mobile mutliplayer games – challenges and opportunities ..

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This blog entry(acticle) is derieved from a forthcoming version of OpenGardens . I welcome comments and feedback.

Introduction

This blog entry (article) is derived from a forthcoming version of OpenGardens (www.opengardens.futuretext.com). I welcome comments and feedback.

Multiplayer games are a natural fit with mobile devices due to their inherent potential for communication such as buddy lists, messaging, chat etc. Because they bring so many elements together (gaming, Bluetooth, location based services etc), they are, by definition, more complex than mobile single player games.

While single player games have been popular on mobile devices, I believe that the real potential of gaming on mobile devices lies in multiplayer games – simply because a mobile device is all about communication and successful multiplayer games are based on user interaction(hence communication)

However, firstly, what is a mobile multiplayer game? Obviously, from the name itself – the game must be ‘mobile’ and ‘more than one player can play it’. But, that definition hides many more aspects as we see below – for example – is a game which spans the Internet and mobile – a ‘mobile’ multiplayer game or ‘an internet based game with a mobile component’? Mobile multiplayer games also have some unique issues such as latency, the involvement of community, the impact of IP charges and so on.

Gaming, in general, originates from the video gaming industry. The video gaming industry is already mature and rivals the movie and the music industry in terms of revenue. Traditionally, there have been three ways video games have been played – Console gaming (PS2, Xbox etc), PC gaming and handheld games (Nintendo gameboy device). Mobile games were seen as a fourth platform for video games.

Most mobile games today are single player games developed using Java or BREW. The game is downloaded on the mobile device as an application and costs under £5/$5. Many popular games are based on brands such as ‘Harry Potter’/’Lord of the ring’ etc. Popular genres include arcade games, sports games and fast action games. Similar to gaming on console and the PC, the players are predominantly male. Many mobile games seen today have been straightforward conversion of more popular games such as the older arcade games. The industry model is also similar to that of console gaming – aim for a few big hits but also include a large number of titles selling modestly.

Within the mobile applications industry, mobile gaming is a relatively mature segment. There are well defined channels to market, distribution models and aggregators. As the industry matures, it is undergoing consolidation with a spate of recent takeovers (for example infospace taking over www.iomo.com and sorrent merging with www.macrospace.com).

In contrast, the market for mobile multiplayer games are still nascent – even in mature markets like Japan and Korea. In comparison to single player games, multiplayer games also require a much higher rate of initial investment. Inspite of these two factors – I believe that mobile multiplayer games offer potential for new entrants because of the following reasons:

a) Although there are still many limitations in place, mobile multiplayer games could benefit from the network effect

b) The potential of creating communities around multiplayer games offers competitive advantages to the early entrant

c) Localised gaming via Bluetooth is possible which overcomes many of the problems associated with deploying a game at an operator(although Bluetooth introduces it’s own set of problems like the lack of an integrated billing system, dependence on location etc)

d) Many mobile multiplayer games also have a ‘web’ component. Thus, the game itself could be distributed from the Internet with the mobile component as an addendum

e) Unlike the PC and console gaming models, mobile gaming has a much larger player audience. In fact, simple, casual games targeting a large section of the population offer the best chance for success as we discuss below

In the following sections, let us consider some key factors that influence the industry at the moment and the opportunities for new entrants. We discuss mobile multiplayer games in greater detail because they combine many different facets of mobility for example community, location etc.

A separate category?

Is the mobile multiplayer game a separate category or is it an addendum to the existing gaming platforms on the web?

Certainly, many mobile multiplayer games also have a web component. Adding a strong web component enables the game to be far more interesting and potentially targets a large user base. In addition, the combination of mobility, location based services, multiplayer games and social networking has the capacity to produce a new type of game which utilises a virtual environment mapped to a physical environment (often a city). Typically, the virtual environment comprises players using a combination of a mobile device and the web.

One of the best known examples is the mogi game (Japan) www.mogimogi.com .

