In his opening keynote for GDC Mobile 2008, Michel Guillemot, president and CEO of Gameloft, took the stage to present his take on the way consumers consume media in the 21st century, arguing that they no longer need to be educated that games are available on their phones, but now "rule the market."
After an effusive introduction from the Chairman of GDC Mobile, Robert Tercek, Michel Guillemot, president and CEO of Gameloft, took the stage to present his take on the way consumers consume media in the 21st Century.
Guillemot began by exploring his decision to create Gameloft, noting that towards the end of his time at Ubisoft he felt that they were "creating expensive games for only a hardcore audience," and that he was sure that "there was a way to create games for everyone."
"When I saw mobile phones I was sure that was the future, and so I started Gameloft," he explained.
Guillemot's decision to reach "everyone," he said, was a true prophecy, as he explained that though in early 2000 they thought that 2 billion people would have mobile phones by 2010, they were wrong -- there will be 4 billion people with mobile phones -- two-thirds of humanity and a huge marketplace.
By 2012, Gullemot assured us "everyone would be connected" and used this to introduce the core of his keynote -- that the way that we are consuming media is changing, quoting stalwarts of new media such as YouTube and iTunes in support of his argument.
Of course, even with billions of handsets out there, the problem is the majority of them are still technologically basic. But Guillemot showed that within only 6 years the industry moved from a basic, monochrome phone (his example the Siemens M50) to the iPhone in 2008.
"Mobile phone technology development is moving five times faster than consoles," he argued.
However, he did note that the perennial problem that developers quote, the simplicity of the carrier deck (where users purchase titles on their phones) was still a problem, but optimistically noted that "they are much more advanced now," even if they were not as advanced as many would like, pointing out the ability to see images, read more text about the games and even download demos.
Moving on, Guillemot showed just how much of a change has occurred in the industry by showing the growth of the large mobile developers, with Gameloft now making almost ten times what it did in 2003 (from 14.9 million US to 141 million US).
Guillemot then conceded the major problems that all developers face - thousands of different handsets in use and hundreds more that are developed every year, plus hundreds of carriers across the world with tens of languages to support.
"That's one of the difficulties of the business," Guillemot admitted, showing that if you created five games a month, across 1,000 handsets, in ten languages, you'd end up with 50,000 SKUs. And even then developers have to submit their games to the carriers.
To innovate, Guillemot is arguing for a change in the vendor model. Classically carriers or outsourced portals host SKUs; Guillemot hopes that the model will change to the Japanese model where SKUs are hosted by the publisher.
"The Japanese did it right from the very beginning," Guillemot said, "And as a result they sell many more games than anywhere else in the world."
Guillemot also supports the handset vendor model, with SKUs hosted by the handset vendor, as in the example of iTunes, or Nokia's new service OVI.
As handsets get more powerful and games get larger, of course the cost of sending data is becoming larger. Guillemot noted that this is one of the main bottlenecks on the growth of the industry, with some carriers charging more than the games themselves to deliver the data!
Despite the continuing growth of the mobile industry in total, Guillemot broached the fact that mobile games industry grown actually slowed in 2007. Guillemot blamed at least some of this this upon the slowdown of the US economy and its impact on the world, but placed greater blame upon the continued "walled garden approach of carriers," the distinct lack of gaming upon the iPhone ("every iPhone users is one less mobile gamer," he said). He also felt that the delayed launch of Nokia's OVI platform was similarly a factor.
The development of mobile handsets may be much faster than that of mobile consoles, but Guillemot felt "we do follow the console model," with periods of growth felt during large technical transitions (i.e. such as the move from 2D to 3D) followed by slowdown when the market settles. Positively, Guillemot felt that the industry was soon to enter another large period of growth.
"The consumers are becoming more powerful," Guillemot said, arguing that now that they know games are available on their phones and no longer need to be educated ("the period of discovery is over. ‘I don't want to play a 1980's game, I want to play a 2008 game" is what we're hearing") they rule the market and developers and carriers must work to serve them, not the industry.
This is now the time of "fast life, fast media" said Guillemot - the industry must develop the media to fit consumers "fast life".
Hopefully, Guillemot feels that the continued potential for huge growth in the industry makes it worth sticking with, with only the surface of mobile gaming potential being scratched. Guillemot even took some currently popular negative myths about the mobile games market to task, including the worries of long term slow down in the mobile games market ("Slow down is temporary. Data and figures given by analysts are merely estimates.") and that mobile games will never reach the mass market ("Parameters, such as price point, accessibility and the network, must change in order for games to expand, but we can have a very good experience there.")
Next Guillemot looked at what was hot in 2008, with his opinion being that advanced handsets, especially those with touch screens and WiFi capabilities were going to make a big difference by the second half of 2008, and, as in previous years, Guillemot felt that mobile games publishers were to continue consolidation.
In conclusion, Guillemot felt that, yes, the market was expanding, but continued innovation and a lower price point (when data plans were included) as demanded by consumers, would be critical to continued growth.