Avatar Awardables. These are wearable achievements for your Xbox Live avatar; starting to first appear in new games this fall.
Game Add-ons. Just like on the Xbox Live console, these are in-game purchases for extra items, new levels and other downloadable content, purchased directly from the smartphone.
Parental Controls. The first rated M (for Mature) game on Windows Phone 7 arrives this fall: Splinter Cell: Conviction. More are sure to follow, so Microsoft is adding parental controls to limit what kids can and can’t do or see in Xbox Live on the phone.
Fast Async. Details are sketchy, but Microsoft says this is part of a new gaming service that will offer a faster multiplayer experience for turn-by-turn games.
These new Xbox Live functions show that Microsoft is continuing to plug the gaming features as a key value-add for the Windows Phone 7 platform. While all four are solid, the in-game purchases could appeal to third-party game developers as an additional revenue source over and above the cost of the game itself.
And overall, the new Xbox Live features combined with the general Mango improvements, tell me that despite a slow sales start, it’s too early to count Microsoft out of the smartphone race. There’s not enough here to challenge Apple or Google for the no. 1 or 2 spot, but Microsoft continues to improve its chances at becoming a solid No. 3.