The basic idea is simple – It’s a game ‘on the move’. You pick up ‘virtual’ items. You trade them with other players. It also uses a combination of the web and mobile experience. The web is used for functions such as chatting.

Mogi is also unique in the use of the web to differentiate between casual gamers and hardcore gamers. Essentially, the casual player is the one on the move while the hardcore player is the one who ‘directs’ the casual players from the web console. Effectively, this brings a greater number of players into the game.

I believe that the mobile multiplayer game is not a distinct category. It will be an offshoot of gaming on the web. This categorisation is important because it determines the channels to market and also the relative importance of the mobile operators in the equation. The combination of the web and mobility will be beneficial to all players in the industry.

Next generation portable gaming devices

While we have discussed mobile multiplayer games as an evolution of existing mobile single player games, a whole new class of games are entering the market. These originate from the console industry and include portable gaming devices like the Sony PSP and the Nintendo Gameboy DS (we will call them ‘portable gaming devices to distinguish from mobile phones used to play games).

Benefiting from the experience of the console gaming industry, portable gaming devices already have a rich interface and a catalogue of games that they can draw on. Crucially, they use WiFi for the multi-user communication (as opposed to the telecoms network). This allows them to bypass the vagaries of the telecoms network but at the same time they are hampered by the limitations of WiFi because they can only operate within short distances of the WiFi access point.

It’s difficult to say how the market will evolve. My view is – these two classes of games(i.e. mobile multiplayer games and portable gaming devices) will end up serving different classes of customers. Mobile multiplayer games will lean towards casual games whereas the portable gaming devices will attract the more hardcore, immersive gamer.

Operators and mobile multiplayer games

Operators have a love / apathy relationship with mobile multiplayer games.

On one hand, mobile multiplayer games could generate a lot of traffic. But the operators want to keep all traffic charges. But developers would like to share a portion of that traffic. Currently, since developers do not get a share of any IP traffic, they try to get an upfront fee from the customer. As a result, the uptake is lower.

Secondly, the increased use of the web means that the role of the mobile operator is reduced when it comes to the multiplayer game. Bluetooth gaming also has the same impact on the mobile operators.

Hence, overall, you don’t see many in the mobile operator community too enthusiastic about mobile multiplayer gaming.

The impact of technology

In this section, we discuss three ways in which technology impacts the mobile multiplayer games industry

Critical mass: Single player mobile games differ from multiplayer mobile games in their emphasis on technology. For single player games, the rich user experience is important. For multiplayer games, the community/interaction is important. Thus, the winner of the game in multiplayer mobile applications – is the one who achieves critical mass. In general, simpler technologies lend themselves more to a critical mass application. In Europe and USA, at the moment, that is SMS/WAP.

Latency: Latency is the time difference between the time a machine makes a request to the time it receives a response. Latency is critical in fast action games. Many successful PC and console games are fast action games. When the request/response occurs over the air network, latency is high i.e. the amount of time is longer. This means, fast action games are not suitable for mobile multiplayer gaming – with the exception of Bluetooth based games. In case of Bluetooth games, latency is acceptable enough for mobile multiplayer games. Other genres are not affected by latency such as turn based games.

Devices: Briefly, the key issue is – will players buy ‘gaming only’ devices? A gaming only device (which may or may not function as a phone) would appeal to the hardcore gamers. Hardcore gamers have traditionally driven the console gaming industry setting off a virtuous cycle of richer features and more expensive hardware. It’s too early to say if this would play out on mobile devices

Hardcore gamers vs. casual gamers

Hardcore gamers have always driven the uptake of console gaming. Cinematic, immersive, richer games have led to better hardware.

However, the mobile device does not lend itself well to immersive, extended gameplay. In the section on the impact of brands, we also pointed out that casual gamers are becoming more important and popular.

The casual games model is much more suited to mobile gaming due to its simpler learning curve, familiar concepts etc. By extension, we believe that casual gaming will also be popular with multiplayer games. Multiplayer versions of casual games are already popular on the web and can be easily extended to the mobile device.

