At GDC 2009, Nokia executive VP Tero Ojanpera discussed the mobile platform as the key arena where games, social networks and innovative marriages of the two will converge, and urged game developers to find creative ways to employ evolving mobile functionality.
In 2012, 40 percent of the games industry's revenues will come from emerging markets, he says. And in those markets, users who have never owned a PC or a console are experiencing online connectivity for the first time with their mobile phones.
Ojanpera estimates that 1 billion people will be getting their first mobile device in the next couple of years. "Most of them will be living in the rural areas, but make no mistake -- they want all of those exciting things that we have here and we need to provide that," he says.
So what trends will shape the way this burgeoning userbase interacts with their phones? Genre and product mashups are one way. "I think we'll see more and more that we're mixing things -- it's not about gaming anymore, it's about music and gaming," Ojanpera said as an example.
One example of a music-game combination is Nokia's upcoming Dance Fabulous, which combines music, dance and game elements, allowing users to play along to their music library. A second example combines maps with gaming -- Ojanpera showed an game that takes a screenshot of any mapped location and transforms the map into a race track on which users can race against one another.
"Of course, this is great fun for us when we're having executive meetings," he joked.
Social networking is also a visible and growing arena. "This is a phenomena that is happening around the globe -- for example, Nokia devices in Europe and Asia are the number one device accessing Facebook." So what does mobile mean for social networking?
"When you think about what we are doing most of the time... we're actually updating our status in these social networks, whether it is Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Phones know [those locations], so by automation it can be made more exciting and immediate," Ojanpera said. "Putting that into gameplay can make that even more exciting."
In 2008, venture capitalists invested close to $1 billion in social gaming, and that level of interest is expected to build, said Ojanpera -- so mobile game developers should now look to ways they can leverage social networking alongside the unique capabilities of the mobile platform.
One example is Nokia's Image Space, a new online service where users can take pictures of locations to which they travel, to have their photo and location recorded.
"But it also checks online to see what pictures others have taken in the same location," Ojanpera continued. It also records other locational data, such as birdsong picked up by the microphone. The aggregate contributions from a number of users who've visited the same location effectively builds an online reflection of that place.
"In this way, you are creating a mirror world -- you have the real world and you have the mirror world and then your friends will check online... and follow what you have been doing to get the feeling of where you've been," said Ojanpera.
Nokia will offer APIs that expose the capabilities of its upcoming devices -- for example, the camera. "I'm not really seeing compelling games around utilizing the camera API today. You have some games available where you can switch environments by bringing your hand in front of the lens... but is there something that tapping into this kind of API? What can we create for mobile games?"
These are the sorts of ideas and technologies that Ojanpera would like to see brought to bear on the world of game development: "I think that's somet hing we as developers and idea generators should figure out."