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A Casual Affair

"The greatest opportunity in the next five years remains casual gaming."

Last week Justin Radeka of ARM wrote for MobileIndustry.biz stating that 3D graphics technology is the next natural evolution for mobile phone gaming.

Here, CEO of I-play David Gosen argues that technology may be important, but it's not the key driver for the mobile gaming business. For Gosen, following the consumers' needs is more important than forcing advanced technology onto their handsets...

What role does technology have to play in the future of mobile gaming?

Technology will undoubtedly be a tour de force in driving the progress of the mobile games industry, as handset models become increasingly polished and network capacity and data speeds increase.

The imminent launch of the iPhone alone, putting the style versus substance discussions to one side, together with Apple's powerful marketing machine will create a paradigm shift in the mind of the consumer in their perception of what a mobile phone can be used for.

However, the greatest opportunity on mobile in the next five years remains the casual gaming opportunity. While you'd expect me to say this, what's my defence for this claim?

Mobile games are still the strongest revenue driver on the data side of things for carriers, after voice calls and SMS traffic. Within games, classics like Tetris are the undisputed evergreen titles that keep mobile gamers coming back for more.

Looking at the audience of people playing mobile games, it's split equally between both genders, and skews towards a slightly older age demographic than the classic videogames 'gamer', with the average mobile gamer being 26-36 years old. So what's so special about this audience? They represent the mass market and this is the killer app for mobile gaming - the end user. Once we've moved the needle of market penetration from 5 per cent to 10-15 per cent, the viral and connected community knock on effect of this 'mass market' will be explosive.

Next, there's the consumer behaviour on the mobile device. Its entertainment on the go, people play games as part of another occasion whether it is commuting to work or doing something more interesting during ad breaks on TV. Increasingly, people are consuming media in a fragmented way, Skyping while web browsing, downloading videos from YouTube and catching up on Face Book. More and more, people consume media, generate their own content and communicate simultaneously, dipping in and out of each experience.

So what has all that got to do with casual gaming? Casual games like Tetris, Bejewelled and Jewel Quest are the perfect compelling entertainment snack to meet the demands of the casual gamer who wants to consume mobile entertainment while multi-tasking.

In addition, there will increasingly be the opportunity for the consumer to choose what platform they play their games on, whether it is console, online, mobile or interactive TV. Giving consumers this "freedom of accessibility", will be a key driver to growth as the fully penetrated mobile platform has the true potential to become the "gaming hub" for all platforms - as a stand alone gaming device, a multiplayer connected tool, or the entry point into gaming communities.

While technology should always been seen as an enabler to this business, it will undoubtedly underpin the future of mobile gaming.

The impact of the growth in penetration of the 3G devices in driving the adoption of mobile games and content overall - regardless of category is hugely powerful. These technically proficient devices, allow easier and more convenient access, deliver a PlayStation 1 gaming experience and open the gate for continued gameplay innovation. Look at the behaviour of 2G compared to 3G handset users on browsing for instance:- you have 11 per cent of 2G handsets browsing in an average month compared to 30 per cent of people with 3G handsets. For games, you've got 3.4 per cent of 2G users downloading games compared to 11 per cent for 3G. Technology enables.

Then as the casual sector grows it will spawn sub segments that in their own right will offer those that are interested in the opportunity to enhance the experience of playing mobile games with connected and real-time multi-player options and cross platform multi-player challenges.

Just to complete the list, don't forget to look out for camera enabled gaming, plus end-user photos being embedded in games and further in-game personalisation with play lists that allow consumers to import their own soundtrack to accompany their favourite game and realistic avatars. I had better mention Location Based Gaming too, to make sure I don't offend that sector of the market by leaving them out.

Finally, the all important and often forgotten behind the scenes "solutions technology" that makes this industry work. Whether it is the development tools, the automated porting processes or the deployment enablers that allow publishers to deliver 100's of games, in 10's of languages across thousands of devices to billions of subscribers - technological advancements will, and have to, in an increasingly complex and costly business, help drive efficiency, simplify processes and create real and demonstrable cost wins.

Lets make sure as an industry that the consumer is firmly planted at the centre of everything that we do and that our technology solutions are designed to simplify adoption, drive penetration, deliver real consumer satisfaction and provide the platform for future innovation that ensures the continued growth of the mass market casual gaming sector.

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GamesIndustry International is the world's leading games industry website, incorporating GamesIndustry.biz and IndustryGamers.com.

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