Specialised mobile gaming devices

The console gaming industry is driven by the hardcore gamers who are increasingly more demanding in their desire for richer, more impressive games. This sets off a virtuous cycle with more powerful hardware, richer graphics etc.

Most handsets are not mobile gaming devices i.e. they are not built ground up for the purpose of playing mobile games. The first serious attempt to create a mobile device whose goal was primarily to play games (rather than as a phone) was the N-Gage from Nokia.

Gizmondo is another such device. Other devices such as Sony PSP and Nintendo GameBoy are handheld gaming devices but provide connectivity through WiFi and not the cellular network.

The console gaming industry is well defined and predictable with hardware upgrades every four years and well defined channels to market (mainly retail). With richer interfaces and powerful hardware, the play times for console games are increasing. They are also becoming more immersive and cinematic. In contrast, the mobile multiplayer games are more suited towards the casual gamers. Currently, the companies displaying an interest in mobile multiplayer games have their roots in PC or console gaming. The initial single player user base for mobile games is also familiar with PC/console gaming.

The N-gage from Nokia was the first attempt to create a ‘gaming only’ device. N-gage received a lot of negative press at its launch – mainly due to its awkward ‘taco like’ shape and its requirement to change game cards. However, the N-gage was an experiment at many levels – and a worthy one! The N-gage introduced many features for the first time – Bluetooth gaming, multiplayer gaming, a different channel to market(retail), richer device capabilities needed for a good gaming experience etc.

We believe that there are two separate market segments here – the hardcore gamer who could be attracted to the specialised devices and the casual gamer who will use their phone to play simpler games.

The lack of ‘unlimited use’ priceplan

The lack of ‘unlimited use’ pricing is hindering many applications especially mobile multiplayer games. Indeed in many markets we do have unlimited use pricing today but the price point (monthly fee) is very high for general consumer adoption. Operators are playing a delicate balancing game here. Clearly as 3G becomes more prevalent, the available bandwidth exists. But, allowing people to use all the bandwidth they want at a cheap rate may lead to totally disruptive applications such as mobile VOIP, which can cannibalise existing revenue.

Thus, unlimited use data pricing is a critical issue and should be watched carefully. The market in which we see unlimited data use at low cost, is going to see a hockey stick effect in mobile data usage and applications such as mobile multiplayer gaming.

Multiplayer gaming platforms and standards

There are some companies who offer mobile multiplayer gaming platforms (just like location management platforms, SMScs etc). Mostly, these are targeted towards the mobile operator but some also have developer programs.

The companies offering platforms targeting mobile multiplayer games include:

Provision X technology from glu(formerly macrospace) , Kayak interactive , Terraplay: and Nokia’s SNAP platform – used for N-gage.

The mobile games interoperability forum is creating standards for mobile multiplayer games.

Mobile multiplayer games examples

Some well known mobile multiplayer games include

Samurai Romanesque: NTT DoCoMo’s first mobile massively multiplayer online role playing game

mogi mogi : – A mobile multiplayer game from Japan combining location, web interaction etc

Ultima Online Mobile :The mobile version of the popular online role playing game

Botfighters : popular SMS based mobile multiplayer game

Pocket kingdom for N-gage: – The first mobile multiplayer online role playing game

Conclusions

We have covered many aspects of mobile multiplayer games above. As an application, I find it very interesting especially because mobile multiplayer games can span both the web and mobile. They also offer scope for new entrants and any company who can get mobile multiplayer games right stands to make a lot of money especially if they can create a successful community (which offers a strong barrier to entry).

Image source: http://www.midlet-review.com

t-mobile web-n-walk ..

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web-n-walk is becoming more clear now and certainly sounds intersting.

Essentially .. it means ..

Google on the front page.

