Mobile marketplace update: E3 panel explores options

The most exciting new market for the video game industry might not be the next-generation consoles, but the fledgling mobile games industry.

LOS ANGELES--Although much of the excitement this week is centered on the next--generation consoles, a panel convened to discuss what may be the next big market: the fledgling mobile games industry.

Entitled "Closing the gap in wireless," the panel was moderated by Matthew Bellows of Floodgate Entertainment and consisted entirely of representatives from outside North America. Each panelist discussed a specific region: Kyu C. Lee (Korea), Norbert Chang (China), Juho Ruskola (Europe), David Collier (Japan), and Kristian Segerstral (United Kingdom).

While the panel was mostly a showcase of various games from around the world, there was much variation, from simple Bejeweled-like games to complicated MMORPGs with avatars and real-time communication. Each of these games demonstrated various directions the mobile industry was taking to help drive the cell phone games.

The panelists focused mainly on technical and design issues, emphasizing both the similarities and the differences between the mobile and traditional video game markets.

One particular issue was that of 3D games. "In Japan, 3D is taken for granted," said Collier. Korea and China are not far behind, as Lee and Chang both agreed that 3D is developing very quickly in their respective countries.

Yet even as consumers upgrade phones and embrace new technology, both 2D and 3D games are often created by companies. Ruskola cautioned against making the leap too quickly, saying "In Europe, you need games in both versions to remain commercially viable."

Along with 3D, innovation was another key theme that participants addressed. Collier believes that much of the new creative content will come from mobile games. "One of the nice things about mobile games is that the budgets are small, $2 million or so, and people can take some risks with games."

But Segerstral worried that as bigger publishers get involved, some of that innovation may be lost. "The earlier innovation was really driven by the smaller companies. Today, when you have companies that are so financially focused, you can't take risks like that."

This innovation can be seen in many of the games the panelists showed, as the controls can be extraordinarily simple. "Simple one button games are appealing to the mass market," said Lee as he noted in particular one of the most popular mobile games in Korea that involved nothing more than one button and rotating the phone.

The final part of the panel addressed what mobile game creators can learn and gain from North America. While the European and Asian markets currently are more developed than the US market, Segerstral feels that "there's a lot to learn from [the] US. One of the advantages is that the market is large, which means the marketing effort behind the games are in general ahead of what we're doing in Europe today."

Joked Collier, "We just want your money."

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