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The Future Of Mobile Games - CES Panelists On Mobile Opportunities

January 27, 2006
 

"New Opportunities in Gaming" was a mobile-orientated discussion panel held on the first day of the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in Las Vegas. Moderated by American Technology Research analyst P. J. McNealy, the discussion included Jamdat Mobile's Minard Hamilton, IDG Entertainment CEO and president Dan Orum, and Motorola's Jason Rubinstein, in a discussion centered around mobile-related opportunities for non-gaming companies to enter the market. In this exclusive recap, Gamasutra highlights the key points put forward by the panelists.


 

The Social Gamer?

Dan Orum opened the discussion with a number of comments, suggest that he's seen a dramatic change in the market since IDG core print publication GamePro's inception in 1989. The average age of a video game player in America at that time, according to IDG's annual survey, was 18 years old. Today, it's 26. In regards specifically to mobile content, Orum says that teens are three times as likely as those over twenty to play cell phone games. And, interestingly, Orum's research shows that on average, African-American consumers are "twice as likely to play cell phone games."

"We're seeing an emergence of the 'social gamer,' said Orum. "That's about forty percent of the market. They're like the typical 'hardcore gamer,' but with social lives."

Crossing the Line

Motorola's Jason Rubinstein concurred, and said that the traditional games industry business is in a state of transition, with mobile handsets rapidly becoming more capable of gameplay. "Next year's high-tiered handsets will probably be equivalent to the Pentium II processor," he said. "We see 3D happening. Mobile game developers have a lot of traditional game development background." Rubinstein also stated that mobile development presents a unique challenge, in that mobile phones have a number of varying systems.

"I don't think you need console quality games on a cell phone, I think gamers are comfortable with whatever a device is capable of," countered Minard Hamilton, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Electronic Arts-owned Jamdat Mobile. "It's a platform with constant transition, and we just have to deal with it." Hamilton gave the example of an unnamed football game Jamdat published. "We had three different builds by three different teams for three different handsets," he said.

When McNealy asked the panelists why anyone would want to jump into the mobile space, Hamilton replied, quite simply, "Because it's a good business, and you can make money."


PopCap's Bejeweled, converted to mobile by Jamdat.

"The mobile games industry is more like the console business than PC," said McNealy, "in that it's a fairly closed environment. From my perspective, the more closed the development process, the more successful the business, from a publisher perspective. The console industry is incredibly controlled, and that's where you see the big names."

"Ninety-nine percent of handsets sold in the last three years will play games," continued McNealy. "Our research shows that games are among the top sources of revenue in the market. Games are among the top five things people do with cell phones."

In regards to the argument of a closed versus open environment, Orum had this to offer: "I think you have to worry about a closed environment hindering creativity. You can run the risk that creativity might not move as quickly as the consumer wants."

McNealy continued discussing the rising popularity of mobile gaming. "There are three hundred million actively used, game-capable phones in the world," he said. "Sony sold, what, twelve to thirteen million PSPs? The average price of a mobile game is about $4.55, which is the cost of renting a movie, and PSP games are $40 to $50. So it's a very different user base."

Multiplayer On The Run

In regards to multiplayer gaming on a handset, Jamdat's Hamilton offered this: "We found a shockingly low number of consumers want multiplayer games. I think 95% of our consumers buy single-player games exclusively."

Hamilton continued by expressing the importance of the female market. "I think you'll see the mobile market grow with casual games that cater to the female demographic," he said, "and not multiplayer gaming."

Rubinstein disagrees, and believes that it's only a matter of time before multiplayer gaming takes off on handsets. "There's no network yet, and no points reward system," he said, making an example of Microsoft's Xbox Live service for the Xbox 360. "I hypothesize that once that sort of network comes to the mobile space, people will want to take advantage of it."

"More people own cells than PCs," he added.

The Future Of Cellphone Game Pricing


Jamdat's Doom RPG

McNealy then asked the panelists to discuss where cell phone game pricing is headed. "Our goal is to be at the impulse purchase price range," said Jamdat's Hamilton. "Potentially, though we can raise prices. We recently published Doom, and I think it's $7.49."

The discussion then changed to the subject of mobile game developers. "Will we be seeing more Jamdats starting," asked McNealy, referring to the core group of former Activision developers entering the mobile space, "or more Motorolas?"

"I think you'll see more people making games," said Hamilton, "but they'll be more traditional game developers."

"When you look at the console gaming library, going all the way back to the Super Nintendo age, there's been a lot of content," said Rubinstein, referring not only to the number of titles consoles see, but the quality of them as well. "Where is the content for the 300 million cell phone users in the world?"

Rubinstein closed the panel by responding to an audience question asking, "What have we learned from Nokia and the N-Gage?"

"They performed an unnatural act," said Rubinstein. "They tried to be like a traditional games company, but they're not. I think Nokia has now figured out what they should have figured out years ago, that they need to go for several platforms at once, rather than trying to sell a proprietary one."

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