So Dave, Jim and myself are down here in San Francisco for GDC and we've just come back from the kick off of GDC Mobile where Trip Hawkins of EA, 3DO, and now mobile developer, Digital Chocolate, fame.
Trip was here to talk about the poor state of the mobile games industry and discuss ways to pull the industry out of the fire. Instead, Trip talked about the importance to move people around the fire, so they socially discuss games and so people will talk about what they like, hopefully encouraging people to buy more. The social aspect is one of the most important area mobile games need to improve, because right now if people talk about mobile games, they have nothing good to say.
Trip made mention of his time at EA too. He talked about his decision to develop for the Commodore 64 rather than the Atari 2600 then wanting to move to the Genesis because of the idea of having more complex two player experiences. He also made mention of how this changed EA. "One of our company values was quality and we dropped it, although I think some of you know that..." Instead, they ended up adding customer satisfaction because they deemed it more important to try and give consumers what they wanted.
Trip also talked about the overcrowded license market and how more original titles will encourage the growth of the industry. Trip also talked about the royalty fees that a major licensor imposed awhile back. For GameBoy games it was 4%, for Playstation it was about 7%, online stuff it was about 11%, and for mobile games it was about 50%. This type of abuse causes the quality of games to be lower and as a result, the consumer, the publisher and the developer all end up getting burned.
Ultimately, Trip sees the mobile market as just beginning and the asian market as being a sort of look into the near future for what will happen in the US and Europe. He put alot of the burden of the failure of the mobile market on quality of games, poor user interfaces, the low reach mobile games have, and the necessity of games to be clever. Trip seems to think that overcoming these problems will catapult the mobile market into the next stratosphere and that games that promote "just killing time by ourselves isn't enough".
I think Trip has it right. By making games more fun, and changing how they're marketed, you'll improve the experience and people will want to talk about what they're playing and share their fun experiences with others. Hell, I've never really had a good mobile game experience, Pac Man and Tetris are awful on my phone because of the terrible controls and the 24 game was a waste of time because its not fun to look at or play. The only game I've played on my phone worth any time at all was Diner Dash which was a bit fun for a while and looked pretty good.
What do you guys think? Do any of you even care about cell phone games? What has your experience been like with cell phone games and what would you do to improve it? Do you think this whole 'mobile cell phone game' thing will ever be big?
As much as I care for mobile games, so far most of the mobile developers seem to be small teams which no longer can survive in the "real" markets for consoles and computers. And just like the portable machines, there are no real killer-apps for mobiles, no games developed from scratch for that interface, with full budgets and full production values. So the market is basically just a trash heap for those games which couldn't make it higher up in the ecosystem.
I have friends in the mobile gaming industry and it is quite profitable and successful at the moment, teams are actually quite big as a whole lot of porting is required for all games (that's why you see different versions of the same game for different cell phone models). The whole carrier-publisher model is a bit baffling and certainly makes it hard to compare in terms of success with the classic end consumer-oriented model we associate the industry with. As for the games themselves you have to understand they are mostly all about casual gaming, so its going to be hard for hardcore gamers to find anything that they can relate to.
Likewise, portable gaming is reaaaally big. Just think that it's basically what's been saving Nintendo since the N64 days...
Yes, the mobile market is profitable, but when you consider how many people own sell phones in comparison to how the market is doing, it SHOULD be doing alot better. Porting is huge drain on resources where money could be better spend on devlopment time or trying to do new things rather then rehashing the same game mechanics. It'll be intresting to see how many others join the N-Gage bandwagon because a platform where you don't need to port your game opens up alot more possibilities.
You're also right about the casual market. Hardcore gamers only make up about 5% of the market and even that 5% flocks toward casual games because they are quick, fun, little gameplay experiences. However, just because a game appeals to a more broad market with quick gameplay is no reason why it shouldn't be fun or innovative. How many times can you really repackage the same old retro games or redress tetris or bejeweled...?
The mobile games industry is certainly big, but it honestly should be even bigger...
Probably true, the porting issue seems like the most obvious culprit.
I thought I heard something there for a second...
A while ago, I posted a news piece where a developer said that Iridion 3D was the most successful GBA game that wasn't a tie-in to either a title on the stationary consoles, a tie-in to a toy series or a tie-in to a movie or TV series. Handheld gaming is big, but it is held up by millions of young children and held in a very low regard by the developers, not to mention publishers.
I think this is what Trip Hawkins was talking about changing. There's also another degree where no one wants to work on a platform where the restrictions are higher. You have less memory and less processing power, so you have to be a lot more creative ... or you have to rehash old games who don't need as much power.
It also depends on what you mean by 'full budgets and full production values'. For me Diner Dash was neat because it used the keypad in an interesting way and was on par with anything I'd played on my SNES... so I was happy. And it was easy to pickup and play which is really important.
The development of a mobile game is much different and most companies just don't seem to want to take the time to plot out more creative ways of doing things within the constraints they have when you can just pop out another tetris clone cheap and have it sell reasonably well.
To answer your question; I think cell phone games are not only lousy, but also lack potential. Cell phone games are the bastard children of failed console endeavors.
What I think is funny is how they use titles from big franchises and attach them to some completely unrelated piece of cell phone trash. Sure you can get "Splinter Cell" on the cell phone, but it's more likely to resemble pong than Splinter Cell.
All of the games that I've seen appear cheap in nature. They're terribly simplistic and most lack originality instead opting to cash in on a successful console or PC franchise. Even though I'm strictly a PC gamer, I can think of many viable console titles. However, I can't think of one cell phone game I've ever seen that even looked like a quality piece of gaming experience.
(Edited by Sciere (205632), Mar 06, 2007)Re: "Games need to sell themselves..."
Sciere (205632), Mar 06, 2007
I've played over 200 mobile games and most of them lack a lot of quality indeed (especially the early ones), regardless of the platform's limitations. A few companies have managed to create fluent, intuitive and overall polished titles - especially Gameloft, and I think Jonas will agree. None of the games has managed to create a new or entirely fresh concept however; there is very little innovation. The only game that really surprised me is DOOM RPG (Carmack power!). In general, the games just start to look better and the gameplay is refined.
I'm not fond of most companies moving to 3D, the 2D animations have been the main attraction for me and 3D comes nowhere near it. A mobile Splinter Cell game does not look like Pong, though, just more like a 8-bit/16-bit platformer and many do stay true to the license.
The only games I'd pick up again after finishing them is the aforementioned DOOM, War of the Worlds, Lumines Mobile and Paris Hilton's Diamond Quest as a fast and enjoyable variant of Bejeweled.