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Led by QuicklyBored.com's Douglas Soltys, the MECCA For Games 'Optimists Vs. Pessimists' panel brought together QUALCOMM's Mike Yuen, Multimedia Networks' Robert Tercek, Floodgate's Matthew Bellows, Namco's Jason Ford, and CAA's Justin Hall for a 'lively

Vincent Diamante, Blogger

September 14, 2006

6 Min Read

Well before the scheduled start of the session at the MECCA For Games subconference at CTIA earlier this week, the panelists were on stage letting loose with plenty of verbal jabs at each other: comments on each other's work, remarks on personal life, glib asides on hairstyles and kilts, all rapidly fired with the sort of natural virtuosity that one expects of a good session of theater improv games. The printed schedule of events promised Pessimists vs. Optimists to be a "lively discussion" and it more than lived up to that claim in the panel's first minutes. The panel comprised several people from various mobile games interests: Mike Yuen, Senior Director of the Gaming Group at QUALCOMM; Robert Tercek of Multimedia Networks and GDC's Mobile Symposium; Matthew Bellows, GM and VP of Marketing at Floodgate Entertainment; Jason Ford, VP of Strategy and Planning at Namco Networks and formerly of Sprint; and Justin Hall, New Media Research Specialist from Creative Artists Agency. Leading the discussion was Douglas Soltys, Editor-in-Chief of mobile game new site QuicklyBored.com. Soltys began by presenting some numbers; in the five years the mobile game industry has been around, 15 million subscribers have played a mobile game, 4.8 million have downloaded a game, and 3.9 million have purchased a game: very small percentages of the American subscriber base. Tercek responded with the resultant estimate of 2 billion US dollars paid by mobile gamers over the last 5 years as being not a bad number. There are some concerns about how small the percentages are, but overall it's easy to be optimistic because of the substantial room for growth. Others on the panel reiterated this optimism, though not without other concerns. For Bellows, the industry needs to grow an approach to mobile games as a creative medium and not just a business medium. "How can we get people saying, 'This is something I can't find anywhere else!'?" he asked. From here, Hall took the group on a sharp turn with his disappointment in the lack of networked social game experiences on cell phones. "Playing a single player game on a mobile phone is like playing a text adventure game on a console," he said, drawing criticism from Ford. "That's fine for the five million of you," said Ford. "What about the 275 million of me?" The panel moved in and out of this topic as they debated what the statistics actually mean in terms of the wants of both current game players and the untapped consumers. Bellows suggested that carriers could attract even more game players by adding to their decks "a little folder that says WEIRD STUFF." "Drive your publisher to create new stuff," he said. "Bring in people that are bored by tennis and don't want to play bowling again." Yuen noted how the continuously improving technology will bolster the industry with current mobile users and traditionally non-mobile gamers. "The real potential is ... designing games that work across all platforms. What experience can you put on that phone that can connect everybody up?" Justin responded to this with his optimism for Microsoft's announced Live Anywhere. Allowing people to see you as a gamer in the Microsoft game space is a good start in his eyes. Tercek wanted to know what Live does that mobile doesn't, and Justin proceeded to talk about the metagame that's present at the crossroads of game world and real world. At this point, the panel got highly animated and incoherent in its responses to Hall's ideas, prompting Ford to give the group a very loud time out call. "There's lots of stuff you can do on a phone ... but you can't do it in a game," said Tercek after the brief reprieve. Concepts like presence, constant connection, and constant global positioning are currently not available to game developers because of limitations of technology and issues of privacy and security. Tercek noted the Final Fantasy VII – Before Crisis mobile game as being an excellent example of the potential of user generated content in gameplay. He also noted that it is currently extremely difficult to implement as no one outside of Japan and Korea has opened up their handset specifications to do the camera-centric game actions that Final Fantasy does. He also noted the three year cycle that so scoped game would bring to developers. A quick question by Soltys showed that everyone on the panel were in favor of the type of cross-platform constant presence, of the type provided by Live Anywhere. Another question showed all of the panel as believing it to happen within the next five years. Here, the panel turned to the question of developers taking risks in developing things outside of the mainstream sales. Tercek directed a question Ford, asking if his employer Namco cares about growing the mobile industry as opposed to sitting comfortably in a niche. This wasn't directly answered as Bellows noted that "some little developer" isn't likely to take the risk to do something that's not immediately financially viable. "Who else has the money to do this... maybe someone milking their profits?" Tercek proffered. In the audience Q&A phase, the panel continued to address the need to grow the market. Bellows noted that at last year's Tokyo Game Show, every booth had a mobile game, and they were all slot machine games. This was also the year of the release of Final Fantasy. "You need to bring in both types of people ... or the market segments." Yuen agreed, adding that the card and puzzle games that are currently the mass market stuff will continue to be the backbone of the industry, but it's the social stuff that will move things forward. A question directed mostly to Ford asked to compare the incentives of a carrier to put things on their deck compared to the incentives of a publisher to be unique. Ford responded by saying that it's all about being in the right place at the right time. As a carrier he felt as though he were holding a house of cards supported by the placement of top brands on the top ten. Tercek noted that for the carriers it's pure risk to turnover the top ten. Their position is to drive mobile adoption, not the games themselves. The panel ended with some thoughts on marketing by publishers. It's a smart thing for carriers and publishers to play with the promotional schedule, said Tercek. It's also smart for publishers to work together with carriers in trying different ways of promoting their game. Tercek singled out Cingular as one carrier that is willing to work with publishers, from placing games in their own mini-portal to implementing different vending systems. Allowing this sort of innovation in marketing will help grow the market just as innovation in design can. By the end of the panel, nearly an hour had been spent on what was supposed to be a forty-five minute discussion, and the title of Pessimists vs. Optimists seemed rather inappropriate as everyone who spoke proved themselves to be very optimistic on the development of the industry, each in different and sometimes disparate ways.

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Vincent Diamante

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Vincent Diamante is a freelance game audio designer and senior editor at games website insertcredit.com and has previously worked for XM Radio. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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