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Oscar Clark, 3 Mobile

3G has a lot to live up to. Having spent around 110bn Euro on licences, European operators are looking for ways to justify and recoup the initial outlay. Oscar Clark from UK mobile operator 3 reveals his formula for success in creating and distributing compelling game content for 3G.

3 is a new entrant to the UK mobile market. Solely focused on third-generation mobile, 3 has built its 3G network and customer proposition from the ground up. Offering a combination of voice, content and video services, 3 is currently on an aggressive drive to increase its customer base, whilst the established operators put their 3G plans in motion.

Content is a large part of 3's business, having secured strategic partnerships with BBC Technology, Emap and the F.A. Premier League. Oscar Clark, Product Manager for Games & Gambling, talked to us about the relationship between price and adoption, his formula for success, and where mobile multiplayer is heading.

MobileIndustry Firstly, tell us some more about yourself and your core responsibilities at 3.
Oscar Clark

I'm the Games Product Manager which means that I look after games and gambling products. I also look after application products in general, so if you've got an on-handset piece of Java, Symbian or similar, I'm the guy that's going to be looking after that.

I look after that from the point of view from the business, so I'm accountable for the business directly that we generate, I'm also accountable directly to the customer for producing the best possible experience.

MobileIndustry How long have you worked there?
Oscar Clark

A whole four years would you believe, I've been here since day one. Before that, my heritage, I used to run an online gaming service called Wireplay, then to Gameplay, so I was involved in all the dotcom stuff at that stage and then I moved onto Real Networks for a year.

MobileIndustry So what experience have you brought across from your previous roles?
Oscar Clark

Fundamentally it is about understanding what an on-demand device can do and what would make customers want to grab that content and be interested in that type of content. There's a whole host of similarities, whether it's a movie clip, a piece of video, music or a game.

It's the same old rules with anything; does it have immediacy, is there a reason to do this now, is it relevant, is there something that makes it appropriate to me, makes it compelling to me, and the bottom line, is it fun? And that mantra of immediate relevance and fun is vital and applies to all of those spaces, you can apply that to anything virtually.

MobileIndustry What is it about mobile entertainment that appeals?
Oscar Clark

What's more relevant than having a device in your pocket that you can immediately find information or immediately entertain yourself? It's a device you've got with you anyway and if you know the capabilities of 3G, we can actually set the agenda, provide these incredible propositions, provide this value for money experience that adds this layer that isn't possible with a traditional 2G phone, it just really grabbed me and said this is exactly what I want to do.

MobileIndustry You recently launched the UK's first over-the-air real-time and turn-based multiplayer games, No Refuge and Cannons Tournament respectively. For you, what made the timing right?
Oscar Clark

The interesting thing for me is that both of those games are very different, very viable and very compatible. Now what I find particularly interesting for Cannons Tournament, its got chat built in, and we're finding that like in every space in life, games are an excuse to talk, and so we've had a great deal of success.

For me it's about stretching the imagination as to what the phone can do. We launched around the same time as Mophun, where we used the Mophun engine to deliver PlayStation console gaming, again a really compelling proposition that grabbed a lot of people's attention.

What we're trying to do is realise the benefits of a mobile device that you've got in your pocket anyway, and give people who love gaming the best possible gaming experience, whether it's playing their friends, or playing for the best possible visual experience on their handset. Gaming is part of human nature, the key thing for us is to be able to provide a broad range of content that allows those people who want to play something.

Obviously from my background, multiplayer is one of those things that I've wanted to do for ages, but we didn't just jump in straight away because we had to prove that we could build this revenue model first. We've proved that. We've proved that rent can work and the combination of rent and buy together allows customers to have a choice about trusting the supplier of that game more.

A carrier grade proposition has to be very intensely thought through, it has to be very selectively driven, and you've got to have great partners who know how to do their job well. There is an awful lot of testing and analysis and processes that we'd go through to really make sure we really give the best possible experience, so that's a reason why the timing is right for us, we'd gone through those processes, we'd understood the marketplace.

MobileIndustry How have the games been received by your customers?
Oscar Clark

Incredibly well. I can't give you any hard and fast numbers, I know that we've had an incredible take up, and that's been reinforced by the supplier, by ourselves and by talking to the other operators. We're finding that event-based billing is just so compelling because for the price of a can of coke you can play a game and you don't have to commit to buying the game.

MobileIndustry Other than the competitive/co-operative element, what else can gamers expect from your multiplayer services?
Oscar Clark

Right now, we're keeping it fairly simple. If you start overcomplicating it, you start moving to a situation where it becomes harder for people to understand what the game is about, so again, it comes down to game design, working very closely with the partners, it does mean that we'd be slightly slower than I'd like in terms of the number of new games each month however.

Right now we're working on Lock n' Load to be real-time multiplayer, we should be able to announce a date for that shortly, it's a real-time first-person shooter, absolutely at the pinnacle of what we want to do.

