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Wayne Seifried, Tira Wireless

Making the Jump to solving the device fragmentation problem

Device fragmentation is a major problem for mobile developers and publishers, with the proliferation of wildly different handsets leading to the necessity to port any given game to hundreds of devices, dozens of languages and a host of different operators. Canadian firm Tira Wireless believes that it has part of the solution to this problem - the Tira Jump Product Suite, a semi-automated porting system which eases much of the technical and management pain of porting to different devices.

After less than a year on the market, Tira Jump has around half of the industry's top content creators signed up, with the latest batch of high-profile signings coming at CTIA earlier this autumn. We caught up with Tira's product marketing boss Wayne Seifried to find out more about how the company's technology and know-how is transforming the porting process for the mobile industry.

MobileIndustry It's been almost a year since Tira originally launched the Tira Jump Product Suite; what have been the major changes or evolutions for the company during that time?
Wayne Seifried

We actually brought the product suite to market at the end of January, and we've been working diligently away on that. I think that the biggest news has been the acquisition of some major customers, in terms of licensing the actual product suite, and in the last quarter we've also come out with some significant enhancements to the product suite, along with a better-defined product vision and roadmap - one that has been influenced substantially by the customers who have licensed the product suite to date. We're really pleased to have that sort of market input.

In terms of the customers who have now licensed the suite, to begin with we announced three partners - Absolute Quality, MBT and Babel Media - we announced those three as our partners to deal with, if you will, the scale of the marketplace demanding porting and other deployment services. Subsequent to that, we've had a number of customers - representative of a number of various groups in the ecosystem - license the product.

Most notably, Disney Mobile Studios and Warner Bros have licensed the product, from the entertainment company marketplace. From the console gaming market, we announced at CTIA that THQ Wireless has licensed the product. We've got a number of "pure play" mobile customers - mobile game publishers - including Pixiem, Dwango, and even I-Play and Airborne Entertainment have also licensed the product. Punch Entertainment have also licensed it, and they're actually a developer with multiple locations, which is an interesting value that we bring to that group.

MobileIndustry You've had quite a lot of success in going out to players beyond the traditional mobile game publishers, then?
Wayne Seifried

What we like to see is that we're actually bringing value to all of the different types of entrants in the mobile games and mobile entertainment space. If you're a television or a film studio, like a Warner Bros or a Disney Mobile - at least, that's their roots, even if it's not what they are now - bringing their digital entertainment products to market, we give them almost what some people term "Mobile in a Box". We give them the know-how to manage their deployment of their mobile content across all of the different devices and operators. That really is a quick lesson for them in getting assets ready for the mobile market.

THQ Wireless, as a sample of the console market... Again, they've also got brands. THQ has been in the wireless business for a long time, and is probably one of the more sophisticated players in that marketplace - but even with their console experience of bringing games to market, even with the wireless experience that they've built up, they still found value in the Tira Jump Product Suite.

The same goes when you look at the Airbornes, or the I-Plays - there's value there for what you might consider to be those who have amassed great deals of knowledge about the mobile market. There are still efficiencies and control in the process and the management of that process that our product suite brings them.

So whether it's knowledge about the devices and the operators, and bringing that to people who are relatively new to mobile, or bringing control and standard processes and efficiencies to those who already know about mobile, Tira has value for everybody in the value chain that's bringing mobile content to market.

That's kind of the excitement; we have about a dozen customers who have licensed our product and are using it to bring their mobile content to market. Our services customer base continues to grow - from a services perspective, companies like Namco and Sega have moved along quite well. What we're finding is that it's almost becoming a pathway to a product sale; customers come in, they learn about our methodology, they learn about the standardisation, they learn about the efficiencies and the consistent quality that we can deliver, and then they say, "gee, we're interested in bringing that capability internal to our company."

MobileIndustry Given the range of customers you have signed up to use the Tira Jump Product Suite, do you have any idea of what proportion of actual game content in the market is using your system to prepare for launch?
Wayne Seifried

I don't have an exact number on the content, but I know that we're far in excess of 10,000 builds that have been created using the Tira Jump system - past the 10,000 mark, quite possibly the low twenties. We start losing a little bit of visibility of that when our partners take on some of that work.

Over 50 per cent of the top 30 mobile game publishers have either used our services or have licensed our platform. There are a couple of names that are missing, and that we're in active conversations with - be it the JAMDATs, be it the GameLofts, etcetera... The pure plays, the companies that have been in the mobile space for a long time and have built up their capabilities and their knowledge, and to a certain extent have built their perceived value in the market around their mobile knowledge, are a tougher sell for us. It requires them to understand our product more before they're jumping on board.

The value is much more apparent to someone who is entering the mobile games space for the first time, and wants to level the playing field with the JAMDATs and the GameLofts, if you will - having all of that device knowledge, having all of that know-how of how to modify and adapt applications and localise them for the different devices and the different networks.

MobileIndustry Isn't there a feeling that when you talk to someone like JAMDAT or GameLoft, you're trying to persuade them to outsource something they see as being a core competency for them, a core part of their value proposition?
Wayne Seifried

Well, the term "outsource" was certainly the challenge that we had when we were trying to bring them in as a service customer, because their professional services team, which is probably one of the most knowledgable in the business, certainly didn't feel that they wanted to rely on someone external to their company to perform their content deployment. So by having a licensed version of the product, where they can maintain and use their internal team, certainly that takes a bit of that away.

