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EDITORIAL : Do mobile games have the force?

Story added: 20 Jul 2006 00:06. Last updated: 20 Jul 2006 16:41.

The first in our series of editorials about games, the industry and anything else we feel needs saying!

You know, it's a funny thing. Well, it's not actually that funny, but when you think about it, George Lucas was fairly spot on when we heard the immortal lines in Return of the Jedi that "you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our point of view". Ok, so it probably wasn't Lucas, it smacks more of Lawrence Kasdan to me, and opening with a Jedi quote probably isn't the brightest thing to do, but what the hey.

Let me elaborate further before you log off and go and watch Big Brother. Mobile gaming is, and also has the potential to be, huge. Is that a contradiction in terms? Not when you consider the size of the market in the far east. We're talking billions here. You wander over to Japan or Korea and you'll see how huge the market is over there. Over here? Well, it's like comparing a tadpole to a whale, or more like comparing Bib Fortuna to the Emperor. Ok, I'll stop now. But, it's pretty grating to see how small the market is over here compared to how huge it could be. So you need to ask yourself the question of why. What's so different about the Asian and Western markets? At its core, there is no difference, but what really separates the markets are the operators.

You see, we think mobile gaming is fantastic (ok, we may be a little biased) and so do many of our friends (who coincidentally happen to be developers of great mobile games). But the operators here in the UK have a different point of view. They don't really understand the market and aren't prepared to take a chance on it. It's a crying shame really, as so far everything else they've tried has proved fairly fruitless. There was a huge push for 3G a few years ago. Now, apart from those naughty little calls to your partner / wife / lover / whatever, how many of you actually make video calls? Record video, yes, but you don't need a 3G handset for that. Next up was gaming and you know what promotion the operators over here did? Nothing. Absolutely nothing (apart from Vodafone sponsoring a few seconds on T4 sometimes). That was it!! And now they've moved on. Mobile TV is supposed to be the next big thing, but did you try and watch Sky or MTV during the free trial? The words 'try' and 'watch' shouldn't go in the same sentence. Capacity was overloaded and the pictures were pretty poor to say the least. Another failed experiment. But still operators push ahead with the thinking that "if it's the next thing out, we should be pushing it!". Now I've been called a businessman, albeit a poor (literally) one, and one rule of business is that when you get something right, you push it so hard that money will be falling off the trees.

3G calling wasn't right. Mobile TV isn't right yet. Mobile gaming so definitely is. For a few pounds you can download a game which takes you hours or days to complete. An arena where you can download new levels and one day play against another commuter (commuter, not computer). Yes, we have the portable console generation and recently when I was in Hong Kong I did notice a LOT of kids on their PSP's. But the ones that didn't own a PSP were on their mobile phones, a device that has the capacity to reach almost every person on the planet. A console that is so far reaching and well known in pretty much every corner of the globe that you don't need to even market it!! Admittedly the PSP excels in terms of graphics and also the quality of the games. But it's not alone. We're getting to the point where it's standard now on a phone car game to have really decent graphics and be able to tweak / customise your car. To the point where the puzzles are so engaging that you can't put them down for hours. To the point where shoot em ups are simple yet great fun to play. Every day I see a few more people with PSP's but I also see a few more people on their phones. Now, they don't have access to the games we do, but for a few minutes a quick game of poker, dominoes, backgammon or even snake will occupy them. Imagine then, if the operators showed people what was really out there. How good mobile games really are?

We've been trying to do this for two years, but we're a very small voice in a very big pond. The operators currently make god only knows what each year from contracts, while we make about enough for a visit to Kentucky now and again. They do work with the developers but seem to be focussed on developing a brand which isn??t an easy thing to do. There are people at the operators who have faith in the mobile games industry, and are trying to lend their support, however their bosses don??t seem to really agree with them. But we believe mobile phone games can cut it. We believe that the potential of the market is huge. We believe that games are so wide reaching that they can be gender specific or not, and so varied that you can pick up and play a game for 5 minutes or 5 hours. The mobile game developers clearly agree with us due to their sheer numbers across the globe and the level of investment they put into each and every game. Granted, some have been duds, but the bar has been raised extremely highly in the last few years, with mobile phone games even having a category at the Baftas.

Now all we have to do is to get the operators to change their point of view.

Reporting by Anannya Sen (Chief Editor)

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