Pocket Gamer’s mobile news editor Stuart Dredge brought today’s Develop Mobile conference to a close with a light-hearted but informative session looking at the 20 hot trends in mobile gaming.
A whistle-stop state-of-play tour for the mobile market, addressing new and emerging business models, Dredge also injected the session with a critical reviewers eye to give developers a taste of
We’ve summarised the 20 points below…
Despite a wobble in 2006 when a market dip was predicted, "analysts are predicting strong market growth," said Dredge, pointing out that Gartner was predicting a $9.6bn value of the mobile market by 2011. Surveying the booming revenues at the likes of Gameloft, he said it was clear that companies are making money in the sector, proving it is a strong market.
2. Local Brands
"Noel Edmunds has been the biggest thing to his the UK games industry since Tetris," said Dredge. Indeed, the Deal or No Deal game has been a big seller, proving "brands don’t need to be big movies". Publishers are wary of this but, said Dredge, there are plenty of "local brands" out there like TV-host Edmunds and Deal or No Deal which are suitable for mobile adaptations.
3. Developers for Sale
With the recent run of consolidation in the mobile studio space, Dredge pointed out that acquisition has been spurred by more than growth: THQ bought Universomo for its porting, QA solution. This means specialists are likely to be acquired, with acquisition-focused companies looking to those more dedicated firms to add to their business.
4. Unified release dates
Already pioneered by ELSPA and big UK operators this is something that will be driven mostly by big companies but is still "good news for the market as the marketing spend will ramp up", helping draw attention to the individual releases and the market overall.
5. Herd Mentality
"There is a herd mentality in mobile gaming at the moment. You don’t need to buy a Brain Training game to increase brain power – just count how many clones there are," quipped Dredge, adding: "Nintendo functioned as the unofficial R&D team for the whole industry." Indeed, the past two years saw a run of brain-boosting quizzes and Nintendogs clones. Not necessarily a bad thing, though, said Dredge: "I wish I could say this was a dreadful thing, but these games sell really well."
6. Lack of Innovation
Big publishers are ticking boxes and chasing "balanced portfolios". "This is understandable, but it means categories are dominated by a handful of samey games from just a few publishers. This creates an opportunity for developers to introduce new ideas. If you’ve got an interesting idea it can get published. The downside we are seeing as reviewers is that its hard to sell hard to describe games," he said, making reference to Skipping Stone: "A lot of the innovative ideas are hardest to sell." Plus, poor/average branded games were also contributing to this, narrowing the potential of mobile games by giving them a bad rep.
7. D2C opportunities
Direct to consumer opportunities are on the rise for studios – Payforit in the UK is selling games straight to players. Plus, as the internet opens up to mobiles via better browsers, consumers are using Google and web searches to find new games – web-based content shops present "an opportunity there to get games into people’s hands".
8. Ad-funded Portals
Ad funded portals like Hovr and GameJump now exist, but Dredge warned they are still to be exploited by studios, with numerous questions still to be answered – even by the people who set the sites up.
9. The Gong Shows
Mobile developers are now witness to many more industry awards shows, from tech firms and handset companies looking to identify new ideas. At these events, "developers get special focus," said Dredge, and they often manage to get operator deals for following games as well.
10. Casual Crossover
Convergence between platforms is creating an area where casual games are spreading across platforms – another great opportunity, said Dredge as a brand can be built online, used to create word of mouth, then turned into a paid-for mobile game. "We’re also going to see games IP spread across platforms," he said, saying the casual skew of Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Wii Ware are suitable to host these IPs in future.
11. New Hardware
A simple one, said Dredge: BlackBerries, consumers gadgets, iPhone and iPod all host games, widening the market overall.
12. 3D Improving
"3D is improving but it’s still a bit rubbish," admitted Dredge. "There’s still a sense of ‘what is a good 3D mobile game?’" The key amongst all the confusion, he said, was to not devise games that emphasised 3D graphics, but 3D //mobile// games that took advantage of their portability. Special mention went to Eidos’ Tomb Raider Legend 3D game which showcased 3D environments with simple player controls.
13. Going Native
"Switching to native formats changes the business and is quite a complicated process," said Dredge. It also presents bigger challenges for J2ME developers, yet invites console firms to move in as well. "I wonder if there are partnerships to be hand between mobile studios and console developers?" he postulated, suggesting that rather than console devs moving into mobile and being a threat to wireless studios, they could be an ally
14. Play Together
Connected gaming is still rare, with leader-boards and the likes slowly emerging and succeeding. "But its hard to see if there is really demand for this." Leader-boards also alienate players, as in global rankings only one or two players can be the kings of the leader-board. Friends lists like those in N-Gage will be the answer to this, making lists inclusive rather than exclusive.
15. User generated content
Another buzzword, but one relevant to mobile. Vivendi titles are actively inviting consumers to compete to upload their own images for use in current and future games. Games that use camera functions to incorporate pictures of the player are unique as they allow the player to shape the aesthetics of their experience.
16. Social networking
Another hotly watched buzzword, and already tested by Digital Chocolate’s Cafe concept, which is a casual games area where players can play parlor games together. And what about the stars of YouTube, Facebook and MySpace?, asked Dredge: Can the personalities that have scored hundreds of thousands of hits and gained thousands of ‘friends’ become brands in their own right and sell games?
17. The Whizzy Stuff
In short, cameras, motion sensing and location based games. "A lot of the things we talk about with word of mouth may use these things," said Dredge, perhaps in sharp contrast to Glu’s gimmick-eschewing opening keynote – it’s possible you could show a friend a game that utilises new technology, and then get them hooked on mobile games that way.
Dredge listed extra-payment models such as the rise of ‘Play for free, put pay to play well’ – paying to do better at a game, and Capcom’s episodic Phoenix Wright game for mobile. Customisation in games like Need For Speed could also take advantage of this, asking players to pay extra to modify their games but not impact gameplay.
19. Word of mouth
"This is what has been missing from mobile games as it’s been so hard to get a mobile game out, " said Dredge. "You talk about spectacularly good games or spectacularly silly games, never ‘a really good game that captured the mood of a movie licence really well." Evidence from operators, said Dredge, suggests that word of mouth can generate a spike in sales amongst a group of friends.
20. We love journalists
"Journalists haven’t played a great role in the mobile industry’s growth so far," said Dredge, "but that is changing." Mobile-focused publications now have more clout, he said, as the sites have more readers and a more demanding audience. "For developers journalists can be a really good way to get your message out to gamers." The key is for the industry to understand that as these sites could in future not be just editorial resource, but also another way to sell games as well.