However, you're correct in that the mobile knowledge, the fact that we consolidate that knowledge from all of the mobile operators and all of those devices and deliver it back to them through our technology, clearly is something that they have told their investment team that this is what makes them different and makes them better in the marketplace.

There is a maturing in the industry, and a recognition that what's going to make a JAMDAT or a GameLoft - just using those two as examples - into the best publishers is their ability to distribute, the ability to get titles, the ability to make great games. That's really what they have to be focused on - not taking a great game and making sure that it works on hundreds of devices and ten different languages for fifty different operators. That deployment supply chain is a value that... Well, there's a certain amount of hesitancy in passing that to Tira, but coming with that are the significant efficiencies that we bring.

This is why our product has evolved from what was a pretty straightforward porting platform to a complete mobile asset management workflow adaptation platform. It brings the best of the asset management platforms that are out there - there are lots of companies talking about digital asset management for everything from email files to keeping track of all your logos for the marketing department to the media world. We bring those strengths, as well as bringing all this mobile knowledge. They start looking at it and different companies see different benefits because it's become such a broad offering, if you will. We're certainly seeing more movement and more interest from the companies that we've mentioned based on the breadth of our product suite.

MobileIndustry You recently announced a number of major upgrades to the Product Suite itself - can you talk us through some of those?
Wayne Seifried

We've come out with an updated version of the product suite; we've included a couple of new servers - there's an automated verification server, which allows them to automatically check for compliance and is very efficient. The first 40 tests you would od in a QA process can now automatically and it will spit out a report.

Then there's the over-the-air server - the integration of that is a significant help again in the testing. You can test so far using the emulators on your PC which you have built into the product, but eventually you want to download it to that device - so now, without leaving the screen, the porting engineer can push the application or the game to an OTA server and trigger a download onto their device. It's just about efficiency, again.

Because this has become our business, we're fine tuning all of the process of deployment. We're taking a look at all of the points of pain, all of the points of potential timesavings or efficiencies or improved control, to improve time to market, improve the cost of deploying mobile assets, and that's our main business. Our main business isn't getting the next version of the next game out the door, which is the business of the JAMDATs and the I-Plays of the world.

A couple of other things that are interesting, and which I think are interesting from a product roadmap perspective... The roadmap has evolved with a lot of input from these customers that we've brought on. One thing the customers have told us is that they don't roll out games and particularly just Java games alone, if you will. It's often part of a major deployment of a major brand. Mobile operators are looking for ringtones, they're looking for wallpapers and they're looking for video clips. Depending on the operator they may also want a BREW version of that game, or whatever.

So the first thing that we've done is that we've opened up the platform - particularly the workflow and the asset management part of the platform - to now at least incorporate the BREW games. You can now plan your deployment for BREW devices using our platform, and on our roadmap, we're bringing in wallpapers, ringtones and video capabilities as part of that plan. We're enhancing our certification capabilities - I mentioned our OTA integration - and we're enhancing our channel packaging. There's now better access to the packaging that can be done.

There are a couple of really interesting things that we've done as far as the workflow and the view of the projects. We've created a producer's view on all of the assets in the workflow at any point in time, so now the producer can view by title, the producer can view by operator or by work order - so they can see exactly what assets they have where in the process.

MobileIndustry You've also made a lot of noise about the new ability to manage and oversee work at third parties from the suite - how does that work?
Wayne Seifried

Let me explain that scenario - I'm ABC Publisher and I've got the next release of, I don't know, pick a superhero, coming out. I'm planning on doing half of the deployment programme myself, but I'm planning on outsourcing half of it to Babel Media because they've got more of the European devices. I can now create a work order for the entire project, I can assign half of it - for the appropriate operators and devices - to Babel. The work now shows up in the Babel scheduler's desk, and the producer back at ABC Publisher can see the progress of that work right in Babel. So you have the visibility to see right inside your partner, if you will, to see if they're meeting delivery times and to manage it as one work order even though the work has been outsourced.

We're finding an incredible response to that - in fact, Punch Entertainment has been so taken with this multi-organisation view, they've got a development shop I believe in Asia, and a location in California, and they just love this ability to have it so that no matter where people are located, the assets are all stored centrally, the work flows back and forth, and I think it becomes a very powerful tool. It starts to become what we would call an ecosystem - and we've seen that develop.

We've seen different companies buy our product for different reasons. Some buy it because they want to do a product 100 per cent internally, others are now buying it because they just want that management layer - they want to outsource to Babel or to MBT, or maybe even outsource some of it to Tira Professional Services, but they want to manage that whole view. It helps a lot that we use standards and standard approaches - they know that they're going to get consistency and quality, and it helps to reassure them, especially if they're using an offshoring sort of environment. Certainly, Absolute Quality and MBT both have locations in India and Eastern Europe to provide low cost solutions.

MobileIndustry Looking to the bottom line - what kind of savings are companies out there really seeing from using the Tira Jump products?
Wayne Seifried

Well, we had Ovum - they're from London - actually do an analysis of what's going on in the industry, and they did interviews with 18 publishers across North America and Europe, and they compared their findings with the analysis of a group using the Tira Jump Product Suite, and found some substantial savings both for the producer and on the porting and QA times.

Particularly when it comes to complex applications, Tira's platform starts to save the porting and QA people around 72 per cent of their time to build that platform. I think the numbers actually worked out that the industry average, for an average publisher, was approximately $1.2 million per year spent on deployment, compared to which publishing - creating the same combinations of complex versus more standard builds - would cost approximately $720,000 using Tira Jump. So close to half a million dollars in annual savings available to publishers from just that particular aspect of our product offering.

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