Access to the full Internet (under 18 lock)

Websites like bbc etc linked on the main page

For consumers T-Mobile offers three tariffs, starting at GBP30

($53.14), GBP38 ($67.31) and GBP55 ($97.43) a month for 100, 200

and 400 call minutes respectively. All these tariffs allows for

40MB of data downloads, with additional data costing GBP1 ($1.77)

per megabyte

Tom Jowitt writes in T-mobile challenges the walled garden

The launch of Web’n'Walk is seen as crucial for the operator’s UK business, which has been losing market share to rivals such as O2 plc, which launched its own mobile internet proposition, i-mode, just last month. Also in September another UK operator, 3 UK, unveiled plans to give its customers access to a limited amount of web content beyond its own “walled garden”.

As we predicted in OpenGardens, the walled gardens model was never expected to last – but its interesting to see the divergence in the marketplace(vodafone live, mmo2-imode, 3 and now t-mobile ) are all following different strategies

also ..

T-Mobile imagines business users will be heavier data users, and has increased charges correspondingly. Instead of the monthly tarrifs, business users will pay approximately 90 pounds ($159) for a 1GB data bundle, which can be renewed when the limit has been exceeded.

I dont understand the emphasis on the business user .. but time will tell .. I still think its a consumer application and a useful one at that ..

the relaunch of OpenWaspa ..

After a false start last year, this week we are relaunching OpenWaspa

Hello all,

I seek your thoughts on this concept.

We tried to lauch it last year and had to stop due to some technical issues.

I am about to do so again this week

OpenWaspa was first outlined by Ajit Jaokar and Tony Fish in their book OpenGardens which pertains to emerging mobile/wireless applications and the mobile data industry.

This site is about A showcase for innovative applications in mobility and Digital convergence. (still work in progress)

We are addressing four problems

a) Lack of channels to market

b) Exposure to the ‘powers that be’ – mainly mobile operators

c) The ‘broken value chain’ and

d) Interconnectedness – cross industry exposure

Lack of channels to market and Exposure to the ‘powers that be’ – mainly mobile operators

From the problems listed above, (a) and (b) are related in the sense that the operator is the best channel to market but also the most difficult to approach for the small developers. In OpenGardens – there is a whole section on ‘Inside the mind of the operator’ i.e. how to position your service to the operator in the best possible way but that still leaves you with the problem of getting access to the operator in the first place. The events address this problem

Similarly, (c) and (d) are related.

The broken value chain

The mobile data value chain is broken because of the ‘whales and plankton’ concept. In a nutshell – get rid of the middlemen! The industry depends on ‘intermediaries in the value chain getting a % of the revenue’/ For example – in mobile games, we have the mobile aggregators, wireless service providers and so on. This model is fine in already established value chains but is no good when you have an emerging industry.

There is hardly any money for the innovator i.e. creator of the new service in a new service. What little revenue the new application gets – is promptly gobbled by the middlemen. Thus, taking a marine biology example – if the plankton die (the garage developers) – the whales die as well (i.e. the whole industry suffers). There is a related problem looking at it from the mobile operator. They simply have too many people knocking at their doors. While it seems that no one is interested in new/innovative applications – our research shows that’s not the case.

This is where the OpenWaspa (Open Wireless service provider association) program comes in. The idea is very simple – provide a ‘showcase’ for new applications. Don’t bother about trying to ‘restrict’ the access to the final developer. Anyone can look at the application and then contact the developer direct and do a direct deal. Thus, there is no incremental revenue share.

The operators like it since it provides a structured way to access new innovation. We will also ‘evangelise’ the application where we can.

Interconnectedness

Finally, there is the issue of interconnectedness. As mobility advances, there is the question of a lack of a ‘one stop shop’/ People developing video applications, TV applications, games etc need access to cross industry contacts and knowledge. we intend to provide that. We see this site as ‘work in progress’/ In it’s ultimate vision, we may evolve to a web services interface/common contracts for mulltiple channels to market and so on. But for now, its a ‘showcase for innovative applications’

I seek your thoughts on how we could improve the prototype

I am speaking at investnet in Dublin ..

