Mobile Games…

…does anyone really play them? I don’t know a soul that does. Even when I travel (which I do fairly extensively) I never, ever, see anyone playing a game on their cellphone. I see lots of PSPs, and the occasional Gameboy Advance. I have only seen two, maybe three Nintendo DS systems ever….

When the mobile games industry started getting a lot of attention from venture capitalists (pouring millions and millions into mobile development), and a fair number of acquisitions in the last year or so, I was somewhat puzzled. Ok, sure, there is a market there, and it seems to me that it is pretty large in some Asian countries, but is the market really big enough and lucrative enough to dump vast amounts of capital into? I assumed that maybe I just don’t get out enough and people everywhere are constantly buying and downloading mobile games. The few times I have opened my mouth and expressed my opinion on this, people were generally dismissive and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about…mobile gaming is HUGE, or it soon will be. “Ok ok”, I thought…I know the MMO industry and maybe I should keep my opinions there.

Anyway, I have noticed that in the past few months, other people and analysts are starting to echo my thoughts and befuddlement about mobile gaming…it isn’t making money, the market is inflated and overcapitalized, and no one is buying the games. Of course, this is very heretical to think or speak about in some circles, and any opinion like this is usually immediately shot down by someone else claiming that billions (or at least hundreds of millions) of dollars are being made, and mobile gaming is growing very fast.

Ok fine. So, I am at the IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) annual party at E3, and I meet someone from a rather large mobile phone / platform company. He was pretty smashed, and I was only on my second drink. Somehow or another we got onto the topic of mobile gaming, and like an idiot, I opened my mouth and said the unforgivable…”so, I’ve heard that mobile gaming isn’t doing as well as the media portrays it, what do you guys (meaning his company) think about that? Is it as bad as I think it is? I mean, honestly, I don’t know ANYONE that plays (or buys) mobile games.” OMG, he turned six shades of red and started spluttering to me about how many hundreds of thousands of handheld and mobile units his company was selling, and how extraordinarily profitable mobile games are. Then he proceeded to educate me about the company was totally dedicated to growth and development in the mobile industry and that anyone that thought things were on the decline, or not performing as well as the public thinks, was certainly an idiot.

Ok, I may be pretty confidant about my opinions, and possibly a bit arrogant about them (I have little tolerance for ignorance, idiots, and bad game design), but I am still at heart a nice guy. So, I just quietly nodded my head and let the guy rant. I made some comment about how my “sources” must have been wrong, and I changed the subject. I mean heck, just because my opinion is different from his, doesn’t mean that I am right and he is wrong…I am more than happy to admit when I make a mistake or I am wrong. I am also willing to bite my tongue if I can make a new friend.

Anyway, market research, press releases, and all that jazz aside, what I want to know, is how many people out there (informal poll!) actually buy and play games on a mobile platform (meaning anything that isn’t a handheld like the PSP). How many games have you bought? Do you play them regularly? Was it a waste of time? Is the mobile market saturated with too many games? Are “mobile conversions” of popular franchises a total waste of time?

While you think about that and are typing your answer in the comment box below, I want to comment on something else…John Carmack has been talking about doing an MMO for mobile platforms. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to say here. It seems like he wants to do a sequel to “Orcs and Elves” (wow, original content there) and make it massively multiplayer. Ok, from one perspective, yeah, fine, sounds fun, good luck to you. On the other hand… is it time to have new definitions for MMO?

Let me explain…when you say MMO or MMORPG to me, I immediately think of a massively multiplayer large scale persistent environment (usually immersive) that has elements of role-playing in it. Everquest is an MMO, Battlefield 1942 is not. Neverwinter Nights and Diablo are likewise not MMOs. I would classify Second Life as an MMO -environment- or simply a massively multiuser 3D chat world, but not as a game. One of the critical defining elements here, is the user to user interaction. Neopets is certainly massively multiuser, but then so is Amazon.com…neither offer shared environments with direct interactions between multiple people (or groups of people) simultaneously.

Anyway, I digress… How exactly could you make a MMO game suitable for a mobile platform? I don’t think you can…or you can, but then it isn’t exactly a true MMORPG. If you completely stripped out chat (what, you are going to keep sending text messages to everyone in your party while you try whacking some rats at the same time?) and other social elements but kept the gameplay elements simple (while still offering a rich world), would it still be defined as a traditional MMORPG? Or would it simply turn into a game where people rarely interact directly, but still encounter them in the cities, or from time to time out in the wilds?

I don’t know. I think it will be interesting to see what Carmack et al come up with, but I have a feeling that it is going to be rather disappointing and probably a terrible flop. But of course, it will take a while to create, and there will be lots of press, and hey, if Carmack is doing it, it must be a good idea, so soon there will be announcements of some VC fund or another (maybe one of the big daddy publishers) will dump a massive amount of money into some franchise….Mobile Matrix MMO! Star Wars Mobile Galaxies! Evermobile! Asheron’s Call on line 1! Project Mobiletropia!

When is someone going to trow money at making some truely next generation innovative games? Where are all of the brilliant designers hanging out at? When is the true online games renaissance going to start? I feel like we built up some steam, and then things just started faltering, and now we are in a period of stagnation and recycling. Where are the risk takers?

In the interests of disclosure: A few months ago, my crappy cellphone died, and I bought a spiffy (and sleek) black razor V3 (Cingular). I got bored waiting for a meeting, and I went and downloaded Bejeweled (and paid for it). I’ve played it maybe 5 or 6 times (I rather like bejeweled), but I much prefer it on the PC.
If I rambled a bit in this particular rant, please overlook it. I’m a little low on coffee today.

