Mapping Mobile Gaming 2010

Published at OnIslam.net

With the leading annual mobile conference just around the corner in February in Barcelona, London played host to a smaller niche program: the seventh Annual Mobile Games Forum, hosted by Osney Media at the Mandarin Oriental.

 
As the industry moves to a wider adoption of unlimited data plans, the way individuals interact with their mobile devices is changing. The impact of this is becoming that much more significant as Alistair Hill, the lead analyst at comScore, observed that today some 5 percent of the Americans and 21 percent of the European Union users subscribe to such pricing plans.

 
To place this in context, he went on to observe that the average age of the mobile media users is 33 — significantly higher than the often assumed 18–24-year-old category. This discrepancy has been explained by the disposable income enjoyed by those in their 30s, though, with unlimited data plans ranging from £5 per month bundles here in the UK, over time, the median age will drop as the younger generations begin to afford the on-line experience.

 
Further, with industry projections suggesting that by 2015 all phones will be smart phones, both the user’s experience and expectation will reach new levels. Today, we are living through the trend where as technology improves, the depth and richness of the User Interface (UI) is also improving. That both occur at the same time finds us in an awkward position, where many phones still create a slow user engagement despite a faster processor.

 
Samples of this include the newly launched Vodafone 360 which, while a great service, is hindered because of the depth of the heavy UI. Still, this doesn’t hinder the popularity of gimmicky applications, with one of the most popular is the iPhone being a virtual beer, which as the phone is tilted as virtually drunk — whoever said cheap and tacky mass produced items are the domain only of the Chinese, is wrong.

 
Demographics

 

Despite these anomalies, Alistair’s research observed that 60 percent of males aged between 18 and 24 use mobile media. This number is set to increase as the industry begins to address one of the most common concerns — that the gaming experience on a mobile phone is different to that on a TV via a console, or on a dedicated gaming device, such as the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and the Nintendo DS (DS), among others.

 
In this age of information, if you do not have a mobile phone capable of playing at least one game, how, I must ask, do you suffer the daily commute?

 
Nizar Romdan, the graphics tools product manager at ARM, set the pace introducing the latest ARM chipset architecture. In short, he observed that 2011 will bring the first generation of mobile devices capable of providing the everyday user with a similar, portable experience between their mobile phone and their console — TV environment. This synergy will change the way we use content on our mobile devices, with a significant impact in the gaming arena.

Of course, ARM are heavily reliant upon developers adopting their Mali ecosystem for mobile games, which will smoothen the enhanced cross functionality of the gaming experience, but whether the industry adopts the platform or not can only be determined over time.

 
While optimistic, the challenges we face today relate to the way in which the market is segmented, worse is the diverse nature of consumer behavior. For example, one of the participants on the consumer panel observed that he would like games to play, which last no longer than in 45 minute blocks. That is to say, to cover the time he commutes each day. Another panelist observed that while there may be over 100,000 applications available on some app stores, most of them are “junk.”

 
Mobile gaming in and of itself cannot be everything for everyone. Still, in an environment where Tetris clocked more than 100 million paid download and where Minigore saw exceptional growth becoming the number one paid for game in five countries, perhaps mobile Vs PC-Console gaming are really two markets, which should be treated differently. After all, as a panelist observed, for a £2 game they expect no more than 10 hours of game play.

 
Often, we look at the prices to explain the proposition. The problem is that the statistics vary, especially between platforms where the delivery of the same game suffers from a fragmented marketed. Traditionally, when you were in a retail store buying a console game, or even online, you would find similar price. Today, a mobile gaming product may cost one price on one App store but quite a different price on a different App store.

 
Pay for Power Packs?

How or what shape this game will take, when it will be developed, and how the depth of experience can be replicated on a mobile screen?

 
For me, the buzz phrase from this conference is not about the average price paid for applications, nor necessary the nature of the game, rather In Application Payments (IAP). While addressed by many of the speakers, it was the initial context IAP was placed in by Jouni Mannonen, executive producer of Mountain Sheep, which caught my eye. Do you pay for another level? Do you pay to buy power packs for your characters? Do you even purchase memorabilia, reflecting your product?

 
Consider Blizzard entertainment, which, if you have ever been a gamer, will be instantly recognizable as the people behind the World of Warcraft brand. In a discussion with Bryan Chang, mobile producer at Blizzard, aside from learning that they are looking to create a mobile gaming solution for Warcraft, we talked about the different ways IAP might be integrated into the offering. How or what shape this game will take, when it will be developed, and how the depth of experience can be replicated on a mobile screen? These are all questions, which have yet to be answered, he told IslamOnline.net.

 
Still, it is refreshing to see leading brand owners exploring opportunities and porting content and experience from the PC/MAC gaming platforms to the mobile platform. More importantly, as with the movie business, the value isn’t necessarily the movie itself that generates the income, rather promotional materials attached to the movie. IAP is the next iteration of the similar model.

 
As for new entrants, there are really no shortages of them. One of the highlights of this conference, aside from the support from UbiFrance, is the short pitches from small French companies, offering gaming solutions. Medigames Studio, for example, have developed a full graphic game addressing medical themes that, as well as educating the user on how to address particular situations, such as electrocution, are considering subsequent generations of these games, which include more in-depth medical knowledge. Entertainment and education rolled into one.

 
The problem with any industry is cheap copycats or clones. Putting aside the issue of illegal downloads, many companies try to differentiate themselves from their competitors by investing heavily in their brand identity. With regards to Medigames Studios, their development costs for a simple 45-minute-game near six figures. Are we therefore looking at a new generation of mobile gaming where again our expectations move from the low graphic classics, such as space invaders to something richer? It’s an open question. The simple truth is that gaming is a personal experience, which varies between individuals.

 
And yet, it is the ability to share that personal experience in a community environment that has allowed new players into the market, such as Qeep. Speaking about its phenomenal growth, Cornelius Rost, chief operating officer of Blue Lion Mobile, described Qeep as a new take on mobile social networking. Those unfamiliar with Qeep today should look into this fast growing social gaming site where as well as playing games with friends (or strangers), you can chat and interact with others. Of course, we have been able to do this for some time, but Qeep has made this a viable option for the mobile platform, offering something more enticing that is a cheap and nasty solution, many of which are found all over the internet, more often on personal websites.

 
Given the way the mobile gaming market is moving, the question to the reader is whether you are creative and a gamer? Premium or Freemium. Whatever the business model, if you have the right idea, market conditions are ripe for investment with venture capitalists (e.g., Paul Flanagan from Ariadne Capital, Nic Brisbourne from DFJ Esprit, and Carlos Eduardo Espinal from Doughty Hanson) are currently looking for the next big gaming opportunities. As for the rest of us, in this age of information, if you do not have a mobile phone capable of playing at least one game, how, I must ask, do you suffer the daily commute?

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