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GDC Mobile: Disruptive Forces in Gaming

In a GDC Mobile session sponsored by Zeemote, Beth Marcus showed off her company’s Bluetooth enabled controller for mobile phones. Held in one hand, the Zeemote is about ...
In a GDC Mobile session sponsored by Zeemote, Beth Marcus showed off her company’s Bluetooth enabled controller for mobile phones. Held in one hand, the Zeemote is about the size of a Pez dispenser, with an analog thumb stick, a fire button, and two shoulder buttons. Positioned as a new way to control 3D games on mobile phones, it was demoed on Planet Riders 3D, Sonic Jump, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Heli Strike 3D, Perplex, and Small Arms. Marcus also took the occasion to announce a new Java SDK for the Zeemote. While the idea of a peripheral controller for a cell phone might seem odd at first, Marcus described how innovations in game controllers have broadened the game market over the years. Using force-feedback and analog control as a historical example, she argued that similar peripherals combined with 3D graphics could help boost mobile growth Also on hand to talk about the disruptive effect of emerging 3D technology on the mobile games industry were developers Mark Pierce of Super Happy Fun Fun, Michael Schade of Fishlabs, and John Chasey of FinBlade. In his presentation Pierce emphasized innovation as the engine driving the mobile industry. “Innovation introduces novelty and novelty drives growth,” he said. Looking forward to a future of rich, immersive gameplay on mobile devices Pierce declared, “We’ve been punished by one button games.” Next up, Schade made the case for 3D in mobile games saying complex titles that offered a deep and immersive experience can help grow the mobile market. He also noted that players would be open to paying more for games that can fully engage their imaginations. 3D graphics are advancing rapidly on mobile. The percentage of 3D enabled phones is growing faster than the market for non-3D phones with more than 60 percent supporting 3D graphics. Schade said that graphics on the level of a PSone are already mass-market. Phones by Nokia and Sony Ericsson are dominating game downloads and game files sizes of 1 MB or more are becoming common as network speed increases. Flat rate data plans will be mass market in two years. Schade claimed that low-cost mobile phones already substitute for PCs and consoles in Russia and China, making peripherals such as the Zeemote an inevitable development in mobile game evolution. Chasey began his presentation by boldly declaring “A mobile phone connected to your TV will replace your PS3 in two years time.” Using the game industry in developing nations as an example, he pointed out that consoles are significant luxury items in China and India while mobile phones are ubiquitous. “Mobile phone penetration is, and always will be greater than consoles,” he said. While China has a half billion mobile phones in use, there are only one million home consoles in the country. Chasey acknowledged that low-end devices are predominate but felt that as the cost of high technology drops, mobile phones with 3D capability and TV outputs will soon become commonplace. When the audience asked about changing the current demographics for mobile games from casual 2D to complex 3D, the panel agreed that casual play was still the paradigm. “Casual is still the place to be short term,” Pierce answered. “No question, casual is the bigger market,” Schade added. But complex, 3D games are on the rise and Schade bet his company on the trend saying, “Who would want to play such a game on a mobile? Well, we would. And I bet there are other players who feel the same way,” he said. The audience wondered if extra peripherals like the Zeemote would only add more devices to clutter to users’ lives. Marcus countered that the Zeemote was small enough that it presented no obstacle and that players enjoyed accessorizing with it. Pierce noted that if it made games more fun then people would want it. In describing the changes that powerful, 3D graphics would bring to the mobile industry, Pierce said, “As soon as the NVIDIA stuff gets out there, we’re going to have to compete on the same level as console developers.”

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