CEDEC 09: How The iPhone Is Shaping Mobile Games In Japan And Beyond

At the CESA Developers Conference (CEDEC) in Yokohama, game developers said the iPhone has helped a Western audience realize that "mobile phones can also be used to play games." What does the next decade hold?
At the CESA Developers Conference (CEDEC) in Yokohama, a group of mobile game developers had a 60-minute panel discussion regarding the mobile market, and spoke about how Apple's iPhone in particular can shape the mobile business in Japan and beyond. Naoto Shibata of Bomberman house Hudson says that "in the U.S., Europe and even Asia, it was difficult to be in the mobile game business, but with the emergence of smart phones like the iPhone, such opportunity has expanded. The iPhone is probably the first mobile platform that finally showed Western audience that mobile phones can also be used to play games. I think that the current state of iPhone is similar to when DoCoMo's iMode started to become popular in Japan." Many comparisons were drawn between the iMode wireless Internet service and iPhone. First, pricing schemes are very different in Japanese mobile games and in iPhone game apps. The former adopts a similar approach to PC games such as monthly fees and microtransactions, while the latter adopts a more flexible pricing scheme. Takahiro Kondo of Bandai Namco pointed out that with Japanese mobile games, "we would have to think of ways for the audience to keep coming back for more. We should not make them feel like they are just paying a fee every month but make them feel like paying more for additional contents is worth the price. For example, with RPGs and fighting games, we provide additional scenarios or new playable characters. Every month." The iPhone provides anyone with the ability to develop apps, and games are certainly no exception. However, "Differences can be found between games developed by a video game developer and a non-video game developer, and that difference also tends to be a factor in whether the game sells better or not," said Kondo. "Most games on the iPhone would have the players compensate for the controls, but sometimes they would have difficulty in being able to do so. For example, with games like Assassin's Creed, controls have been fine-tuned so that these compensations have been integrated. By guessing how players would want to move in the game, this provides the illusion that they have better control over the characters." When asked the future of mobile games, Kondo predicts that "Multiplayer online and massively multiplayer online games will definitely become popular and it will happen soon. Market-wise and reading about it on different websites, the numbers are definitely rising. If we start preparing now, these would probably be ready next year. Right now, multiplayer online games are mainly on PC and consoles, however new innovations can be made perhaps through mobile platforms." The iPhone may yet to grow in the Japanese market, and developers feel that this is vital in order for them to expand their business into the iPhone. Takeshi Tezuka of Capcom instead sees it the other way around, "the iMode is now 10 years old, so the mobile business in Japan has come a long way. I think in the U.S. and Europe, with iPhone becoming the standard, the next 10 years will be the period for business to grow in that territory." Naoto adds, "There is an abundant amount of business content we've had in Japan on iMode and other mobile platforms throughout the years, and this can now be carried over to the U.S. and Europe. I think right now is an exciting time for mobile business."

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