Robert Tercek of Mforma recaps the short history of the mobile conference and looks at what's ahead for the entire wireless game industry.
SAN FRANCISCO--If you attended yesterday's opening remarks and welcome from Robert Tercek, chief marketing officer of Mforma and cochairman of GDC Mobile, you didn't get the benefit of hearing all his remarks. In the interest of keeping to schedule, Tercek cut his speech short, leading into the 9:30am keynote of John Batter not a second late.
GameSpot, however, secured the full text of Tercek's planned presentation, which provides a concise history of GDC Mobile as well.
GameSpot thanks Rob for allowing us to run his statement in its entirety.
THE STATE OF MOBILE GAMING: GDC MOBILE 2005
Welcome to the Game Developer Conference's Mobile Symposium! You're joining a select group of mobile gaming experts from every part of the world who meet each year to learn about innovations, trends, techniques and examples of great game design. Your fellow attendees include developers, publishers, network operators, MVNOs, NEPs, OEMs, ASPs, ISVs, and the usual alphabet soup of telecom acronyms.
GDC Mobile began five years ago, when David DC Collier and I gave a presentation at the main Game Developer Conference on the subject of mobile games. Since we were familiar with the, ahem, empowered nature of an audience that regularly attends the GDC, we braced ourselves for mild scorn and derisive laughter. After all, circa 2000, the performance bar for the game industry was set by the dazzling graphics and impressive power of the PlayStation 2 and the XBox. By comparison, mobile phones were an unpromising platform for a decent game experience. Mobile phones had feeble processors and low-res black-and-white screens. Battery life was a problem. Cell coverage was a problem. (Heck, in some cities, it still is!)
Imagine our surprise when we found the seminar room packed to maximum capacity. Our talk had attracted a standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into the hallway. It was necessary to repeat the presentation informally in the hallway to satisfy those who were unable to get in to the room.
What fascinated so many game developers about mobile? It wasn't the vivid graphics. The games we showed then were primitive by today's standards. Most were black-and-white. And some of the demos didn't work particularly well. (That remains a hallmark of most new technology conferences). But minor glitches didn't diminish the interest of the audience: The attendees were intrigued by the main theme, which was to identify the principles of game design for mobile phones.
The mobile platform is the next frontier for game creators. Although it may not boast comparable levels of graphic-rendering power to today's fixed consoles, mobile does offer some unique attributes, which no other platform can match: built-in networking for two-way messaging, imaging, location; a low substitution factor in certain situations; and the most sophisticated micropayment system on any digital network. But it's hard to create good games for this new platform.
Great design involves discovering a graceful way to deliver a superior game experience, despite the limitations of the device and the mobile network. Back then, notable design breakthroughs included: Dwango's Samurai Romanesque, designed as a series of sequential downloads to surmount the 10K limitation imposed by NTT DoCoMo's iMode network; LifeStylers, from PicoFun in Sweden, which enabled players across Europe to compete in real time in their native languages; Alien Fish Exchange, from the UK's nGame, designed to provide a big sim puzzle viewed through a relatively small terminal. Creativity is spurred by severe limitations.
Wireless evolves differently in every part of the world. If you don't travel frequently, then it is very difficult to get a glimpse of innovations in every market. This year's GDC Mobile carries on the tradition of showcasing the best and most innovative concepts in the World Tour of Mobile Games. Cochairman Matthew Bellows and DC Collier of Namco will present 40 of the coolest titles from far-flung markets.
The Booming Global Mobile Market
In the early days, attendees of GDC Mobile had their sights set on the future. We knew a couple of things about mobile: The intense competitive dynamics of the industry set the pace for swift innovation of technology, platforms and services; and the number of subscribers grew steadily every year, which rewarded the investment in the creation and marketing of new services.
The mobile market has indeed grown swiftly. In 2000, the target of 1 billion mobile subscribers worldwide seemed distant and unattainable to an audience jaded by Internet hype. But this figure was surpassed in 2002, well ahead of analyst projections. By 2004,the global market expanded to 1.5 billion subscribers and today exceeds 1.7 billion. Does anyone today doubt that the mobile industry will reach the projected 2 billion subscribers expected by 2006?
