74: Un-Laming Phone Games

"'The first issue [for publishers] is making sure the carriers will place their game, so their first priority is coming up with a name people will recognize. The problem is that the market forces them to become very conservative. In 2005, I was asked on the E3 and GDC stages, what were the main issues determining success in 2005-06 in the mobile gaming industry. I said "carrier relations and post-production." They asked, "What about creating innovative games?" I said, "You'll notice I didn't say anything about that."'"

Allen Varney speaks to Eric Goldberg about "Un-Laming Phone Games"

Un-Laming Phone Games

It's not the cost barrier that prevents me from getting into mobile games. It's not the small screen or the laughable sound. It's not the lack of original or interesting titles, or the difficulty of finding any specific title. It's not even that my phone is so old that I can't be sure if the online functions will work at any given moment. And only to a limited extent is it that cell phones have a horrid input system, since any designer worth his salt can find a way to work around using buttons meant for data entry rather than game control (WASD, anyone?). And it certainly isn't that I usually have a dedicated gaming machine with me anyplace the urge to play might strike me.

The big problem for me is that it is on a telephone. It's the same reason I don't use cameras, or any sort of music-playing functions, or anything else that would have to be interrupted when a call comes in. I use my phone for communication, and I neither want to have to say to a person "Sorry I mised your very important call, I was busy with a game of Tele-quest," nor to have to restart that game of Tele-quest just because I get a frivolous message. Unfortunately, all the phones I've seen have behaved in one of those two ways - either ending the game when you answer your call, or making it difficult to answer in the middle of the game.

I feel like a crotchety old man objecting in that way, but it's the truth. Maybe they've fixed that with one of these newfangled telethingums you see superfluous ads for all over the place. I wouldn't know. My phone is old. When it breaks and I upgrade (I am content to do this because, in my mind, a phone is not a gadget but an appliance), I'll see if they've done anything with. And then I'll proceed to the more savvy excuses listed above.

The porting problem (often referred to as "fragmentation") is indeed extremely serious. It ruins the economics of game development for mobile devices. However, where there is a problem getting in the way of potentially good money it's always a fair bet that people will find solutions.

This is why the mobile industry has been so excited about Java across the last five years. Had the MIDP Java standard not been so weak (and so often badly implemented) it could have achieved a lot.

Java is often criticised as slow, but solutions also exist at the high performance end. Once technology like GamePlayer starts reaching affordable devices it will start to make sense to program for these sorts of open platforms because there will be far less need to target specific phones.

Regarding Bongo Bill's comment above. Yes, this is a huge problem - but it's a problem that game designers can solve. Cheap ports of console titles will crash and burn in this environment, but games designed to play on phones will always tolerate the user taking a call in the middle of play. This kind of event must be considered normal, not exceptional. The reason we don't see good solutions yet is because designers just aren't motivated to spend thousands of hours designing for phones.

Bongo Bill:
I feel like a crotchety old man objecting in that way, but it's the truth. Maybe they've fixed that with one of these newfangled telethingums you see superfluous ads for all over the place. I wouldn't know. My phone is old. When it breaks and I upgrade (I am content to do this because, in my mind, a phone is not a gadget but an appliance), I'll see if they've done anything with. And then I'll proceed to the more savvy excuses listed above.

I'll join you on the porch for this one, Gramps. I'll even bring lemonade. And a chess set.

I hate "do everything" devices. Mainly because, as the old addage says, they're jacks of all trades and masters of none.

I played a game on my cell phone once, while waiting for a calzone ata pizza joint in downtown Worcester, Mass. And since there's absolutely nothing whatsoever to do in downtown Worcester, Mass, I decided to give Tetris on the phone a whirl. And it sucked. And, as you experienced, I got a text from someone wondering when the calzone would be ready and it jumped me out of my game and I had to start over. Which I did not do because my patience for that kind of thing is miniscule to begin with.

 

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