If you are attending, lets meet there. Its on Oct 20 and sounds very interesting as per the site details and links below. I look forward to meeting some interesting people and discussing about mobility and digital convergence. As a publisher focussed on mobility and digital convergece, I very much like to meet and discuss developers from other countries especially places like Ireland and South Korea where there is a lot happening!

Their URL is HERE

International Wireless Conference 2005

20th October 2005

Ireland’s Wireless Conference – Preparing Ireland’s indigenous wireless sector for future developments and opportunities…

This first International Irish Wireless Conference will establish Dublin as an annual meeting place for mobile application developers and operators. Together the conference and the exhibition will facilitate networking for leading industry and research delegates, making it an unrivalled platform for generating new business and exchanging ideas.

CNET’s to 100 blogs ..

very good stuff ..

see link HERE

world’s fastest growing brands ..

forbes lists the fastest growing brands. This is a FAR more interesting list than the usual Coke and Mc Donalds. It’s also indicative of the power of new media .. 7 out of 10 are new media brands!

1 Apple Over 400 million songs have been purchased at the iTunes store.

2 BlackBerry Users average a 53-minute-a-day productivity gain, says Research in Motion.

3 Google World’s largest search engine sorts through 8 billion Web pages.

4 Amazon.com New service lets users pay $79 annually for unlimited shipping.

5 Yahoo New online music subscription service gives access to 1 million songs.

6 Ebay 150 million users are registered at the online auction site.

7 Red Bull Sponsors extreme-sports athletes and parties on college campuses.

8 Starbucks Opened four stores a day on average in 2004.

9 Pixar The Incredibles is the bestselling DVD of 2005 to date.

10 Coach Business in Japan now accounts for 22% of company sales.

Digital grannies and other trends:

I had the pleasure of reading the Sep 26 issue of Newsweek (International edition)

It has some excellent coverage on the future of entertainment – and I very much recommend you should read it

Here are the things from the feature which I found fascinating – alongwith my own thoughts on these where possible

The gaming granny

And we are not talking ‘Bingo’ here! Apparently, the BBC found a granny deeply engrossed in playing a multiplayer game (they don’t say which game unfortunately – love to know!). This example provided the BBC with fascinating insights into the minds of extreme users. Essentially, users are using the whole gamut of technology and new media in ways that cannot be predicted. Media companies are trying to understand how customers are interacting with their products.

Two important truths of 21st century media

Firstly, all news and entertainment are ‘personal’. This bit is well known and was not new to me. But, the second is – The internet changes the timeline of production, broadcast and consumption. This means, content can appear in all formats at once (unlike movie first, followed by DVD and so on). This model apparently maximises advertisement revenue and reduces piracy

The threat to the entertainment industry from yahoo et al ..

A well known theme as well. I can sum this up by – Yahoo knows exactly who downloaded the movie – the entertainment industry has no idea about who is in the movie theatre.

The importance of the editor

Google is a defacto editor – in the sense that Google controls which content is seen first. Thus, search engines are making judgements on art – are they qualified to do so? Is this not an objective(rule based) judgement as opposed to subjective judgement? Is such objective judgement suited for art?

More soon ..

uk content usage statistics

UK spent £750m in 2005 which is 18 times more than money spent three years ago.

According to a recent report from mintel(and reported in the metro newspaper – London) , demand for all downloads , apart from wallpapers and screen savers that make up a tenth of the sale, will double by January. Gambling which makes up 9% of the sales is expected to grow a staggering 367 percent.

Ringtones costing about £3 make a third of the sales

Games costing about £5 make a quarter of the sales

Thoughts

a) Not sure about the stats on gambling

b) Not sure why the numbers will double by Jan – agree that 3G is very much here now in europe but that still does not explain the ‘doubling’

c) However, the current market stats are very useful

d) I expect that truetones will make the market for ringtones non existant except for the rights owners. Currently, many content companies are surviving on the back of ringtones(or adult content)

I wonder what channels are used for these downloads(especially the portal/off portal isssue) and which are the optimal channels?