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Why Mobile Gaming is Real

I must admit that I have come full circle on the issue of mobile gaming. Early on, I did not really believe that mobile gaming was an opportunity that would emerge in a significant way. I have come full circle and now believe that mobile gaming is a very real, near-term opportunity and potentially more lucrative than “data” in the near term.

Why do I believe that mobile gaming is such a good opportunity? First of, let me say that by mobile gaming I mean gaming on wireless handsets, PDAs, and purpose-built mobile consoles.

Mobile gaming already exists
People often ask “when will mobile gaming happen?” I believe that it is already happening, albeit not in the phone/PDA form factor. Game Boy Advance is a world-beating handheld platform that has sold over 11.5 million units in the United States alone [source]. We know that people are willing to pay to make their video game experience mobile. The only question is whether there is a set of content that makes mobile gaming relevant on a handset.

Velocity of Handset Design
For the most part, handsets are becoming smaller and lighter, with an associated reduction in screen real estate and key size. I don’t see clamshell phones getting much larger than the Samsung A400 or the Motorola T720.

So, if the trend is that screen size is getting smaller, the applications that will work on phones will need to be small-screen appropriate. Games have been ported to mobile environments and can be ported to telephones.

Mobile Gaming does not require a persistent, high-speed connection
Most importantly, mobile gaming does not require a 3G connection. Once you get a game on your phone, be it over the Web or via a cable, most games do not require a high-speed connection for gameplay. Many games can be played simply on the handset itself and whatever interactivity takes place among users does not generally require a high-speed connection.

Handset infrastructure is already in place
Let’s not overlook the fact that many of the newer handsets are shipping with the potential for Java or BREW games. Users are not going to need to go out and get software retrofits in order to adopt games in the future — the infrastructure is in place today.

Interestingly, if you map these assumptions against data, it becomes clear that the case for data on handsets and gadgets is much weaker when compared to the opportunity for games. We do not yet know that people really want to consume data in a mobile environment. There are more Game Boys in circulation than Blackberries, Palm Tungsten Ws, Danger HipTops, Samsung i300s, and Handspring Treos combined. Second, for data, screen size does matter. I don’t care how clever you are — there is a minimum screen scale that I require if I am to read data on my phone. Data, unlike gaming, does require a high-speed persistent connection to be of value.

While I do believe in the power of mobile gaming, I have to say that I believe that companies such as Sorrent and JAMDAT are takig the right and the wrong approach at the same time. While I think that they are building some good applications, I am not sure that they have unlocked the code. My prediction is that the game or collection of games that really drives adoption will be a non-obvious game. Much of the attention has been focused on sports titles. While sports titles drive a lot of volume on console platforms, I am a bit more skeptical about their value in the mobile space. Here is a straw-man proposal for the ideal mobile game:

-Simple user interface and command structure for input
-Easy-to-learn rules/gameplay if you want fast adoption from all but hardcore gamers
-Persistence between sessions for users who want to play intermittently

There are a few game titles and categories that jump out at me. Simple strategy games such as backgammon, chess, checkers, and dominos would all work very easiy. Simple role-playing games would be excellent, with the ability to play locally and store my progress online in a database-in-the-sky. Simple titles will probably be the first wave of games to take off, with titles such as sports and action coming later.

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