Ludo, Ergo Sum

Ludo, Ergo Sum
Secret Agent Candy Man

Dave Thomas | 14 Mar 2006 11:00
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Cinematic 5: Trip Sees the Light
"I spent, as you know, 30 years on the Holy Grail of fidelity," Trip explains, setting up his conversion to the new faith. "It was always about, 'By God, we're gonna make this look and feel like television!' So, I spent 30 years doing that.

"It was only through Digital Chocolate that I realized the truth. When I was a kid, it was really the social contact of gameplay that was the most important thing to me."

Getting game content onto the billions of mobile handsets in the world isn't exactly business genius. Loads of companies have realized that selling videogames to even a small percentage of the horde of mobile phones users would lead to Scrooge McDuck piles of cash. What Hawkins figured out was trying to stuff the EA graphics-matter-most model onto the crummy little screen of the average cell phone was about as sensible as hoping to sell haute French cuisine through McDonald's. What people want on their cell phones isn't ESPN shrunk down to business card size. No, what people need is something like the Mobile League Sports Network.

Digital Chocolate's MLSN approaches sports as a social network, like guys talking in a bar rather than as a profession, along the lines of Madden. Instead of mastering juke sticks and quarterback vision, players use their cell phones to do things like pick who will win an upcoming game and brag about the results. Instead of trying to put players in the game, Digital Chocolate just wants to skip to the part where you talk about who won.

Of course, getting guys to interact with a game about sports sounds like an easy bet, sort of like the early internet entrepreneurs figuring a global computer network would be the perfect medium for selling and distributing porn. But what about all those non-sports-loving mobile phone customers? What about all the women?

Not being the kind of guy to leave a huge market segment untapped, Trip has Digital Chocolate working another killer app - welcome to AvaFlirting.

Combining The Sims with IM, AvaFlirting hopes to provide modern men and women with a whole new way of giggling and casting a sultry glance. Players simply create a tiny avatar on their phone. This avatar can carry animated messages to other players, showing up on someone's phone with a little jig or blowing a kiss. But enhanced buddy icons are only the beginning.

"Suppose I set up my avatar and I close the application because my plane has to leave. And I get off the plane at the other end and I open up the app and there's my avatar and he's in a really grumpy mood. And it turns out he's been on a date with another avatar. And it gives me this little blow-by-blow about what happened on the date, what the other avatar looks like. And apparently, it didn't go very well. Or, maybe my avatar is jumping up and down with glee. He has this really hot date with another avatar and the other avatar has invited him to go to Las Vegas and he's checking in with you to find out if you think it's OK for the avatar to go to Las Vegas. And you say yes, and you can check back later to see what happened in Vegas."

Horny avatars and men learning to open up over online chat about box scores don't exactly ring bells for gamers weaned on frame rates and epic storylines. But Trip, always in fine fashion and always the sports fan, points like Babe Ruth to the outfield bleachers and all but promises a home run.

"Social games for mobile will end up being a bigger industry than conventional games as we know them today. And this is about as radical a statement as if it was 1977 and I was saying that personal computing would be bigger than mainframe computing. It is going to happen, for a lot of the same reasons."

At this point, he laughs.

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