In two years, one-hird of humanity will own a mobile phone!
And unlike the Internet audience, every mobile subscriber is accustomed to paying for content and services. Are you ready for 2 billion paying customers?
But how many will play games?
Takeup for mobile games grows faster than the broader mobile market. This phenomenon is fueled by the rapid replacement of handsets by existing subscribers: Al over the world,people are trading in their black-and-white phones for sophisticated color phones with embedded cameras and the ability to download applets, such as games.
As a result, the mobile content sector represents a real business opportunity. At GDC Mobile 2003, Takeshi Natsuno, the architect of NTT DoCoMo's iMode service, announced gleefully that over $100 million was shared to iMode game providers in the previous. Starving European developers, suffering through the WAP debacle, gasped in wonder at the magnitude of this sum.
At that time, who would have guessed that total worldwide revenue for mobile games would exceed $1 billion by 2004? Mobile games is the new billion-dollar market.
According to the most recent Mobinet study of 4,500 mobile subscribers in 13 countries by the consultancy A.T. Kearney and the Judge Institute of Management at Cambridge University, the number of people who download games over the air to their phones grew to 10 percent of the world's 1.7 billion mobile users, exceeding the number of game console users. This means an entirely new media consumption habit has been adopted by over 170 million gamers in less than five years. This number is expected to rise to 20 percent of mobile subscribers, which suggests a potential market of 400 million mobile gamers by 2008. Analyst estimates vary widely, of course. But even the Economist, a publication not known for fanciful market projections, noted that mobile represents potentially the biggest platform for electronic games in the world.
Developing for a worldwide audience
Traditional media companies develop their entertainment products primarily for the US, Europe, and Japan. But the market for mobile content services defies the conventional approach to international markets: Mobile grows fastest in some surprising places. Countries with low penetration of game consoles and poor dial-up Internet access, as well as places with limited TV choices, often demonstrate spectacular growth in demand for mobile entertainment. As a result, innovation comes from all over the globe.
For years, Korea and Japan led the way in wireless. Finally, now the largest mobile phone markets, China and the USA, are emerging as the big markets for mobile content, too. But India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia also represent vast growth opportunities. GDC Mobile maintains a sharp focus on international markets. This year, we will feature speakers from Thailand, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the Philippines, Finland, UK, France, Ireland, and Canada. Our opening general session will provide detailed analysis of the unique market dynamics of four of key territories: China, India, Russia, and Germany.
The USA, a mobile laggard in many respects, is now catching up with the more sophisticated offerings of advanced international markets. "The number of people playing games on cell phones in the US last year jumped to 18.7 million from 10.6 million in 2003; cell phone game revenue more than doubled to $204 million from $91 million, estimates In-Stat/MDR research group." Wireless gaming is on track to become the single largest wireless data application category from a revenue perspective, overtaking ring tones in 2005 and rising to nearly $1.5 billion annually by 2008, according to a new report from IDC.
The Power to Shape Industries
A billion and a half consumers exert a powerful gravitational effect on many surrounding industries: They purchase more than 500 million new phones every year. Component suppliers in the electronics industry have prioritized mobile, because that's where the momentum lies. For instance, digital camera component and chipmakers have noted that camera phones now exceed digital camera sales and have prioritized their shipments accordingly. The same is true of every component in the handset: Mobile devices drive the highest volume of sales (and thereby drive down the cost) of high-resolution miniature color displays, rechargeable batteries, and most important, semiconductors. The result: Mobile phones get faster, better, and cheaper every year.
