Evolve Mobile Gaming 2011

Published at OnIslam.net

With a hit list of speakers and entrepreneurs, the Evolve conference delivered a day of invigorating thoughts and discussions. Both the opening and closing keynotes, delivered by Gareth Davis, the platform manager at Facebook, and Ian Shaw, ex-Microsoft, respectively, top and tailed a day of facts, figures, ideas, thoughts and projections.

 
With 800 million profiles, 500 million daily users, 350 million accessing the site via mobile, and 200 million gamers, Davis explained how Facebook is now looking at a multi-platform approach. That is to say, you can begin your day at home where you have a certain level of gaming engagement on your computer; you may then engage while commuting to work on your phone; and later, you may decide to engage at work during your free time. If delivered seamlessly, the ability to transition your individual gaming experience across multiple devices irrespective of which device you are using will be groundbreaking.

 
Davis continued and identified seven key attributes for developing games: (1) Social Design. (2) Discovery and Distribution. (3) Focus On Engagement. (4) Retail Grade Merchandising. (5) Analytics. (6) Iterative Development Using A/B Testing. (7) Global Deployment. The message was clear: gaming, specifically social gaming, requires a combination of multiple attributes to ensure success.

 
It was of no surprise, then, when Nick Parker of Parker Consulting pointed out that the US may lose out to China with regards to social gaming. There is, he alluded, a significantly misunderstood market segmentation. He continued to say that despite its brilliance, the iPad, for example, has now lost out to the Kindle Fire, which by analogy is likened to a Rolls-Royce vs a Ford Fiesta; one is nice to have, the other offering a good functioning necessity.

 
Investment and its availability particularly to idea generators was also the subject of his segment. The recent edition of Entrepreneur Country whose headline read ‘Let Entrepreneurs Build Plan B’ while good in theory, the truth remains that bank borrowing is unlikely, venture capitalists are uninterested in pre-revenue initiatives, and angel investment, while present, is still very hard to come by. Kudos to UK TechCity who are looking to address this disparity.

 
Yet, we live in an age where the smallest sums of money can build solutions that enable us to reach mass market audiences in ways unheard of a generation ago. In this tradition, another success story is Bigpoint, whose Chief Games Officer, Philip Reisberger, observed that with 70 games in 30 languages, they are adding 250,000 registrations per day. Amongst their strategies is a psychological approach to gaming: casual games that are not too competitive.

 
One of their games, Farmerama, is similar to Farmville. Their strategy includes two key audiences: the majority who do not pay and the minority who pay a lot. This approach is shared by others who have opined that by allowing for this mixed user base, the richness of experience for all is greatly improved.

 
As well as observing a 43:57 female:male split amongst their users, Reisberger observed that key performance indicators (KPIs) do not innovate. And while analytics are part of the mix, all too often they are pushed at the expense of creativity, the true pull behind any gaming experience.
Jas Purewal of Osborne Clark, a firm advising on gaming legislation, illustrated that creative pull. His presentation took three days to build, literally, as it was done so in the Minecraft platform – the first time that I had traveled on a train car from heading to heading. Of course, Purewal addressed a more serious subject of trademarks and copyrights, but I found his presentation to be a creative way to deliver a message to a gaming centric audience.
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic

 
For me, the most interesting part of the day was when Hussein Chahine of Yazino took to the stage. Beyond the usual acquisition, retention, engagement and monetization model he outlined, was a more important and revolutionary proposition: synchronous gaming. While most games are linear, often played step-by-step, turn-by-turn, his company addresses the market with a very different Unique Selling Point. The ability to play the same game in real-time with a dozen other people, using different devices, across different countries – this is no easy feat. And yet, Yazino, which is effectively a platform for enabling synchronous gaming, is exactly that.

 
Chahine also made interesting observations: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic gaming. The former can be described as “I want to… e.g. play tennis.” The latter, “You need to… e.g. feed the fish or they will die.” Up until recently most games have had a truly extrinsic approach. Creating an experience where people want to do something, instead of having to do something, maybe a subtle distinction but it does have a significant impact. This is a game changing methodology which combined with synchronous gaming, makes Yazino a very hot company to watch.

 
A more colorful presentation followed, delivered by Mark Sorrell from Screenpop. His message? Since the average daily gameplay is for 13 minutes compared to five hours of TV, gaming can and should learn from the success of television. The success of TV shows such as the X factor have shown that engagement in real time with audience participation have yet to be mimicked by similarly sized gaming opportunities. Can any of us imagine 10 million gamers interacting with a specific set of content at the same time? It hasn’t happened yet, though I suspect it is simply a question of time as what Sorrell implied is exactly what Chahine’s synchronous gaming solution can deliver.

 
And this brings us to our closing keynote by Ian Shaw where in-between the talk of disruption cycles, change metrologies, tick-tock processes and the like, was a single message: when looking to the future, don’t aim for a specific point. Instead, steer in that direction. You may begin an innovative thought or process expecting certain results only to discover en route an even better offering delivering even better results.

 
Shaw’s amusing critique of agile vs scrum management methodologies added to the irony of extremes. If gaming and the respective platforms are to be a true success, innovation and ideas must be given the space to ‘breathe’ so as to settle delivering an optimal proposition. Anything short of this, while perhaps more suited for auditing and managerial accountability, becomes a strain on true, game changing success.

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