Moving on from that, we want to be able to do interesting things, one of the future games we're looking at, Blockster, which will hopefully have voice taunts, that adds to the experience no end. It's fantastic when you actually hear someone saying you're rubbish - that's going to be really interesting

It's about learning the lessons that we learnt when we did online gaming in the first place. If we want people to feel that this is a compelling and interesting customer experience, they've got to feel that they can trust it, that they don't have to be uber-technical, that they don't have to be masterminds, they can just go in, click a button and bingo.

MobileIndustry Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts mobile multiplayer to be worth 20.5% of total global revenues by 2010. What do you think will fuel that growth?
Oscar Clark

My instinct is that anything where people get to share will be compelling, and what's a multiplayer game if it's not an excuse to share? I would think that the current definition of multiplayer games will probably change just like it has in the PC and console space.

The massively multiplayer combined with the possibly massively single player in a persistent world, the server drop-in type game, but there'll be more designs and more implementations and more alternatives by the time we get to 2010. I imagine it'll be hard to differentiate what's multiplayer and what isn't by then, and it shows that 3G is the place to be.

MobileIndustry You're trying out some new ways of charging for game content, tell us more about your different pricing models.
Oscar Clark

I would always say it's a bit strange that you offer a mass market device, but you only offer a five pound price point to buy a game. To my mind people that are going to spend five pounds on their handset are people that are going to be hardcore.

I think, and the numbers so show far, we need to offer content which is rentable for three days, then you can build up a level of trust. The experience is compelling and you've had a good time for the price of a can of coke, three days later the game expires, you want to go back in again, you don't have to download it again you just click yes, and you play again

It's a really simple proposition and there are lots of games where the rent version is on the service and you can also go and buy it, and normally, it's been reduced from five pounds to three pounds. So again, it's a very compelling route, you've got a definite try-buy experience.

Now I personally thing that the most interesting part of that is that you get a combination of things happening, people who wouldn't buy it, try it because there is a rent version available, and people who wouldn't normally have an interest at all, will rent.

I think there is real scope over what we can do in terms of a 3G experience, and I think we've definitely tested the water, we've been very, very careful to only deliver the best things only when we know they're right, and as we move on we'll see more of that and we'll see more and more cool stuff coming out.

MobileIndustry It certainly seems like a good way to encourage a first-try, but what are you doing to encourage the all important repeat purchase?
Oscar Clark

I think the key and most interesting thing for me is Today on 3, that kind of electronic programme guide, telling you what's happening, what's cool straight away is fantastic, it just gives you that moment in time where you're sitting there and you don't know what to do, and you look at the screen and it says, by the way have you seen Fantastic Four?

And you say "oh my goodness I can win premier tickets for Fantastic Four, let me go and look at that", then there's a game, some video content, a ringtone and wallpaper, now that to my mind, is just the most incredible change in mindset, from being about a bunch of things to useful content, in a way you can understand and enjoy.

I can't talk enough about Today on 3, I think it's a superb experience, but then you've got the difficult balance of a product manager like me, how often do I want to talk to my customers, what level does it become intrusive, so we're very careful about the level of communication that we give to people and hopefully we get the balance right.

MobileIndustry How do you expect these pricing models to affect the annual ARPU (Average Revenue per User)?
Oscar Clark

All I know that I can talk about in terms of ARPU is, for the UK in 2004, it was GBP 40, which is nearly double the industry average, which I think is incredible. Now, why is that? I think it's because we have a very compelling offer, we have the best voice in the market as I understand it, we have this great value proposition which set new benchmarks on pricing.

By giving people this great value for money to use their mobile, they use their mobile, and as a result they don't just get the great voice, they get the great content and an incredible customer experience. It's building these compelling customer experiences and it's hard to describe without being over the top, but being someone who uses this type of stuff anyway, it's just cool, so cool.

MobileIndustry Where are you taking inspiration when trying these new things out, maybe outside of the industry?
Oscar Clark

The stuff I was doing at RealNetworks I was working with New Line Cinema, where people were using the streaming media to create hype, so that has been a big inspiration to me, how that worked. Also from the Wireplay days, looking at how games communities developed and evolved. It's about great social experiences, you start applying that to multiplayer and mobile as a communication device, it's just phenomenal stuff.

The key thing is not to reach too far too soon. We've made sure that we provide people with good handsets, we've got a mentality of making sure that it's immediate, relevant and fun, we've got two years experience and knowledge of working with customers who want to use our services and that is why they spend their hard earned cash on our products.

MobileIndustry Your current advertising campaign highlights playing games on your mobile as part of the broader entertainment content - how important is games content to 3's overall business?
Oscar Clark

If you look across the content products we have, games is consistently in the top five, so it's a vital part of the puzzle, it's not the sole part of the puzzle by any stretch of the imagination and I don't want to misrepresent the value of it, but it's value is vital because it's about expectation, and I think personally from a mobile operator point of view, if you know how to make a content application work, you can do more things in the future as well, so I think the lesson we've learned in games has been quite valuable for other products as well.

MobileIndustry What's next for 3? How will you continue to differentiate yourself in the marketplace?
Oscar Clark

With the operators having to catch up with us in terms of things like the Mophun engine, real-time multiplayer, I think I'll leave the future stuff a little bit quiet as there is so much stuff that we know we can do that'll really break through with imagination, we want to keep our leadership there.

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