Today's cell phone is a mobile computing platform that will absorb the capabilities of many portable consumer devices at a price that's hard for any stand-alone gizmo to beat. At the heart of today's mass-market mobile phone is a highly optimized semiconductor designed for low power consumption and a range of multimedia functions, including 3D graphics, MPEG4 video encode/decode, and MP3 or AAC audio. All major silicon manufacturers, including Intel, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Infineon, ATI, and NVIDIA have focused on the mobile platform as the engine of future growth in semiconductor sales. Representatives from most major silicon makers will participate at GDC Mobile 2005.
More powerful semiconductors make possible a host of other handset improvements that have greatly increased the quality of the entertainment experience on mobile phones. And these improvements will continue unabated for a decade or more. Just as in the PC and automobiles, innovation that occurs at the high end soon finds its way into mass-market products. But in mobile, this cycle has been compressed into a two-year interval.
The biggest game platform is the smallest
Where MIPS grow, games follow. Sheer processing power yields better graphics, and the prospect of ever-better games. Last year, Open GL/ES, the new standard for 3D graphics rendering in mobile, was first announced at GDC Mobile by the Khronos Group. This year, the conference's expert roundtable will discuss the state of 3D technologies rolling out in Europe and North America.
No one today asserts that mobile phones will supplant handheld game consoles, like Sony's PSP, any time soon, in terms of graphics rendering. But the gap is closing steadily thanks to alliances like Qualcomm's partnership with ATI. It's the right time for game designers to consider the implications of ubiquitous game experiences that span every connected platform. To stimulate such thinking, Mike Yuen of Qualcomm will present a seminar which addresses the "tipping point," when mobile games connect to consoles and other platforms. Likewise, Matt Yaney of Sony Online will address the unique game design constraints imposed by such platform-spanning concepts.
Major game publishers like Electronic Arts have noted the trend towards ubiquitous game franchises and have decided to enter the market at the 3D inflection point. This year at GDC Mobile, we will learn from John Batter, EA's head of mobile games, about the megapublisher's motivations and plans in this booming field.
One company with the power to shape the industry is Nokia. The Nordic giant exerts disproportionate influence by virtue of its commanding market share in handset sales. Nokia introduced the first embedded mobile game ("Snake") and subsequently attempted to segment the market by targeting niche customers, like the mobile gamer with specialized devices. At GDC Mobile 2003, Nokia's Ilkka Raiskinen introduced the N-Gage, the world's first mobile game deck. No one expected that Nokia would enjoy an easy entry into Nintendo's fiefdom, and the results were humbling. But the Finnish champion has steadily maintained its commitment to mobile gaming: Today, Nokia includes standard game support in a broad range of terminals and today remains at the forefront of innovation in the field.
Other handset manufacturers have followed Nokia's lead. This year at GDC Mobile, attendees will hear about major game initiatives in sponsored seminars by both Nokia and rival Sony Ericsson.
Despite rapid proliferation of capabilities in the handset, most mobile phone games still remain wedded to the design criteria inherited from console games without tapping the unique features of the handset. Mobile phones have many input mechanisms: voice, keypad buttons, text messages, camera and picture messages, location. And mobile phones are capable of many outputs: color screen, text messages, pictures, animation, video, audio, even haptic feedback (vibration). How many games take advantage of this broad palette for expression? At GDC Mobile 2005, three expert white papers on the subject of audio for mobile will be presented. And a special presentation on "The Psychology of Small Screen Design" will illustrate some perceptual phenomena unique to the tiny mobile display: vital information for designers on the mobile platform.
Connected games everywhere
One of the unique attributes of the mobile platform is the network connection. For most game platforms, network features do not necessarily comprise a central aspect of gameplay. But great mobile games are designed with the network in mind.
Improvement in handsets will soon be matched by upgrades in the network infrastructure. Third generation, or 3G, networks were long delayed by technology glitches and adverse financial circumstances. The major European network operators suffered through a crippling recession after speculating wildly in the much-ballyhooed 3G spectrum auctions of 2001. The ensuing cash crunch delayed network upgrades for two years and thereby destabilized the finances of major infrastructure vendors and even placed European financial institutions in jeopardy.
