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Bite-Sized Pieces of Mobile Fun: I-Play CEO David Gosen on Mobile Game Design

In this exclusive interview with Gamasutra, I-Play CEO David Gosen discusses the independent mobile game publisher and developer's fundamental strategies, the need for education, and the future of the mobile games market in general.

Frank Cifaldi, Contributor

March 7, 2006

9 Min Read


David Gosen is Acting CEO of successful independent mobile game developer and publisher I-Play, which has recently found success with licensed games based on the 24 television franchise and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. I-Play's game sales are consistently among the top five in both Europe, where the company originally hails from, and the United States, where it has just launched a development studio.

In this exclusive interview with Gamasutra, Gosen discusses I-Play's fundamental strategies, the need for education, and the future of the mobile games market in general.

What Makes I-Play Tick?

"In terms of philosophy, we believe that mobile gaming is a mass market casual game opportunity," said Gosen. "There is clearly a role for a focus on some console type gaming opportunities, but really we have to appeal to the mass market. We know that 50% of people have played a game on their mobile, but only 5% have actually downloaded a game. So there's a huge opportunity to grow this market. Nearly 50% of players are women, and it's those sorts of numbers that the console industry would die for."

A key factor in drawing a mobile user into downloading a game, says Gosen, lies in approaching game design with the mobile experience in mind. "We look at the gaming experience, and the experience on a mobile is not the same as on a console," he said. "I think some developers get that, and some don't. It's not an immersive two or three-hour session, it's not something that you do in a dedicated way. Mobile gaming is typically done as part of another event or occasion. You're traveling, you might even be watching TV at home, but it's still part of another occasion."

"Typically, it's also much shorter, perhaps ten to fifteen minutes maximum, and your expectation is that you need a quick fix of entertainment rather than a deep immersive experience."

When asked what differentiates a mobile phone experience from that of a dedicated portable gaming device, Gosen offered: "The difference between traditional portable devices and a mobile is that they are different ends of the scale. As I said, I think mobile is about snacking in terms of gaming, whereas console and portables like the PSP and DS to a lesser degree, is a three course meal. It really is bite-sized pieces of mobile fun, and the structure and gaming experience on a DS, on a PSP, on a GBA is by its very nature more immersive."

"I think the other very important point here is that when an individual goes out, they may well check each pocket and go 'mobile phone, wallet, car keys…' you do not go 'MP3 player, PSP, camera.' We have a world where the mobile phone is truly the first multimedia convergence device for the mass market. Your MP3 player may hold 4,000 tracks, your phone may hold 250-300, it may give you 2 megapixel vs. a 3 megapixel camera. It gives you mobile gaming entertainment, but of a different type."

"That's what mass market is about. It's about the convenience of having all those devices in one, and you will accept the fact that it's a much more limited entertainment experience, but no less rewarding. And that's really the role of the mobile device."

"At the end of the day, the mobile phone is a device to receive and make calls. If you are going to be interrupted, you need to have those gaming segments within the whole experience."




One the tallest hurdles facing publishers today is that off cross-platform convergence: that is, being able to purchase a game once and play it on several platforms, be it a desktop PC, a living room television, or a mobile phone. Gosen, however, thinks it's too early to focus on such an idea. "I think this totally integrated gaming experience across multiple platforms is a great challenge, and I think is probably today not where the focus needs to be," he said. "The focus needs to be on getting the core mass market into core gaming. What we mustn't do is overcomplicate things so that we frighten people away from an industry that has mass market potential. We have to make it easy to access a game. They have to be able to navigate carrier decks in an intuitive way, and download a game quickly and effectively and of high quality."

"I think what you'll start to see is a world where if you play a game on your PC such as The Sims, you can download your character on mobile phone, and then at the end of the day upload it back to the PC. So I think as design and development improvements like that come, you'll start to see the web-mobile link be formed and forged."

I-Play's Development Process

"We develop games internally, and we also use external developers," said Gosen. "So we have a balance of development resources. We have development facilities in the UK, and we're growing those out in North America currently. I see an increased internalization of development, because what we've done is started to control the complete end-to-end process, from game design through porting and conversion through QA. Because we have that process in place, it means we can accelerate speed to market, improve quality, and reduce the cost of developing mobile games."

"The difficult part of the process isn't really the development. We have very creative teams that work incredibly hard to deliver creative concepts, and that's good. But the back-end, the conversion to over 300 SKUs on a global basis, and making sure you can write once and play everywhere is the goal, and you need to design and build your games in a way that facilitate the porting process. Having deep, rich, immersive games does not support the current infrastructure of the devices. So you need to balance game design. Don't compromise on game creativity, but be clear on how you take this backend step of porting."



How To Attract Women

"I think you need to segment with care," said Gosen, cautiously. "If you take a game like 24, we know from focus groups that women are very motivated to play that game, because they have a strong relationship with TV series – some would like an even stronger relationship with [lead character Jack] Bauer – but the game design is such that it's a mission-based game with challenging puzzles. And we know that style that motivates females is puzzle, card, and simple type games."

"They're still challenging, of course. Simple does not equal easy. So what we have to do is make sure that the game design and the concept and genre appeals to them. This is not about going out and doing overtly targeted games to women. That is not the answer. You look at the success of Tetris, or our own Jewel Quest, and you can see that when you actually deliver a quality puzzle-based game, you will recruit a significant number of women to that game genre."

Sure, a game like 24 may appeal to the female demographic when they're forced to play the game in a focus group, but how do you get the average consumer to give the game a chance? "We all have a role to educate, and if you're only 5% penetrated, you clearly need to do a lot of education," said Gosen. "What we need to see is the carriers putting significant resources into marketing games. I'm not talking about significant TV and radio advertising, I'm talking about customer relationship marketing, working with users to really educate them in terms of content. And you have I think some carriers that are making real progress in doing this. If you look at Sprint and Game Lobby, they're creating a real community, where people who have downloaded a game can rate them, and can recommend them to a friend. So what you've got through ratings and recommendatopm is the community evaluating the game on behalf of the carrier."

"If you see a game with a nine out of ten rating, you'll be inclined to download it. But I think there is a real education role here. We are now investing our own marketing budget in terms of promoting titles, in taking the games and the concepts online to try and educate people, to show them that mobile gaming has advanced.

"We have to do it, carriers have to do it. Manufacturers should embed the best games in their phones, and 'try before you buy' the best titles. We need quality to raise its head above the sheer plethora of titles that exist on the deck."



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About the Author(s)

Frank Cifaldi


Frank Cifaldi is a freelance writer and contributing news editor at Gamasutra. His past credentials include being senior editor at 1UP.com, editorial director and community manager for Turner Broadcasting's GameTap games-on-demand service, and a contributing author to publications that include Edge, Wired, Nintendo Official Magazine UK and GamesIndustry.biz, among others. He can be reached at [email protected].

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