June 25, 2013 at 1:24 PM ET
Fans of the classic 1997 computer game "Age of Empires" are in for a treat. Microsoft, the longtime publisher of the acclaimed series of historically minded real-time strategy games, announced plans this week to bring the game to Android and iOS through a partnership with the Japanese mobile gaming company KLab.
Microsoft didn't detail any specific timetable for release of a mobile version of "Age of Empires," but said in an email to NBC News that the game "will be initially developed in English for iOS and Android and launched globally, with plans to release the game in other languages and on Windows Phone in the future."
Bringing one of its most successful PC gaming franchises to third-party mobile platforms like iOS and Android might make sound business sense for a game publisher like Microsoft. But it also represents something of a 180 for one of the game industry's largest hardware developers.
Like its close rival Nintendo, Microsoft has remained relatively stubborn about letting its gaming properties out into the mobile gaming marketplace, choosing instead to emphasize its first-party platforms like the Windows operating system and its line of Xbox consoles. And as the recent reboot of Windows as a mobile-friendly OS complete with its own line of supporting smartphones and tablets shows, Microsoft is still hoping that gamers, like all mobile users, will ultimately choose its gadgets over the competition from Google and Apple.
Problem is, Microsoft doesn't have the same foothold in the mobile market as it does in either the console or PC market — although thanks to the upstart success of Valve's digital distribution service Steam, even the latter of those is now changing.
While the company has touted its upcoming Xbox One console as the be-all, end-all of premium home entertainment console experiences, it can't afford to do the same with Windows phones and its Surface tablet. A report published last week by the PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun about "Skulls of the Shogun," an indie game intended to be "the poster child for Microsoft’s much-hyped new Surface tablets, Windows Phones and Windows 8 operating system," painted Microsoft Studios as an "institutionally incompetent" organization that has so far been unable to translate the company's legacy on PCs and consoles into success on emerging platforms.
In its statement to NBC News about "Age of Empires," Microsoft also refuted preliminary reports that claimed Microsoft and KLab were already in the process of developing mobile versions of other popular Windows and Xbox-based games.
"There are no further announcements beyond 'Age of Empires' at this time," a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.