Today, the recession is behind us, and 3G networks are finally rolling out in markets beyond early pacesetters, Japan and Korea. Coming soon to a phone near you: broadband connectivity. This year at GDC Mobile, we will hear about the 3G deployment plans from carrier representatives from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, including Vodafone, Orange, SK Telecom, Bouygues Telecom, Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless, and Sprint PCS.
In the coming months, when players enjoy instant, high-speed connection to online services from mobile devices, WAP 1.0 over GSM/GPRS will seem as arcane as the pre-Web Internet via 9600 baud dial-up connections from the PC. The introduction of new 3G networks means fast downloads and persistent connections for online games and multiplayer tournaments. Last year at GDC, online community expert Amy Jo Kim presented a dissertation on mobile communities; this year, GDC Veteran Paul Neurath, of Floodgate, will present a special paper on the subject of 3G games.
Networked games have always comprised a core part of the GDC curriculum. Today these services are moving to the mainstream. With the advent of 3G, these services will now be available at reasonable prices to huge numbers of players. It's easy to predict a big shift toward persistent services in mobile (mirroring a similar shift in Web usage when people traded in dial-up for residential broadband). Today's home computer is an always-on information utility. Likewise, tomorrow's phone will be a mobile access gate, providing instant connection to real-time data services, including networked game communities.
In the future, we'll see mobile extensions of mainstream online game destinations, like Pogo.com, as well as niche subscription services, like MMORPGs. This year's GDC Mobile features a roundtable discussion featuring multiplayer game developers with real deployment experience, modertated by Jason Ford of Sprint PCS. Plus, Square Enix's Keito Ito will present a special case study on the mobile extension of the hit franchise Final Fantasy.
Marketing mobile games and other data services
The industry is nearing critical mass: high-speed networks, millions of download-capable handsets, and thousands of titles. The biggest challenges ahead will lie in the areas of marketing, branding, and programming new content services.
Until now, the burden of marketing mobile games lay mainly with the carrier. But this will probably change in 2005.
Developers have clamored for more, better marketing for years. Previously at GDC Mobile, we've witnessed spectacular emotional outbursts when frustrated developers assailed the mobile operators for greater marketing support. Such fireworks obscure the fact that mobile network operators are grappling with a multifaceted marketing challenge: Games comprise only a tiny part of the overall brand marketing strategy.
Today, despite the hoopla about mobile data, the reality is that the vast bulk of the carrier's revenue still comes from plain old voice services. That is changing gradually, but developers would be ill-advised to expect a radical shift away from marketing support for core voice services. Until it's clearly evident that game revenue can more than replace dwindling revenue from voice, it would be unrealistic to expect the carrier to become wholeheartedly enthusiastic marketers of mobile games and other content. From the developer's perspective, this stance may be hopelessly retrograde, but from the incumbent network operator's view, it makes sense to defend the core business during a period when new services remain largely unproven.
In the past, it was easy to market mobile services: Network operators sold voice. To such a telecom company, dial tone was the only content that mattered. Today, however, carriers must juggle hundreds of competing priorities. Carriers are in the process of reinventing themselves as purveyors of multimedia, data, information, commerce, life services (whatever that means), and enterprises applications. All in addition to voice.
Telcos are coping with an identity crisis. Not just in mobile telecom. Every network operator (landline, long distance, mobile operators, even cable MSOs) must come to grips with a fundamental shift in their positioning and customer proposition. What does it mean to their brand and to their consumer when every type of media and content can be delivered via every network? What happens to their business when the core voice offering is reduced to a commodity, and they must turn for revenue growth towards new unproven products and services, such as video (streamed or downloaded); games (networked or client-side-only downloads); chat and e-mail; music (in a variety of formats on demand, downloaded or streamed); and a host of bewildering but possibly more lucrative enterprise applications. Are games a priority? Is it reasonable to presume that carrier marketing departments will place a huge priority on games when games appeal to only a subset of their consumers and yield only 20 percent margins?
