never happen, mind you). Perhaps, I suggested to Klucher and Pessner, if you believe that Xbox gamers love raising their Gamerscore — and if you think it might take some coaxing to get some people to join a new cell phone network or buy a phone that supports Windows Phone 7 — you might want this Phone 7 thing to have the reputation of being a service that coughs easy Achievements.
The idea pretty much hung out there. Maybe, maybe not.
I reminded the Microsoft men that some gamers rent games they would otherwise not play, because they heard said game has easy Achievements and can boost their Gamerscore. There are people who are known to take it to such extremes that the basic quest for easy Gamerscore — the zeal to attain easy points — can seem average and normal. Lots of people do it.
So if some company wants to market a new type of phone or phone software, or if a game company wants to garner interest in a new game, or if anyone else has a gaming-based product that people might be able to live without, who is to say that the offering of easy Achievements wouldn't be a canny way to hook customers?
This is just my idea, I think, and I don't ultimately care who sells phones to whom. I've not heard Microsoft or any other company say this is their plan. But if it was one, I wonder who it would hook.