Signing off for now…

Nicodemus

10 thoughts on “Mobile Games…”

  1. “Anyway, I have noticed that in the past few months, other people and analysts are starting to echo my thoughts and befuddlement about mobile gaming…it isn’t making money, the market is inflated and overcapitalized, and no one is buying the games. Of course, this is very heretical to think or speak about in some circles, and any opinion like this is usually immediately shot down by someone else claiming that billions (or at least hundreds of millions) of dollars are being made, and mobile gaming is growing very fast.”

    That sums how I’ve see the current situation. As a player, I dont like playing games on a mobile, and as a developer its the last platform I want to work on. While I know of a couple of profitable mobile developers, I dont know anyone who plays mobile games. PSP, DS yes.

    Different phone makers, different carriers, code platforms etc increase the difficulty of making profitable games for mobiles. Maybe the mobile games industry is really profitable, and I really hope so, but I fail to see anything that justifies the hype.

    ——-

    From what I’ve read, the strength of Orcs & Elves at E3 was so good a sequel was requested. What other developer could write a game in 2 days, get it shown at E3, and get a sequel. (correct this if its wrong) For an ‘Orcs & Elves’ game, it must have been pretty fantastic.

    “Neopets is certainly massively multiuser, but then so is Amazon.com…neither offer shared environments with direct interactions between multiple people (or groups of people) simultaneously.”

    The multiuser model is certainly viable on mobiles, and maybe trying to make a mobile MMO will bring some revolutionary design features to the industry. However I rekon it will be 5 years before we see things evolve to a state where we can have mobile ‘MMORPG’ as you defined.

    However, I would love to see conventional MMOs with support clients such as browsers and mobiles – to do the mundane tasks that you might log in in the morning to take care of, you can do on the train or on your lunch hour. Check the auction house, make some potions, those sort of solo, low bandwidth tasks. A nwn mod I played on had a web page which showed who was online, what they had killed etc. Those sort of features can be put on a mobile much easier than a full blown game.

    Also, mobile games come down to context – I’m never in a situation where I want some recreation/fun/games where I’ve got a mobile but not a computer.

  2. I bought the cheapest cell phone they had, so I sure ain’t playing ’em.

    I know a guy who worked on one, though. He says they’re retardedly reliable earners for developers: fast and cheap to develop, fast and cheap to distribute, fast and cheap to purchase. He also said (as anybody could guess, really), that phones are more or less the worst possible platform to develop for: severe technical limitations, and no real interface standards between models.

    So, yeah, I’m not particularly interested in these things. If I ever feel the need to do something other than read and listen to my iPod while riding the train, I’ll buy a DS.

  3. My family owns several mobile devices capable of gaming. Nintendo DS, Gameboy Advance, Dell Axim, Blackberry and cellphone. You are not interested in the DS or GBA so I’ll ignore them.

    I play games on my Blackberry and Dell Axim when I need to kill time. I play the free games included with them and have not purchased anything for them, nor do I plan to. My wife’s cellphone may not even have any games on it, and she could care less anyway.

    Would I play an MMO on my cell phone? No way. No interest from me.

    Now, CCP is coming out with a mobile interface to EVE Online which is supposed to allow some basic interaction with the game – chat, skill training, perhaps market trading. I am looking forward to that quite a bit and perhaps it is the best we could hope for in the near future.

  4. The only games I play on my phone are the card game variety. Minimal UI required, I don’t have to devote a lot of attention to them and only use them when waiting for short periods of time in line or something. My biggest beef is that most are very poor AI.

  5. Illuminarc and Ethic touched on something important that I have been stressing to developers and designers for years…extending access to an MMO to additional platforms. I think that instead of trying to develop a mobile MMO, people should be looking at unconventional and interesting ways of using the mobile platform to -enhance- another game/mmo.

  6. I have Prince of Persia on my Motorola v551 – I have to say, it’s not too bad! I also play a lot of card games and cheesy things like Columns or Tetris – it’s no GBA, but on a bus or train or during a lecture, it’ll do.

    It really depends on what kind of game. MMO utilities and cheap puzzlers are ideal for phones – Doom3 and GTA, not as much…

  7. The biggest drawback, for me anyway, is that in the US the cell phone providers limit your choice of phones. Motorola may come out with an entirely kickass phone that’s basically a PSP with a phone in it, but if Sprint refuses to support it, I can’t get it for my service. Some of the US cell carriers are beginning to finally move to the UK model of the portable chip you plug into any phone you like, but even then your service gets limited. My brother bought an unlocked phone to use with Cingular, and they let him, but there are about a half dozen services with Cingular he can’t use because his phone doesn’t have a Cingular software load, and they don’t have these programs for install on an unlocked phone.

    Perhaps when the US companies allow me absolute freedom in my phone choice, I’d consider playing a game on my phone.

  8. Jason’s comments are interesting. With all of the massive amount of funding that has been thrown into the mobile market for development and whatnot, how come I haven’t seen a THING from the game industry pushing the carriers to get their act together and make it easier for users and developers to make and deliver mobile games? Isn’t it supposed to be a multi-gazillion dollar industry? (at least according to the tipsy executive I argued with)

    I’m not convinced. Sure, maybe some mobile developers are making a good bit of money and are shuffling along quite well, but I don’t think anyone is really making groundbreaking amounts of money, and I don’t see any killer apps on the mobile platform.

    Hell, I still think there is way too much emphasis on consoles.

  9. Whats up Nico?!
    Remember me? (SRO)
    i found you! lmao
    well… i almost never play games in my cell phone…
    just play game in my pc…

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