Mobile networks are valued on a few key metrics: total subscribers, subscriber growth, [and] average revenue per subscriber. Data ARPU comprises a fraction of the total revenue, and games ARPU represents a sliver of total turnover. Games are most valuable to the marketing department at mobile operators if they can make a real impact on these numbers.
Do games sell phones? At GDC, we've heard both sides of the argument: Some operators dismiss the proposition outright as preposterous, whereas others insist that games demonstrably do attract new subscribers. Judging from the increasing emphasis on game functionality in mobile phones, it appears that the latter view is gaining momentum. This year's Mobile Network Operator Spotlight Session will provide an occasion to revisit this debate and further ponder some looming challenges.
A fad or a trend?
Some mobile operators have observed a troubling pattern in consumption: Sometimes new subscribers purchase a download-capable phone with a data plan and enthusiastically consume mobile entertainment for a few months. But thereafter a kind of "data fatigue" sets in. Consumption tapers off after 10 months.
Why do some customers stop buying? Is the service unappealing? Is the mobile storefront too hard to use? Perhaps the products are overpriced? Maybe the customer is satisfied with the initial batch of downloaded games and sees no reason to delete them from the phone. Or perhaps the consumer fails to develop a habit of use and subsequently forgets about the service. Or perhaps subscribers find that the offering is neither vital, meaningful, relevant, compelling, addictive, inspiring, exhilarating, nor fun.
These are not the carriers' problems. They are the industry's problems. Every participant in this industry is obliged to seek a solution to this challenge. That includes technology companies, network equipment providers, OEMs, IP owners, publishers, platform providers, billing solutions vendors, and, yes, you, the game developer. Collectively, the industry must confront the challenge of consumer fatigue or else this fledgling industry may never rise from the level of novelty to habit. Is mobile gaming destined to be a mere fad or a sustainable long-term trend? The answer may depend upon disruptive forces in marketing and merchandising of mobile services and content.
New voices and competing agendas
2005 will see the emergence of new proponents of innovative services who will devote substantial resources to promoting mobile entertainment, including games.
Some of these new voices will be disruptors: new entrants unencumbered by a legacy voice business who will attempt to seize lucrative niche markets (including games) that appeal to a narrowly targeted demographic segment. Look to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) and online portals to crank up massive consumer marketing in 2005 in North America.
In North America, MVNOs Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile have already demonstrated how to profit from market segmentation by repackaging "plain vanilla" prepay service into a special bundle tailored for hip youths. They are about to face some stiff competition. Recent MVNO announcements by ESPN, SK Earthlink, Amp'd, and even Time Warner Cable suggest that the US market will soon provide a lively testing ground for innovative consumer marketing.
In Germany, mobile portals such as Jamba.de routinely spend tens of millions on broadcast and print media buys to educate the public about mobile content sold directly via premium SMS and online storefronts. 2005 will see services like Jamster and Zingy duke it out for B2C market share in the USA. The net effect will be greater consumer awareness for mobile content offerings among domestic audiences.
The competitive pressure from such players and the prospect of losing highly desirable subscribers may cause the incumbent network operators to devote more priority to promoting innovative game offerings.
Breaking the bottleneck
At the first GDC Mobile, in a seminal presentation called "Distribution Beyond the Carrier" Digital Bridges founder Kevin Bradshaw observed that the carrier's "shop window is too small." He predicted a surge of distribution outlets would emerge outside the carrier storefront.
How effective is today's mobile storefront as a merchandising mechanism? Consider the following analogy from the brick-and-mortar retail world. As recently as the late 1980s, American tourists who visited some parts of Europe were flummoxed by user-hostile retailing practices in quaint shopping districts. Merchandise was shelved behind a counter where it could not be inspected. Dour European sales clerks in sterile tunics frowned at shoppers who loitered. Browsing was discouraged. Comparison shopping was unavailable. No one recommended new products. US power shoppers, accustomed to a leisurely sojourn in the lavish temples of conspicuous consumption known as American malls, found such European retail practices arcane, even absurd. Why, they wondered, would any sane retailer impose an impediment to a shopper?
