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GDC Mobile: The Quest For Games In The Mobile Universe

At the 2008 GDC Mobile summit, Nellymoser's John Puterbaugh delved into issues surrounding gamers actually finding games when no established navigation paradigm has emerged, a problem he says is driving stagnation in the mobile game market.
Facilitating effective discovery (the process by which an individual customer locates meaningful content on their mobile device) is a nagging problem for the mobile industry. While the PC enjoys a rich set of mechanisms such as profiles, search engines, banner advertising, and customer recommendations, mobile has suffered under a limited interface with no established navigation paradigm. In an open discussion moderated by John Puterbaugh of Nellymoser, the problems surrounding connecting buyers and sellers on mobile were explored. As Puterbaugh explained, discovery is often driven by moments of boredom in which a user will idly explore. Recommendations work well at these moments to help direct them toward content. Search is much more direct and people that are actively searching will usually make a purchase. With 220 million mobile subscribers in North America, Puterbaugh explained that 20 percent of these subscribers play games, most if which are pre-loaded. Only around 10 percent actively download games to their mobile devices and 40 percent of those just play the trial version. “We’re seeing stagnation in the mobile market and discovery is part of the problem,” Puterbaugh said. While non-game applications such as LBS are doing very well, game sales are flat. While this discrepancy in sales can be partly explained by the high cost (around $9) of applications, other aspects of the mobile experience conspire to reduce the presence of games. (In an interesting side discussion it was pointed out that if the ailing Sprint was removed from the equation, other carriers are doing quite well, implying that the current market slump could be the result of one high-impact crater.) When shopping on the deck, it is easy to know what an application does based on its name. However games are much harder to sell based on a 17-character title. There is no description and no ability to preview a game (such as viewing a trailer) before downloading. In the discussion, the example of Amazon was used to describe the kind of preview and recommendation system that needs to develop for mobile games. Youtube was used as an example where search is not always the most important path to discovery. Endemic fragmentation within the mobile industry is a further barrier to effective discovery. It begins with on-deck versus off-deck fragmentation and extends to the SKU fragmentation that results from supporting multiple handsets spread across multiple carriers. Even the carriers themselves are fragmented internally, with groups within companies having little incentive to cross-promote. Puterbaugh hoped that on device applications such as Widgets might help drive discovery. “I believe in directed navigation with recommendations for content discovery,” he said.

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