CTIA SPECIAL EDITION – APRIL 3, 2008
Developments like the iPhone software development kit, Nokia’s revamped
N-Gage platform and Android are giving mobile game publishers reasons for optimism.
The Apple iPhone on AT&T’s network gets a lot of credit for getting customers to use the mobile Web, listen to music, watch video and hook up on social networks. But what did it do for mobile gaming?
The first iteration of the iPhone didn’t include mobile gaming capabilities, so it’s pretty much a wash. Of course, that’s about to change, with the June release of the iPhone 2.0 software. Companies such as Electronic Arts Mobile, Gameloft, Glu Mobile, Namco Networks and Sega Mobile already are planning their moves on the iPhone.
Gameloft says it plans to develop more than 15 mobile games built on the iPhone SDK. The company calls the iPhone a “revolutionary gaming device,” thanks in part to its 3.5-inch screen, the touch factor, a 3D processor and other cool features, including the accelerometer.
In the span of two weeks, Sega developed a 3D Super Monkey Ball game for the iPhone, which it previewed at the Apple conference in March. The game, set for a June launch, uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to power a tilt control feature. “We are excited about what the iPhone is doing for this business,” including improved discovery and a better overall gaming experience, says Linda Chaplin, vice president of Sega Mobile.
The iPhone isn’t the only encouraging sign for gamers ahead. The commercial release of Nokia’s renewed N-Gage platform on more devices and the Google-led Android initiative are cause for optimism as well. Even though it means developing for more platforms and doing some cost-benefit analysis, mobile game publishers are positive about the opportunities. “The handsets and technology are improving every day,” says Maria Pacheco, vice president of marketing at Vivendi Games Mobile.
As M:Metrics discovered, smartphone owners are more avid users of mobile content than the owners of feature phones. In the United Kingdom, about 17% of smartphone owners played downloaded games in a month during the fourth quarter of 2007 compared with just 9.8% of non-smartphone owners, the researchers say.
While games might look and play better on smartphones, not everybody wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a handset. “For us, we want to make sure we target the mass market, and that tends to be lower-end handsets,” Pacheco says.
One way to get players interested in mobile games – and coming back for more – is through episodic gaming. One of the most popular episodic games from Vivendi Games Mobile is Surviving High School, a title acquired through the 2006 purchase of Centerscore. More than 7 million episodes of the series were downloaded last year.
Driving awareness was a campaign on MySpace, which attracted more than 10,000 friends. Plus, the site helped Vivendi’s developers, who don’t always know who’s actually playing the games because carriers don’t like to share a lot of information. But with the MySpace linkage, Vivendi developers were able to get feedback – one gamer suggested a story line about a girl trying out for the football team. “It’s great for developers,” she says. “They love it. It helps them develop story lines.”
It’s almost a soap-opera approach to mobile gaming. There’s not a new story each day, as in a TV soap opera, but each week, new episodes are available. Glu Mobile is taking a similar approach with Mystery Case Files: Agent X, which is episodic in that players get the core game and play through various levels – 26 episodes in total will be available for download. The game, created by Big Fish Games Studios, has players solve mysteries by finding hidden objects within a variety of scenes.
MOVIES STILL RULE
Episodic games are good for encouraging repeat customers, but games tied to movie releases are still popular for attracting both new and existing players. Earlier this year, Vivendi released The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on the theatrical release by Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. The game recreates the fantasy world of the Spiderwick film and book series.
Other mobile game publishers like movie tie-ins as well because they often coincide with big marketing events, draw a global audience and, if done right, will continue their momentum after the first big splash surrounding a movie’s release. Glu Mobile is preparing to release a new Ice Age 2-related game that will not be centered around a new movie release, indicating the appeal of the franchise, says Justin Kubiak, vice president of marketing at Glu. Also coming this summer from Glu will be The Dark Knight, based on Warner Bros. Pictures upcoming film about Batman and The Joker.
Glu also is preparing a game for the release of Warner Bros.’ family adventure film Speed Racer, which is produced by the Wachowski brothers and opens in U.S. theaters on May 9. Both The Dark Knight and Speed Racer will be in the initial line-up of games to be launched on the N-Gage platform this year.
Outside the movie studios, Sega is counting on the Olympics to generate buzz around some of its titles this year. Sega secured the official license from International Sports Management, the exclusive licensee of the International Olympic Committee, to develop and publish Sonic at the Olympic Games and Beijing 2008 – The Official Mobile Game of the Olympic Games. Both games are scheduled for launch this summer. (Sega will be conducting demos of its games at both the Samsung and Qualcomm booths during CTIA Wireless 2008.)
Sega’s 2008 portfolio crosses a variety of genres, from casual sports and puzzle games to action and arcade. Crazy Taxi puts gamers in the driver’s seat as a “fearless cabbie with serious attitude.” Sonic Spinball will feature Sonic the Hedgehog whirling through the action.
Glu, which last month announced the acquisition of Superscape, wants to be known as a well-rounded publisher, distributing games that generally fall into one of four categories: Hollywood, licensed content, casual titles and original themes, Kubiak says. Glu averages between four to six releases each quarter, but it has to be careful not to flood the market. “We spend a lot of time and energy on the timing,” he says. “We’re always working very closely with the carriers to make sure what we’re releasing fits well within their time spot.” Sounds like they’re not playing around.