Mobile Gaming

Mobile Gaming
Un-Laming Phone Games

Allen Varney | 5 Dec 2006 11:01
Mobile Gaming - RSS 2.0

Great - but what about the games? Any prospects cooler than 1980s arcade games? Basically no, Eric says. Not yet.

Why is it so challenging?


The cost of entry into mobile gaming, once dirt cheap, has grown formidable, not so much in production but afterward.

"Post-production, which includes porting, as of a year ago, was a higher cost than game development. In 2004, to launch an A title worldwide, you needed to do 500 [ports] - different versions for Sprint, Verizon and Cingular, then a different version for each handset. In Europe, you have to do it for T-Mobile or Vodafone, then one English version, one German, one Dutch." (Gaming god John Carmack, who recently created the mobile titles DoomRPG and Orcs & Elves, has blogged about the irritations of cell phone game programming.)

Eric sees some signs of improvement. "Nokia, with its Series 40s and 60s, has made sure there's relatively little need for porting needed between phones within these series. And there are companies making porting tools that make it easier, like Tira Wireless and Mobile Complete.

"But the situation is 'less worse' rather than 'better.' And it cannot be fully automated, no matter what anyone tells you."

What about funding all these ports with the PC world's cash cow, online games? "Nobody has particularly figured out how to make multiplayer work as a business model. Many European carriers don't support subscription revenues. Without subscriptions (or a similar continuing-revenue model such as advertising), there's no obvious way to make multiplayer games work in the marketplace."

Great. So why does Eric still think mobile can surpass consoles to become the dominant gaming platform? How can he be so excited about mobile?

"From a business viewpoint, it's easy: It's a $2 billion market. There are over 200 million wireless phone subs in the U.S. The mobile phone is ubiquitous, portable, networked and is voice-capable. It's a field that works - though right now it's going through consolidation, the pain that happens when the companies discover that everyone is crowding into their space.

"Against that, it's not a game platform. On the network side, it's networked to optimize one-on-one activity, mirroring the voice phone call - but that doesn't mean it can't support new technology.

"There are some carriers who are doing some good work - game-friendly stuff. But at the end of the day, the games tail will not wag the carrier dog. As long as the carriers are essential, rather than dumb pipes, they block the way to a more application-friendly environment. Their business preferences create an environment where things don't talk nice to each other, so they maintain more control. Their nightmare is that they become just dumb pipes, like ISPs have become for the internet.

"The main bottlenecks resulting from the carrier infrastructure and business culture will eventually be removed by WiMax or one of the other standards. In all likelihood, by 2011-12 you'll see the functional equivalent [on mobile platforms] of the current internet."

Speed the day. Tetris is a great game, but another five or six years of falling blocks is enough.

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay and Looking Glass.

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