The competition to provide the complete mobile gaming experience is heating up with Nokia returning with the N-Gage brand, so Games On Deck has taken the opportunity to talk to Mike Yuen, head of Qualcomm's Gaming Group, about their option, the Brew Gaming Signature Solution.
Games On Deck: Tell us about the Brew Gaming Signature Solution.
Mike Yuen: I've been at Qualcomm for about 5 years, since about 2001, so I've been here since the beginning of Brew. Brew was originally formed as an end-to-end platform, but in the last few years we unbundled it, because while for many operators our complete "ecosystem" suited, others, particularly in Europe for example, for whatever reason they would have their own system in place, and it just wouldn't be possible to take their old system out and replace it with ours, even if in many cases ours would be better. So now there are certain components or aspects of Brew you can take depending on the operator or the customer's needs. A good example of that is the Brew Gaming Signature Solution. It's been announced as a "next generation" service.
It's no longer about "hey, download this application/game to your handset" and that's that; we've built a full service. It's kind of like how on consoles you've got Xbox Live now and it's made this huge difference, that's kind of what we're trying to do on mobile. That's something that we announced last summer.
What we're trying to do with the Brew Gaming Signature Solution, conceptually, is, well, think of it like this, if Java was actually a cup of coffee (and this really isn't a knock against Java) it's like getting a coffee at McDonalds or a 7 Eleven. It's a fine cup of coffee, but it's not the best, it's not personal and it's not presented as well as it could be. Conceptually what we're trying to do with the Brew Gaming Signature Solution is to make it like getting a coffee at a Starbucks. When you go to Starbucks it's like being part of a community, and people are willing to pay more for that cup of coffee, as when you go there you don't just buy it and leave, as if from a machine, you hang out and enjoy it, maybe there's even some "multiplayer action" with people having a good debate over their coffee.
GOD: So what does this mean in the mobile space?
MY: From a functional standpoint, the solution is very similar to Xbox Live. You have a profile which includes stuff like your reputation and your achievements. So if you can visualise, on your mobile phone much like when you open your phone and it's branded with your operator, this will be a service branded to the operator, so rather than just going to WAP and working your way through some menus, you know, games, then 3D games, then maybe like this one line of text describing the game you want, this is a full service launched from your phone's home screen from which you can select and run the titles you want or own. So it'll have a lot of stuff like rotating adverts for new games that have been launched that match your tastes, and your "most recently played game." You can access your profile and change your avatar/icon and so on. You can also see icons of other people in your personal community who are online when you are.
The Brew Gaming Signature Solution Dashboard
And you can go deeper into the community than that, what we call the "playground" where you can go and join games, issue challenges, send messages, you know, that sort of thing.
Our belief is that when you build something like that you increase not only loyalty and usage from the consumers but also revenue. And from the consumer standpoint this genuinely is a better experience, even if our Brew games are already rich 3D and multiplayer in many cases.
GOD: Let's get this clear, this isn't something that's being pitched to consumers, it's being pitched to operators to use, branded, for their consumers?
MY: It is aimed at consumers, but think of it as a white label service. We don't publish on our own hardware like Sony or Nintendo, but we have this platform that people can use. With Signature Solution we believe that this is what people want from their mobile gaming experience, so we show this to operators and they can re-brand the system to meet their needs, but the core functions, aimed at the consumers, are the same.
GOD: How did Brew Gaming evolve to this point?
MY: When Brew Gaming started it really was just, from a developer standpoint, it was really just a developer tool to make and take a game to market. But to think about our evolution you need to think about mobile gaming's. If we go back 5 or 6 years to when we began, games were really very limited. Little more than stick figures on screen. But within a couple of years of that, colour phones started coming along, and we were even seeing isometric games, that sort of thing - even that far back actually we had one of the first 3D games running, but it was very basic. It wasn't really until 2005 or so that I'd say that 3D capable phones really arrived here in North America, with the arrival of V Cast and launch of titles like Need for Speed Underground on phones. It's interesting to note that at that point the price points for mobile games started to creep up, past ten dollars, and consumers haven't complained simply because the games are high enough quality to justify it. With V Cast the games are genuinely PS1 quality.
Dirge of Cerberus: Lost Episode, developed with Brew
GOD: So do you have any thoughts on the impact of the i-Phone on the mobile games industry?
MY: I think the I-phone is really interesting, because Apple have done some great things, been really ahead of their time with some products, and they've really had more success rather than failure in that respect.
The iPhone is an interesting proposition, but there are a couple of things about it, that once you look past the design. The phone itself is somewhat limited, as initially it's only going to be running GPRS so the connection will be slower than a true 3G network, and so that's going to limit what you can do with it from a game perspective. Also, it's completely touch screen, and so like the iPod the games that will work on it will be more casual; it's not going to work for other sorts of games because people need tactile feedback.
The other thing is also the price point. $500/$600 is a little high for the average consumer; that's not the price of a mass market consumer phone.
GOD: So what do you think the future holds?
MY: Where we're headed - well this year we're going to see the launch of new Japanese phones with chipsets that are way beyond PS1 quality - PSP quality, even. You won't be able to believe this stuff is actually running on a phone.