Today, in mobile data, the situation is reversed. Europe today offers a dazzling array of diverse mobile-content shopping experiences and inventive merchandising via any medium. The Europeans have perfected the art of stimulating the impulse purchase via mobile phones. TV shows, magazine ads, and even bus stop posters beckon the mobile consumer with attractive offers and instant gratification via premium SMS short code.
Meanwhile, the US market remains encumbered by arcane technologies and strict carrier policies, which govern all transactions. Absence of event-based billing shoehorns all content into a limited number of purchasing plans, thereby constraining choice and thwarting innovation.
In a decade when brick-and-mortar retailers have invested massive effort into increasing the "fun factor" and entertainment value in shopping, it's incomprehensible that many WAP storefronts remain mired in the past, consisting mostly of a boring directory of text links. Purchasing a mobile game or a ringtone is a tedious chore instead of a fun experience.
Basic CRM capabilities, such as personalization, saved preferences, and collaborative filtering, remain largely absent from mobile storefronts. Amazon, anyone?
Ugly, clumsy interfaces present a hindrance to consumption. Only the most intrepid consumer, steadfastly determined to download a game, is likely to make it through the cumbersome WAP menu. Such mobile portals present a meager marketing opportunity. Branding is nearly impossible in such a barren environment. Graphical previews are unavailable. The opportunity to create enticing retail promotions is nonexistent. Under these circumstances, is it any surprise that few original brands have been created in mobile games?
To create an instant emotional link to the consumer, many mobile publishers have turned to Hollywood.
The value of the brand
2004 was the year of licensed intellectual property in mobile. It was the year that every movie studio and media company opportunistically raked in elephant dollars by auctioning their intellectual property for mobile. A steady stream of supplicants from all corners of the globe journeyed to Hollywood's consumer products departments, where they were unburdened of their venture capital and then saddled with the rights to a forgotten 1970s sitcom or faded action movie. Legacy content titles with dubious brand value were auctioned for princely sums to startup content companies who craved the legitimacy of a brand.
Some of these titles may succeed, but many fail to qualify as genuine brands.
Brands are only valuable to mobile publishers when they offer value to the end consumer. By licensing, the publisher is paying for a powerful emotional message condensed into a few words. In the otherwise bleak WAP menu, the right name can trigger an impulse purchase and thereby catapult a title to the coveted top 10 position.
A real brand offers a guarantee of quality in advance of a purchase. A real brand instills a sense of confidence in a consumer; moreover, an entertainment brand creates an emotional connection. Veteran marketers refer to this as the "brand promise." In mobile, the brand promise means that a consumer can click on a title in a WAP menu, seeing only the title, and nevertheless have confidence that their $5.99 was well spent. How many licenses truly have the ability to create this connection?
Sophisticated publishers have already begun to recast their brand-licensing deals to isolate at least four distinct elements of value:
a) meaningful, instantly recognizable brand value in the title
b) a volume of high-quality content available to support the brand promise
c) a known audience, which identifies with the brand
d) a willingness by the IP owner to market aggressively to that audience
The discerning mobile publisher eschews intellectual property lacking these four components. In 2005, watch for mainstream media companies to leverage their consumer touch points to promote mobile content and services, including games. In many cases, they will do so in partnership with a sophisticated mobile publisher.
This year at GDC Mobile, Digital Bridges' Paul Maglione will outline the competitive dynamics of a rapidly consolidating marketplace, including the rush to secure branded IP and to secure scarce shelf space in the carrier shop window.
Some mobile operators have boldly set forth their own programming agenda. They hope to differentiate their content service on the basis of exclusive offerings. We've seen this movie before in the 1990s, so we can predict how it might play out in mobile. It's called the "Walled Garden," a topic that was hotly debated in cable TV and Internet gatherings in the mid '90s.
