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GDC: The First Decade of Mobile Games

GDC: The First Decade of Mobile Games

March 6, 2007 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 6, 2007 | By Frank Cifaldi
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More: Console/PC, GDC

At his keynote at his year's GDC Mobile, event founder Robert Tercek gave a presentation covering the ten-year history of mobile games, from perspectives of business, innovation, and gameplay.

The Value Chain

Mobile games, says Tercek, are a "value chain intersection." Many different people have to be paid: celebrity talent, content IP licensor, porting shops, QA testing facilities, etc.

"Even this doesn't factor in the true complexity. To understand the mobile content ecosystem, it's important to understand the two layers," the content layer and the network layer, Tercek explained. The content layer, of course, is the creation of the game content itself. The mobile layer includes several complicated factors that make publishing mobile games a Herculean effort.

"For the companies that wish to publish [mobile games], you're obligated to port your content across multiple thousands of phones. So this creates tremendous inefficiency," said Tercek.

Businss Model Evolution

The billing system shapes the content experience, Tercek's presentation says. The business of publishing is to make money, not art. "That's a lesson I learned from movie studios," said Tercek. "Corny movies subsidize the art. This is not something new, it's been the case in all forms of publishing."

The business model always shapes the content experience. Mobile is no different. Tercek discussed the 1999 launch of DoCoMo's iMode, short for "internet mode." This was, according to the presentation, the first "network as platform." Entertainment was not considered a priority until publisher Bandai created content as simple as screen savers, generating content of $2 million dollars a month.

"You have to remember, in 1999 it was very hard to get paid on the internet," said Tercek. "The fact that you could be paid made it quite interesting indeed."

iMode saw 1 million subscriptions in six months, 2 million in eight months, and 1 million new subscriptions every month thereafter. Within three years, they had 33 million subscriptions, which made them the world's largest ISP.

This was the true boom of the mobile gaming industry. From here, Tercek gave a light-hearted retrospective of gaming milestones between then and now, from the first mobile game, 1997's Nokia-embedded Snake, to the networked, 3D mobile games of today.

The entirety of this presentation, along with Tercek's views of future trends, is downloadable in PDF format at Tercek's website,

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