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MIGS 2007: EA Mobile's Minotti On The Mobile Games Industry

At the Montreal International Game Summit 2007, EA Mobile Montreal’s General Manager, Patrick Minotti, gave his insight into the mobile games industry from the standpoint of a developer who has been in the mobile games industry since 2001, taking a look at the changing face of the mobile game consumer and the changes in how they consume mobile games.
Title At the Montreal International Game Summit 2007, EA Mobile Montreal's General Manager, Patrick Minotti, gave his insight into the mobile games industry from the standpoint of a developer who has been in the mobile games industry since 2001, taking a look at the changing face of the mobile game consumer and the changes in how they consume mobile games.

Minotti joined the industry in 2001 when he helped with the creation of multi-platform video game production company called Hexacto as Vice-President of Production. Hexacto created mobile games including Lemonade Tycoon and The Emperor's Mahjong, before being acquired by JAMDAT Mobile in 2003. JAMDAT merged with Electronic Arts in 2006, and since has been oriented toward casual games, and is responsible for the most recent mobile editions of the Tetris and Bejeweled franchises, Scrabble and The Sims Bowling.

EA Mobile Montreal currently has a staff of 175 people and produces roughly 10 games a year, and in his introduction, Minotti glowed with pride at his company's accomplishments, including developing games for the iPod -- If you look at the catalogue of games for the iPod, most of the games were produced by EA in Montreal" - and the company's "word class tools."

Moving onto the meat of his talk, Minotti argued that "the mobile phone platform delivers a huge addressable audience for games," and as a way of making this clear, asked the audience how many of them were carrying their Nintendo DS, Sony PSP or laptop on them, compared to how many of them were carrying a mobile phone - a significant difference.

Minotti used some statistics to help emphasise his point - in 2006, unit sales of game consoles were 26 million, compared to 209 million PC sales, but both were dwarfed by the sale of 957 million mobile phones in the same period.

"In 2007 there is going to be about 1.2 billion mobile phones sold," said Minotti, "The mobile phone is the most ubiquitous piece of technology there is."

World wide mobile penetration would be at 75% in 2011 according to Minotti, with Africa and Asia the main growth areas.

Of course, what about the hardware, a perennial problem for mobile game developers?

"Just 6 years ago," Minotti reminded the crowd, "In the console space we had the PS2 and the Xbox, but in the mobile phone space we had only reached Snake."

"The hardware platform has evolved an incredible amount in the last 6 years."

Minnoti showed the audience Need for Speed Pro Street running on a mobile phone, with full sound effects, textured polygons and lots of animation, and similarly shows some footage of Fight Night Round 3, revealing that "We're starting to work with the console team and use their assets; using their mo-cap and graphics. We're really working to expand what people think is possible in mobile."

Another question that mobile developers face is that of their target market. Who has these devices, and who is buying the content?

"With the new phones it's easier than ever to find and download games; not easy enough yet, but it's coming," said Minotti.

He moved on to show some demographic profiles, noting that from the third quarter 2006 to the third quarter 2007, the average age of gamers rose by 11%, the female share of unit sales rose by 19%, and the amount of married players rose by 23%

But what are they buying?

Using a chart that he himself admitted was "really old" (from Q1 2006) Minotti showed that the top games were mostly casual puzzle titles - with EA Montreal developed puzzlers Tetris and Bejewelled right at the top.

Using some more recent numbers, Minotti described the average genre split for 2007 purchases so far: 36% puzzle games and 15% card & casino, with some space for sports titles (14%) and action titles (11%) and most other genres making up less than 10%.

The next question, "where are they playing?" had an answer that surprised many.

"Even I said, 6 months or a year ago, that when people played their mobile games they played on the bus, while commuting or waiting in line," said Minotti, "but this isn't true!"

Minotti showed 2007 numbers that implied that 41% of gamers play at home, compared to 12% for commenting or 11% while waiting in line.

In turn, the amount that they played was also surprisingly high, with Minotti noting numbers that showed the third quarter 2006 to the third quarter 2007, people who played daily rose by 41%, and that people were playing longer, with players who played for half an hour or more at a time rose from 12% to 18%.

Having made these points, Minotti chose to concentrate on the design rules that he had found for mobile game development that took these factors into account.

"You have to design games that not only work on all of the different devices, but that people can actually enjoy," said Minotti, "Your user is not sitting at home, in a dark room, concentrating on your game. Your user is playing a game in the context of their life, on a small device that they carry in order to communicate, and the human way of life can be noisy, crowded, busy and demanding."

Minotti took special care to note that the most restrictive aspects of mobile phones were their keyboard layouts and screen sizes and resolutions, arguing that these aspects meant that the mobile platform favours design innovation over flashy graphics and "features."

"Interactivity has to be fun," Minotti explained, "Design at the right level of interactivity."

From this point, Minotti used some examples of EA Mobile Montreal games. In The Sims 2 Pets, the pet is "non-intrusive" in that even if it asks for attention, you can ignore it if you wish.

UEFA Champions' League, a football title, isn't a true action game, either: "Between moves it actually stops the game. It's a card based game. The action stops and you make your choice - are you going to perform a header, a bicycle kick?"

"Embrace native design," argued Minotti, establishing that mobile games should be designed specifically for the platform using the examples of the recent Harry Potter title, which used timed button presses to perform spells (easy to perform on a mobile phone keypad) and NASCAR ‘07, in which the main game mechanic is based around slipstreaming. The player's car drives itself, but the player makes the decision when to try and overtake other vehicles.

Finally, Minotti took a look at EA Mobile Montreal's usual team sizes and the cost of producing different sorts of mobile games. Minotti noted that although mobile games require smaller production teams than "traditional" video games, "this gives individual team members greater input and control."

For a 2D mobile game, Minotti estimated that it would normally take 6-9 months for a team of 4-7 people to produce a game on a budget of 100-300k.

Producing a 3D and 2D mobile game would require 8-12 months and 300-700k for 8-15 people, and simple networked multiplayer titles could take up to year for 5-9 people to produce a title on a budget of 200-400k.

iPod titles, however, were very good value - taking 5-7 people 4-9 months to produce something on a budget of 150-400k. Minotti explained, "iPods have a 40 meg footprint, so you can put a lot of animation and special effects on them easily."

To summarise, Minotti returned to the concept that the mobile games industry offered a huge addressable audience, and was the fastest growing segment of the video game market, but most importantly, it is "a medium that rewards good design."

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