It's hard to build a wall around the ocean, and it's equally unlikely that walled gardens can survive when the ecosystem outside teems with vibrant life. But as America Online demonstrated, a well-groomed walled garden can persist for many years, as long as it provides a high-quality experience that suits the subscribers' needs. No surprise that NTT DoCoMo and other Asian carriers emulated the AOL model for the launch of their highly successful services: They offered a well-groomed service, plus the option of venturing outside to the untamed wilds of the mobile Internet.
Not every network operator attempts to program the entire service solo. Some carriers rely on programming partnerships.
Asian carriers provide a useful example of an alternative approach to the hierarchical WAP directory structure prevalent in the Western world. Many Asian carriers feature miniportals listed inside the main deck. Content providers are permitted (encouraged!) to run one or more portals on a subscription basis. As noted in previous GDC symposia, leading Japanese publishers Namco, Bandai, Hudson, Dwango, and similar companies operate such portals. In Japan, some companies operate multiple portals aimed at entirely different audience segments.
In such a setting, normal competitive dynamics spur innovation and fresh marketing concepts. Each content publisher must constantly innovate to attract consumer interest and generate awareness. Consumers are given plenty of incentive to return, explore, and discover new services. The carrier plays a neutral role, with the winners dictated purely on the basis of consumer demand.
The obvious analogy, of course, is cable television, where the cable system network operator remains focused on running the transmission network and handling customers, while the programming partner provides ever-better-targeted content programming in the form of channels. For example, MTV Networks offers a wide range of pop culture channels, which span a range of demographics from kids to young adults to grown-up hipsters: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, NickTeen, Nick at Night, MTV Jams, MTV2, MTV Latino, VH1 Soul, and Comedy Central. MTV Networks has tailored its content offer to cater to well-defined audience demographic segments. Meanwhile, the cable system operator remains free to focus on providing a reliable and satisfactory service to consumers.
As complex multimedia services are deployed in 3G networks, watch for the carrier to establish symbiotic relationships with programming partners in key content categories.
The Race for Global Scale
For two decades, most independent media companies have been combined into vast global media conglomerates. Likewise, the telecom sector is in the process of consolidation. Even the console game industry is in the throes of a merger-and-acquisition cycle.
Mobile content publishing is not immune to this trend. During the past year, a dozen major publishers have driven rapid consolidation within the mobile content sector. Some of these companies sought to assemble a global distribution presence, and others sought to build up critical mass in specific product categories or content genres.
These companies are in a race to achieve global scale. Larger mobile companies enjoy the benefits of scale as they port a single title to multiple handsets for release in multiple territories. The economics of content syndication dictate that an information product performs best when it achieves the broadest distribution. Motorola's Brian Wolkenberg highlights some of the risks and the advantages inherent in scaling up to meet the mobile market...and some of the consequences of handset fragmentation.
Some hurdles remain. For example, handset porting remains a combination of art and science: This chore stubbornly refuses to submit to automation despite the proliferation of terminal device configurations. Some people refer to porting as the art of knowing what to subtract from a finished game while preserving the core game experience. Mforma's Jimmy Giliberti will reveal his techniques for "The Art of Porting" to attendees at GDC Mobile. Additionally, developers from PodFun and Digital Chocolate will present papers on coding and production techniques to enable efficient platform ports.
Whither the independent developer? Is assimilation the only outcome? Hardly. A new wave of innovation portends the rise of new independent studios. Vincent Scheurer, of Sarassin LLP, provides a clear set of guidelines about how to navigate a negotiation with a global publisher. Vincent's white paper alone is worth the price of admission to GDC Mobile: It contains a wealth of negotiating tips from an expert legal adviser.
Mobile entertainment has come a great distance from relatively inauspicious beginnings, and yet it's easy to imagine the next exciting phase of evolution. We're truly at the beginning of a great expansion cycle: By virtue of sheer demographic momentum, mobile games will emerge as the largest interactive entertainment market in the world.
I'd like to personally thank every past contributor to GDC Mobile and extend a warm welcome to this year's distinguished faculty of expert speakers from our industry. I'm looking forward to the 2005 symposium with great enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing every attendee at the conference.
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