Casual games on mobile: Why operators and publishers are excited to see more casual mobile content

Gunnar Larsen, Director Mobile Games Europe, Real Networks
Alex Bubb, Jamdat
Bryan Trussel, Microsoft Casual Games
Tim Harrison, Head of Games Vodafone

First slide emphasises difficulty of fragmented value chain.

GL: What is a mobile casual game? Is it the same as a PC casual game?

TH: On mobile the fundamentals are similar to the PC. Being here today reminds him of mobile conferences a few years ago. Modes of play and discovery are different. The common ground is simplicity, approachability and fun. It's a less self-conscious form of gameplay: games as boredom-busters and to kill time, not for games' sake. The difference is the level of complexity in the mobile space. Operators see community as importantly as games publishers.

AB: Jamdat have one of the most successful puzzle titles. The demographic is huge: everyone has played Tetris, even people who don't consider themselves gamers.

BT: It's not coincidence that your top casual titles are the top titles on mobile. You need to be sensitive on mobile: it needs to be simple to learn, no tutorials. Mobile is about smaller timeslices

GL: PC is more about relaxation, mobile is a boredom-buster.

BT: You'll always go to your PC or Xbox to spend half an hour playing.

TH: We were surprised by the number of people playing mobile games at home, after research we did last year. Playing a console game involves an investment of time. There's lots of reasons to choose one platform over another.

AB: Dip in, dip out is important. But that might not be the entire game.

TH: Solitaire is the killer app on any platform. Tetris is big too.

AB: The discovery mechanism is very different on mobile.

GL: How big is the opportunity? We hear 1.5b game-enabled handsets.

TH: Mobile is one of the thinnest areas in terms of numbers. The majority of the market is controlled by notoriously cagey operators. Market estimates for mobile gaming range from 1.5bn - 4bn [ dollars or pounds? ]. But we've not scratched the surface yet. The discovery mechanism for games is a key reason why not. 65-80% of mobile owners have played a game on their phone (though the majority are playing an embedded game). Our challenge is converting these embedded players into downloading players. We're doing "free trial" games on handsets. Flash isn't a model we can imitate yet, with only 1% of our handsets Flash-enabled, but "try before you buy" works.

BT: There is money being made in mobile right now. Handsets are getting more capable - the potential audience is increasing. It's possible to get more efficiencies in the value chain.

GL: What are the challenges? What's the process for bringing a game to market?

AB: There is limited shelf space in the mobile market. A simple game is a good start. There are complexities you need to overcome: porting etc. Different handsets, chipsets, etc. But there are ways around this.

GL: What's your advice to a mobile developer with a great game?

TH: Talk to a good publisher, or an aggregator operating in direct-to-consumer. Mobile operators want value adds on top of a great game; they want a way to attract customers. You need a sustainable roadmap of high-quality product.

BT: It's not that carriers don't want games: there's just too many out there.

GL: How do you recommend that developers handle porting and fragmentation?

AB: Every publisher has their own strategy. The difference between a mobile and console publisher is a split between front-line and deployment production. We're scaling up in Romania etc to handle this.

BT: Mobile hasn't seen an abstraction layer for different hardware. Why isn't there such an abstraction layer?

TH: This is the price we pay for the ubiquity of mobile, unfortunately. So much creative energy and revenue goes into back-end, not game creation and marketing. There will be consolidation of operating systems to a certain extent. It's like the home computer market in the 80s. We're moving out of that phase into the early-PC type phase. Mobile is still a few years away from this consolidation.

GL: How important is it for Vodafone to support 300 handsets? Can they get away with fewer?

TH: Vodafone Live is our proposition. We don't sell it as devices. All our dreams have been built upon the ubiquity of the device.

AB: For casual games, porting is easier. The lifecycle of products seems to be longer too.

BT: The easy games to write and port are the ones with a longer shelf life.

TH: Naming is important. Words like "racing", "action" or "puzzle" in a game title are a great benefit towards driving sales from an operator portal.

GL: What business models are suitable for mobile? Today it's pay-per-download. Is subscription a valid business model?

AB: Ultimately yes. It's not Jamdats focus now but long-term it has to be the way forward.

GL: How can we give people a better feel for the game before they spend their money?

BT: It's very important. The casual game on the PC is successful because you know what you're getting into. Mobile doesn't have the depth of recognition. Mobile users don't have a trust relationship with the game deck right now. Until we have trust, we'll have wary consumers.

TH: We're looking at game trailers in video to give a feel for the game.

GL: Is the pricing OK? A game in the UK cost £4.50, £5

TH: We think it's right at the moment but many customers don't perceive it as good value.

GL: Brian, do you see the web-to-mobile opportunity as interesting?

BT: There's a brilliant opportunity there. Someone who's just played the game on the web is the ideal customer to buy on mobile: they're pre-qualified.

GL: Is direct-to-consumer a threat to your business?

TH: No, at the end of the day the carriers are still making money. In many markets it's a bigger opportunity for carriers than the portal business.

BT: You come into mobile and see all the problems, then difficulties downloading games make sense. It's healthy to ignore the complications that are involved in doing this if we want to look towards a more pleasant future.

Q: Is Vodafone looking at exploiting advertising opportunities for casual and other kinds of gaming?

TH: Top of my wishlist for mobile is the equivalent of "viral flash games". From a monetary point of view it's harder.

Q: When will standardisation occur? When will games become valuable enough to have standardisation pushed?

TH: Mobile has been driven by open, not proprietary, standardisation. Open standards get implemented in different ways on different handsets. All that will happen will be market forces: a more consistent version of Java across devices is good for everyone.

Q: How will shortage of deck space change in future?

TH: the growth of off-portal brings more storefronts. Some folks will target specific handsets - not operators, but other guys. Faster handset and 3G allow sophistication of portals.

AB: Improved search will help.

TH: MMS discovery too.

Q: 3D, connected multiplayer games, cross-platform games: hype or reality

3D: 2x real, 1 x hype
Connected multiplayer: 2 x hype, 1 x real
Cross-platform: 3 x real