The Mystery of Mobile

Pick a Market, any Market

by Ronald Diemicke

Like any developing market, the mobile games market is going through some tough times. Sales are down, the market is oversaturated, and fewer than one percent of people who have a mobile phone are actually playing them. While the cell phone content market succeeds in Asia, it is dying in the States and Europe. The big question on the mind of every cell phone carrier and mobile phone game developer: What does it take to get people to play games on their phones?

If you’re a hardcore gamer on the go, you’ve got a DS or PSP for gaming -- your cell phone is the last thing you’d consider playing a game on. Mobile content publishers need unique content that leverages the abilities of the cell phone.

Here's some examples: If you’ve got a PSP, a DS and a Cell phone, the one with the most connectivity is the cell phone, but hardly any games take advantage of this. Also, more and more cell phones include cameras. Neither the PSP or DS have this feature yet, so utilizing it in as many games as possible should be an objective. Most obviously, cell phones have a build-in microphone. (To be fair, the DS does too, but it’s only scratched the surface of what you could possibly do with it.) There are so many options for games where you can tell people to do things with your voice as an alternate form of control, or make a noise or say a word to trigger an action. Also, the possibilities for group communication in a multi-user community environment are endless.

By coming up with unique ways to mix and match the technologies of a cell phone, content publishers can come up with more unique ways of interacting with the player -- even to the point of interacting with the real world. If you want to go even further, phones have GPS and text messaging, further capabilities to be exploited. I’m waiting for someone at EA to realize that they should revive Majestic for cell phones. (Majestic was a sort of spy-espionage conspiracy game where the gameplay interacted with you through e-mail and phone calls and was sustained through a subscription basis). The cell phone is honestly the perfect platform for that type of game, in my opinion. Some sort of alternate reality game will come along and, if done correctly, could be the killer app that the mobile gaming market is looking for. Publishing Sonic for the 60th time isn’t really the original title that’s going to make people want to have to play cell phone games.

While we’re on the topic of brands and franchises, let’s get something straight: Gamers hate being tricked. Rainbow Six on a cell phone is obviously cheap trick to cash in on the name of what is a great console and PC title. (With gameplay resembling 2D side-scrolling arcade action, the resemblance of the mobile version to any other mainstream version is blasphemous.) For that matter, the idea of utilizing a brand for the sake of marketing -- without any intention of creating a game that represents the brand -- is deplorable, and is a desperate attempt to sell units of a game that no one would buy otherwise.

Retro games fit into the equation quite well. Up until now, we’ve been talking about a hardcore gamer: Someone who would be gaming no matter where they are, but that market is only a small amount of total of people who use cell phones. Retro games are good because you can grab the person who doesn’t play games all the time but wants to play games from ‘the good old days’.

Retro games are borderline casual games (games that are easy to start and finish playing). Pac-man works for this type of experience because of the short, quick gameplay it offers. But there is no reason a content provider can’t give bigger, grander experiences with good production values that are easy to enter and leave with the idea that you’ll pick it up again later. This is one of the reasons the tamagotchi was successful. Now, imagine a tamagotchi game where you talk to you pet to make it happy, take pictures to keep it interested, and then connect to a network where you can interact with other users through your virtual pet. It doesn’t need to be complicated or a violent game for it to be fun for an average user. Games like chess and Connect Four are good for users because they can play quickly, save their place, and then pick the game up again from where they left off... but they’ll never be the success that new innovative games could be.
Continued: How To Be Seen

Table of Contents: The Mystery of Mobile