Today, the mobile game experience isn't what it should be. Most mobile games have been "ported" from existing mediums such as PC, Arcade and console. They follow the same basic formulas (i.e., the same puzzles, the same platform mechanics, etc.) with little attempt to tailor the content to the medium other than to address device limitations. This approach satisfies consumers who want to kill some time for a few minutes, but it doesn't provide a rich & unique entertainment experience that will drive real growth in the mobile games industry. While it's true that some of these titles make a lot of money, they are very few and certainly not enough to support a robust industry.
When innovative companies start providing a compelling and unique experience to consumers on mobile devices, it will drive tremendous growth in the mobile industry. And it will create an industry much richer than it is today. Punch Entertainment's primary goal is to be one of the key drivers behind this next wave of growth.
Mobile games need to seriously evolve in order for the mobile games industry to be robust. To us, evolved mobile apps will have three basic characteristics:
- 1. They are inherently unique. You can't find anything else like them on other platforms.
- 2. They can be effectively marketed outside of the carrier decks.
- 3. They have community.
The first characteristic seems obvious. If you can find a particular game on another commonly available platform, then the only reason you would buy it for your phone is if you wanted to play that game more often, or if you experience long periods of boredom on-the-go that could not be fulfilled by reading a book, people-watching etc. People buying in this way are the "boredom browsers", or folks who are just browsing the decks because they are bored and looking to kill some time. The boredom browsers don't provide the economic foundation for a high-growth industry. However, a highly compelling game that can only be found on mobile could drive tremendous numbers. Then you are drawing in the "entertainment seekers", people who are actively seeking out entertaining applications that can't be found anywhere else. People are always out to find something fun that they've never seen before. If they can only get it one place, that's where they will spend their money.
The next characteristics of evolved mobile apps are necessary to overcome the biggest obstacle to original IP in the wireless industry (the carrier decks) and harness the greatest advantages of carrier networks (mobility and connectivity).
It is fairly well known that the carrier decks are not effective in marketing games (other than on the first page!). The deck is essentially a list of text (although some carriers are slowly rolling out the ability to at least view screenshots). It's virtually impossible for a consumer to make an informed purchase decision unless they recognize the brand or title, and even then they don't know what they are getting. This approach practically kills the chance for a stand-alone original IP title to be successful.
What about word-of-mouth? Mobile device limitations make it virtually impossible to create a "mind-blowing" audio-visual experience that would compel a user to recommend the game to somebody else. From a game perspective, the mobile phone simply can't create the experiences found on consoles, and even hand-held devices such as the Nintendo-DS or the Sony PSP in terms of controls, audio and graphics. It is very difficult to strike an emotional chord with a mobile gamer based on the audio-visual and gameplay experience that mobile phones can achieve, particularly to the extent that would compel a user to share the game with somebody else. Therefore, what you are left with is focusing on mobility and connectivity. However, these can be powerful tools to create really fun games.
We think community is a key element to the success of an evolved mobile game. To us, community simply means the ability for users to challenge and play each, share content with each other, or form some other "connection" that compels them to get their friends to buy the game since it will enhance their experience as well. After all, the mobile phone was made as a communication device. It was designed to put people in touch with each other anywhere and anytime. Community applications can thrive with always-available connectivity. Community features can take advantage of the network to create fun and unique experiences. Additionally, with community, consumers are incented to share the game with others. This creates a tremendous viral affect that allows an unknown game to break out of the carrier decks.
Punch has created two "evolved" mobile games. The first is EGO, a social networking game. The premise is quite simple. Users create a customized avatar (an "EGO"). Unlike the basic feed-and-train you might get with other similar games however, EGOs can be shared with the community and develop through their interactions with other EGOs. The real hook of the game is that you can send your EGO out to interact with & challenge other people's EGOs. These interactions can be fights, flirts, play and pretty much anything else. EGO's have their own attributes and emotional states, and this affects how they interact with other EGOs and how successful they are at competitions. There are also communication elements built into the game such as buddy lists, chat, messages and blogs. In the context of "evolved" applications, EGO is totally unique and has strong built-in viral components that should dramatically improve its discoverability outside of carrier decks.
Another evolved game we've created is Mobile Battles: Reign of Swords, which is a multiplayer collectibles battle game. Again, the game itself is unique to mobile. In Reign of Swords, players create a customized army that they build through a series of campaign missions. They then take their armies to battle against their friends. Players can lose or gain units and technology in battle, and they are rewarded each week based on their conquests. The game was tailor-made for mobile, and the initial previews have been outstanding. Both games can easily be shared among friends, both from their phone and the Web.
Next-gen apps can solve real problems in the industry today; namely the severe limits of carrier marketing & sales opportunities, and the general blandness of mobile games. Mobile games need to provide the "wow" factor to draw the gaming masses into this medium. Additionally, the games need to embrace community features in order to ascend the carrier walls and be widely discoverable. These next-gen apps will drive tremendous growth in the mobile games industry. The exciting thing is that they can be created by small or large players. It just takes the courage to do it.
[Tobin Lent is the founder and CEO of Punch Entertainment, www.punch-entertainment.com, a mobile games developer and publisher focused on community-driven games. Tobin has been in the mobile games industry since its beginnings in North America, and has worked on over 75 high-profile mobile titles across all genres over the past eight years.]