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Question of the Week Responses: The Future of Mobile?

October 10, 2005
 

Last week, we asked: “What interests you most about the prospects for cell phone gaming, and what innovations and trends do you think all game professionals should keep a close eye on in the mobile gaming market?” While there was no clear consensus of a single 'killer app' for mobile, a number of different views and insights came to light.

                           

Views expressed by our respondents varied quite a deal; some pointed out the advantage of having a pre-existing installed userbase, and others advanced the possibility of cell phones being more actively complementary to a home console.

The most important aspect is that where ever a person may be they can turn to their phone to entertain themselves. This means that the games often benefit from intuitive controls and short play times, with replayability and instant accessibility being the most prized qualities. 3D handset adoption is the area to keep an eye on. As these high-end phones become common, it will be up to the creators to try and maintain intuitive gameplay in 3D worlds on devices that are not designed with gameplay ergonomics in mind. Connected gaming will be important when operators offer flat rate data charges and more responsive networks.
-Mark Klocek, Glu Mobile

The interesting thing about the prospects for cell phone gaming is that we as an industry do not yet exist in the hearts and minds of the consumer. When asked about mobile games, the average person on the street does not yet know they can play games on their phone, and the ones that do confess to playing "a few card games or something like that". There have been early successes and anomalous successes in mobile, but hardly anyone has done anything of sustainable consequence to the consumer, or the marketplace.
-John Szeder, Mofactor, Inc

I think there exists a great deal of potential in the mobile market, with some very exciting work being done by developers both large and small. Specifically, I am very excited about the translation of casual games to the mobile market, as the medium fits the nature of casual games very well. Mobile and casual gamers are looking for a quick and compelling game experience, as opposed to the 3+ hour play sessions of console and traditional PC games. That said, I think the mobile market is severely hindered by the infrastructure and attitude of key executives at major companies. Just look at last month's Game Developer magazine interview with Jason Ford from Sprint. He first knocks the mobile game development industry by saying "I hate to say this, but I don't think gaming is as sexy as it once was...I mean, who doesn't have a Tetris ?" He goes on to point out Sprint's key area of innovation by saying "But we do have exclusives on certain ringtones and streaming music videos; those are the kind of things that show that we're innovative." What makes this worse is that in the next paragraph, he tosses the industry a proverbial bone by saying "And maybe we're able to keep them here longer because, heck, they buy a few games and get hooked on them. That's what makes the games so important to us." So important to us? It may just be my own personal politics, but I was quite offended reading that passage, going as far as throwing my hands up in the air. This was a poor decision as I was on a packed subway car, but indicative of my extreme disappointment and surprise at this statement. I don't mean to single Ford out. In fact, I applaud his refreshing honesty and bravery in going to a magazine entitled "Game Developer" and basically saying that games aren't very important to Sprint. Still, it seems that these statements are all too indicative of the attitude of the mobile carriers as a whole. With these attitudes in place, I find it very hard to see the mobile game development industry maturing and evolving. Here's hoping those opinions change.
-Coray Seifert, Large Animal Games

The most interesting prospect for mobile by far is its potential for growth. Since this aspect of the game industry is still in its infancy there is fantastic opportunity for small independent companies to bring products to market. The budgets for titles are extremely low, and thus we have the freedom to try different ideas for games; ones that might instantly be shot down for console. However I also believe this is the one aspect of mobile that is in greatest danger of disappearing. There are many trends in mobile that professionals should be aware of. When mobile first came about there was a big push to try and grab up as much IP as possible, and push quality gameplay into a distant second. This is finally turning around, as consumers are becoming more aware of which companies are dedicated to producing superior quality games. There is also a push for the carriers to be doing business with only a select few publisher/developers. I think this closed market approach scares a lot of the smaller companies, since they will be the ones to lose out. It might not be too long before the mobile scene mirrors console, where only the behemoths make games. I think the last thing to keep an eye on would be the prevalence of 3D applications. I personally don't think 3D really has a place on mobile (except for the “wow!” factor), but will wait to see where the consumers fall on this issue. It just seems to me that many big companies look at mobile as a natural extension of console. That concepts that work in their current medium will transfer directly to this new one. I don't believe this is the case. Take a look at the casual market (one that is very similiar to mobile). You see that those who play casual games have a very different opinion of what makes good games (short game times, simplistic controls, uncomplicated graphics). I think mobile publishers would do well to emulate these qualities instead of trying to dumb down AAA titles to the small screen.
-Nick Smolney

I am most interested in the uniqueness of mobile devices and how they can be used to enhance gaming and make it different from fixed gaming. When people think about cell phones, they think about community and moving around. This leads to different types of multiplayer (given shorter play time and less bandwidth) and the possibilities of location-based games. Most people think of location-based games as these hardcore mobile games, but they do not have to be. We have spoken about new ideas currently under development for location-based games in cell phone, mobile consoles and even next-gen fixed consoles. The key is to think about what new, fun and cool stuff can be done – not to think simply about improving current ideas. Think outside of the box and get off that couch.
-Anonymous

Besides the obvious draw of attracting non-gamers to the game space, the key to the mobile gaming market is its flexibility. No other type of device is as widespread as the mobile platform, and as technological capacity increases and more features are added to the average phone the more opportunities for innovation arise. Couple that with the eventual convergence of formats and device communication, and you have the arena for PocketStation and VMU-type expansions to conventional console gaming to finally take off. Casual games and three-in-a-row derivatives may be great for business, but once the software for the mobile platform interacts with the mainstream console market in inventive ways, we'll see a dramatic surge in the public's attitude towards mobile gaming as less of a novelty and more of a bona fide option.
-Ben Serviss, Creo Ludus Entertainment

There's been lots of talk lately about expanding the gaming population or dying - here is a device that everybody has in its pocket. With 2 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, this is by far the biggest platform of all time.
-Anonymous

The cellular phone market is one to watch for sure; compare the number of people with cellular phones to the number of people who either possess a game console or keep their PC upgraded to play the latest games. Also, there is a growing belief that "cell phone customers want more than basic services and are willing to pay a premium for a personalized experience where they are entertained, engaged and connected. " The N-Gage might have been a bit too far ahead of its time for its own good, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are more endeavors to integrate cell phones and gaming again in the future.
-Christa Morse

In the former USSR, a cellphone game is almost as expensive as a computer game ($4 per CD - a high-quality PC-game localization, $2-3 - a cellphone game). That's why most of cellphone game users are pirates. I'm interested in those few who buys them legally - their demographics, devices and gaming preferences. Besides, jolting in public transport, poor screens, inconvenient keyboards and low processing power limit the potential of action games. But, in fact, most mobile games here are action ones, mostly because they it's easier to develop a high-quality action game than a high-quality turn-based game. I'd like to know what types of non-twitch gameplay are suitable for cellphones.
- Mihail Mercuryev, VCS (Qplaze TM)

Social networking and games that build a sense of virtual community are most interesting. We are looking at games that allow users to leverage short interactive experiences that cumulate into comprehensive game play together with networked features that build upon social networking skills. Therefore the innovations we are looking for are in network performance and feature improvements, game design and incentives from carriers that make this more compelling to gamers such as reduced costs and improved access.
-John Foster, MTV Networks

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[Please note that the opinions of individual employees responding to the Question Of The Week may not represent those of their company.]


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