In five years time, the mobile games industry has grown from a pipe-dream into the fastest growing segment of the video game industry, with mobile currently making up roughly 10% of all video game sales. Industry projections are indicating more growth in the years ahead. By this time four years from now, the industry could drive over $8 billion of revenue.
But that, of course, is not going to happen without some effort. The first growth spurt of the mobile games industry was driven by casual adopters. Early consumers bought phones with download capability and discovered, to their joy, that they could play the same games on their phone that they play in their web browser, or that they played 10 years ago when they had more time.
The second growth spurt, the current stage of the industry, is being driven by carriers and handset manufacturers who are driving down the manufacturing and infrastructure efficiency curve to offer game-capable devices and services to everyone everywhere. It’s this stage that will offer better and better entertainment capabilities on cheaper and cheaper phones for increasingly more people. Phones stealing the console’s mindshare in developing regions? Mike Yuen explained it all in a previous guest editorial.
But if we stop now, we will be like TV before cable, like the movies before Sundance, like radio before satellite – an entertainment platform with a big, anemic, vaguely dissatisfied audience. Billions in revenues, no one particularly happy with what’s on, but no other options. That situation will make people money, but it will not achieve our industry’s potential. If we end up in that bloated, formulaic but lucrative future, mobile games will have failed.
The third growth stage of mobile games will be spurred by innovation. It will be spurred by business model innovation across the value chain. It will be spurred by process innovation in the production and distribution of mobile games. And it will be spurred most of all by game design and development innovation.
But where does innovation come from? The key source of innovation is playfulness – taking joy in shaking things up or pushing the boundaries. So this article is a call for playfulness in mobile games.
You see the results of playfulness in every other video game platform – recent examples include Brain Age, Katamari, and LocoRoco. Those games all show a healthy disrespect for the status quo, and a desire to try new things.
There have been examples of playfulness in mobile games: Bush vs. Kerry Boxing from Glu was a simple, timely and satisfying Punch Out clone starring the presidential candidates. Go To Hell from Morpheme was playful like finger-painting with blood is playful, but we’re counting that here. And Samurai Romanesque, Dwango’s early masterpiece, laughed at the technical limitations of the phone world and built an epic multiplayer contest. All these games were innovative in some ways, and other examples are being brought to light by the fabulous International Mobile Games Awards (www.imgawards.com).
But we need more. Why? Well, there’s an inherent value to the innovation that playfulness brings. A fresh entertainment experience is worth a lot to consumers and to future artists who are inspired by it.
But that freshness is rare in mobile. In some ways, we’ve grown up too fast. The rapid growth of mobile games revenue, the impressive acquisitions prices from early exits, the analysts’ enthusiasm and the continued flow of venture capital has stolen our youth. We rushed to get all buttoned up so we could secure the dollars and the brands, but we may have forgotten the joy of actual play. To be successful in the long term, to make this industry into what it actually can be, we need to grow up less. We need to encourage the funny, the strange, the bizarre ideas of game designers. In the long term, those people will take this industry farther that the biggest brands or the most lucrative clones.
In order to showcase innovation in mobile games, some friends have started the Museum of Mobile Game Innovations (MoMGI.org). We need a project like this because the most important games and innovations are getting swept away in the rush of incrementally better or plain-old-bad products. We need a place to immortalize the games, services, phones and projects that form the foundation on which our industry stands. We need a place where everyone interested in the industry can go and savor the creativity that has gotten us so far. Feel free to stop by and add your expertise and insights.
But more importantly, no matter what your job, please do what you can to encourage innovation in mobile. If you are a publisher, allocate 10% or 20% percent of your budget to experiments in game design. You might create the next independent blockbuster.
If you are a carrier, refuse to take games that aren’t interesting in some way - in any way - and make your content providers come up with at least one fresh approach before you’ll take a meeting with them. Create a category on your deck called Weird Stuff, and get your content providers to create stuff to put in there.
If you are a handset maker, spend 1/100th of 1% of the cost of phone manufacturing on independent, artistic software development for that phone. And if you are a developer, keep on being yourself, but more so.
Mobile games and the people who love them need you all.
Matthew Bellows is the GM of mobile game studio Floodgate Entertainment (www.floodg.com). Before joining Floodgate, he was the co-founder and publisher of Wireless Gaming Review.
[This mobile editorial was produced in association with Modojo.com.]