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GDC China: Chang On Developing Mobile Games For The Global Market

As part of the recent Game Developer Conference China mobile track, Norbert Chang, Vice President and General Manager of Mobile at Walt Disney Internet Group in China examined the challenges of developing mobile games for the global market.

GDC ChinaAs part of the recent Game Developer Conference China mobile track, Norbert Chang, Vice President and General Manager of Mobile at Walt Disney Internet Group in China examined the challenges of developing mobile games for the global market.

Chang began the session by examining the mobile games market in different areas of the world. "In Europe we have a very fragmented market, with lots of carriers in each country," he began, "Even with the big carriers, their local offices are independent, so in order to distribute games across the continent it is necessary to negotiate independently with all of them."

Continuing with the US market, Chang felt that "in the U.S. market the biggest player is EA Mobile," describing a "27% market share," but noting that "most of it is just the Tetris franchise (although in three slightly different titles)."

In the US market, Chang said that the top ten titles in this market tended to be casual and arcade focused games, with most of the titles present on at least one another gaming platform, PC or consoles, and that the US market's most successful business model is in single downloads: with customers downloading games once to store them locally and play as much as they want.

In Japan Chang felt that the situation is quite different, with a market based in locally developed content that goes beyond single downloads to a subscription based service, with several "channels" (subscription services) for customers to use, each featuring from 32 to over 200 games.

The scheme let customers spend a fixed amount and download several games per month, so the content offered has to be kept fresh and there are a high number of new launches. "RPGs are bigger in this market, but casual games still dominate," said Chang.

"As we see, gaming culture is both an opportunity and a barrier," said Chang, using the example of the difference in the penetration of RPGs in U.S. and Japan.

There are three different kinds of developers for mobile games, according to Chang:

  • * Traditional gaming companies (Ubisoft, EA)
  • * Mobile specific companies (Glu)
  • * Traditional media companies (Warner Bros, Sony Pictures Television)

And three different development models they follow:

  • * Centralized development model - the work is done internally (Gameloft, Glu)
  • * Outsourced development model (Warner Bros, Sony)
  • * Hybrid development model, with some content outsourced and some developed in-house (EA, Walt Disney, THQ)

Though Chang felt that the hybrid model was the best available "in terms of efficiency" he felt that developers still had to work to solve the cultural problems that may arise for global development.

Chang presented some key points to consider when developing games for mobile phones:

  • * Create value added by by the process of development and the content, being especially careful about the quality of the former.
  • * Make "titles", not engines.
  • * Create a balanced portfolio, in terms of new IP and licenses.
  • * Integrate the design process with the marketing and sales.
  • * Maintain a consistent "face" towards the publishers and clients.
  • * Invest in offering something tangible when doing the pitch to publishers: offer them a playable demo or some other tangible content they can see.

Lastly, Chang argued that it is important to know that marketing a game without the support of any operator is difficult, but not impossible, with the use of the tools of the Web 2.0 and viral marketing. Chang gave the example of Centerscore and its promotion of Surviving Hollywood and Surviving High School.

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