Mobile Gaming

The Free Future of Mobile Gaming


I don’t often have occasion to carry my GBA SP, so the majority of my on-the-go gaming takes place on my phone. If I’m ever bored, all I have to do is hop online and navigate over to Cingular Games, and $5 later, I’m milling through a text-based adventure game, a Breakout clone or computer chess. The only problem is, $5 is a pretty big price tag to put on a five-minute diversion.

Doesn’t “free” sound a lot better? Greystripe, Inc.’s Gamejump offers over 300 free cell phone games for download, in exchange for about 30 seconds of your time. Download as many games as you want, turn over your email address and zip code, and instead of charging per-download, the games display short, targeted full-screen ads every time they’re booted up.

To get a better perspective on Gamejump, I spoke with Michael Chang, Greystripe’s CEO. Chang’s background would intimidate Wall Street investment bankers. In his time with Gadzoox Networks, a networking hardware company, he brokered a lucrative partnership deal with Microsoft and oversaw a product line with a $65 million profit margin. He also clocked time at a venture capital firm, and recently picked up his MBA from Duke University.

Chang is out to change the mobile gaming world. “We truly believe [ad-supported downloads are] a revolution in mobile gaming,” he says. “The market we play in is currently a $3 billion a year market. … What’s exciting for us is, by providing a free business model to that entire market, we’re not only going to grow it but change how the industry delivers content.” They call the technology that powers that business model AdWRAP. It was envisioned as a new way to get content into the hands of mobile users. By removing the financial barrier – that $5 fee – the amount of potential downloads skyrockets. Gamejump has “hundreds of thousands of users,” says Chang.

However, hundreds of thousands of people is a tiny slice of the mobile gaming pie. With over 150 million cell phone users in America alone, and nearly all of them in long-term contracts with major carriers, until you’re on a carrier deck (that little page that shows up when you visit the web on your phone, usually powered by your service provider), you’re nobody. Chang says they’re “on trial with a couple carriers,” but wouldn’t say which ones. For now, Gamejump is their proof of concept, and it also pays the bills. They charge advertisers a $30 CPM (cost per thousand impressions or views) and share that revenue with developers and publishers. A developer makes between $0.50 and $1 per download, which is about 20 percent of what he could expect to make if he were on a carrier’s for-pay deck, but Chang claims developers “make it up in volume.” And besides, making it onto a carrier’s deck is a big “if” for a lot of the guys Greystripe works with. “The smaller the publisher gets, the more valuable our service becomes, because it’s those publishers that have the hardest time getting any sort of distribution,” Chang says. Since AdWRAP works in the volume business, Greystripe has more of an incentive to work with everyone, little guys included, whereas a for-pay model is better served by pushing proven concepts users have already bought.

While they’re trying to make it in the majors, Chang is also shopping AdWRAP to other game companies, specifically casual game providers that want to go mobile. “We would be backending another game provider, maybe a casual game provider, with our catalog, with our mobile game offerings,” he says. Their current focus is expanding their game catalogue to offer more to people outside their current core group: 13- to 34-year-olds, two-thirds of which are male. Chang says the normal mobile gaming demographic skews a bit older and more female, mostly because “the concept of free downloads is a little bit new, [so] it may skew a little bit younger for people that are a little bit more familiar with the technology. And mobile gaming in general skews a little bit older and more female because much of that [activity] is coming through the … carrier deck, which is more accessible to the general public.” Indeed, Chang believes the AdWRAP technology is the way of the future. “We look at [ad-supported downloads] as the way carriers will be moving.” And when the carriers finally do come shopping for an ad-supported solution, there’s really only one show in town: “We saw this fairly early and have been able to maintain our lead,” he says.

Part of maintaining that lead is keeping an eye out on mobile gaming’s future. I asked him what things will be like when the DS2, Nintendo’s inevitable follow-up to the highly successful DS, can make phone calls. “[There will] be a little bit of a blur; once you have the connectivity, is it also a phone?” he asks. “[But] the primary purpose [of a portable gaming machine] won’t be a phone, so you still will have these two different markets. I don’t think one’s going to take over the other any time soon.” Of course, Chang also thinks the connected future of gaming systems means there’s a future for AdWRAP there, specifically in the digital distribution scene. “There are a lot of things that need to be worked out for digital distribution on those types of platforms,” he tells me. “I think it’s a little ways out, but definitely, once it’s there, our service will be, too.”

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