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Scrivener
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Gamin on the Go: Mobile Gaming Roundtable

Lately I've spent a lot of free time playing around with the iPhone and Android SDK's and it's set me thinking about the future of mobile gaming. Gaming on the go isn't a new concept, it's been around for decades - and been incomparably successful at that. So what's changed that makes this topic worth discussion? A few things, in fact. Historically, handheld gaming devices have been platform and media limited. You buy a Gameboy, you play Gameboy cartridges. You buy a PSP, you play UMDs. This meant independent development was all but impossible. SDKs are pricey and subject to an overly-bureaucratic approval process - plus you'd have no way distribute your product without a big publisher behind you to handle the entire production process (master discs, replication, packaging, distribution, etc). There were hacks and hacked accessories of course, but those were never mainstream and, therefore, unprofitable.

For a while, the PSP seemed the answer... but we all know how that went - Sony made, and continues to make, every effort to stop any indy content from touching the platform. Take a look at the games released for the platform over the last 6 months to see how that panned out. While homebrew continues to thrive on the system, sales aren't exactly spectacular and developer support is pathetic - and how many PSP homebrew devs do you think are making money off their efforts?

Enter the age of the super-phones. We now have not just one, but two developer-friendly platforms on the way: Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. These may not be targeted squarely at the gaming enthusiast market the same way the Nintendo DS is, but with nearly 6 million iPhones on the global market and an SDK readily available, a market for gaming on the platform must exist. If mobile phones can tap into the gaming market, it very well could mean the end of mobile gaming as we once knew it. Nokia saw the potential years ago, but bungled it epically with their pathetic Ngage. What they failed to seize upon was the open platform mentality. Well, that and the Frankenstein contraption they turned out was neither passable as a gaming device or a phone.

That said, gaming on a mobile phone has some clear advantages over gaming on classic "offline" platforms like DS and PSP. First, digital distribution any-where, any-time is now possible... no physical media is required. Also there are SDKs readily available… to anyone… for free. There is one snag, however, and it's probably occurred to you by now... the controls. Historically, mobile gaming has been a console-oriented experience. Buttons, D-Pads, etc. The new paradigm is touch-screen with motion-sense. Unorthodox, yes - but only as it compares to mobile platforms historically. With touchscreens, the next generation of mobile devices have become more PC-like than console-like. This is not a bad thing at all, just different. With a completely programmable display surface, there are even ways to emulate physical controls if one was so inclined. With a little creativity (and with freely available SDK's, creativity should be attracted like teens to tits), everything you could ever want can be incorporated onto a single device.

Technically speaking, phones have been capable of this for a while. Especially ones based on Windows Mobile. So why hasn't this concept taken off earlier? Well, price for one, clunky UIs for another. Windows Mobile just plain fucking sucks. It's not barely adequate to the whole concept of mobile computing, let alone gaming. There's also the stylus, which is made necessary by WinMo's teeny-tiny UI. It's easily lost and just damn inconvenient. Alternately, you always have your fingers, but those are big, and WinMo is so very, very small. There's also piracy and lack of market. Many WinMo apps are priced as if they are full-blown windows applications, and those are hard to find at that - and then reliability comes into question. Can you even trust the site peddling their wares? I found one WinMo app a few months ago that functioned as a multi-bran chat platform not unlike Trillian. The price? $39.99. Fucking ridiculous... and their website looked like shit. There was no way I'd throw $40 at a mobile chat program on a website that looked like it was designed in a 1996 Angelfire Homepage Builder. App stores, like the ones planned for Android and iPhone fix that. There's a central place to browse, buy, and download apps anywhere you are - right from your phone. The availability of the SDKs and adoption rate of the devices themselves will also spur development of quality applications through both availability and competition.

Anyway, my point is this - mobile devices have now reached a point where they've merged completely with the "desktop experience." Phone, camera, gps, web browser, pocket PC, and gaming handheld all in one device. Could you have even imagined this 5 years ago? What about 10? Consoles have been going this way for years, becoming ever more PC-like. But now this has finally happened with mobile devices, and all in the space of a year. If quality gaming can be had on a device that you habitually take with you everywhere, then why burden yourself with extras like a DS or PSP?

So what do you guys think? Will "next-generation" mobile phones becoming the new on-the-go gaming devices? Could iPhone and Android supplant the DS and PSP as the mobile gaming platforms of choice? Will Nintendo have to make an WiiPhone to stay competitive? Let's discuss the dreams, predictions, and ramifications of the new mobile revolution!
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Last edited by Scrivener; 06-26-2008 at 12:07 AM..
Old 06-25-2008, 11:49 PM Scrivener is offline  
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Isn't Sony already making a PSP phone?
Old 06-26-2008, 12:06 AM sir tex is offline  
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Isn't Sony already making a PSP phone?

Last I heard, no. You have to understand the way Sony works - a PSP phone would virtually necessitate collaboration between SCE and SE (or maybe HTC), which is much easier said than done. It's not impossible, but the process wouldn't be very clean at all and you'd likely end up with an Ngage type device in the end due to competing philosophies.

Now that said, I'm guessing the Sony execs are paying very close attention to what's going on in the mobile market. It may very well shape the next wave of handhelds from the big S & N. Well, the big S, anyway. There's no telling what Nintendo will do. They always seem to be ahead in novelty and behind in technology. Still, ignoring the new mobile market would be a huge mistake for either company, especially Nintendo as gaming on mobile phones stands to take a huge bite out their market share (especially with 3D acceleration being standard fare in the new phones - with Nvidia even getting into the mobile game). I wouldn't be surprised if their next handheld was basically a more powerful DS (cartridges and all), but I think a move like that would hurt them pretty badly in the long run.

Any way you put it, I'm tickled silly by how much the new wave of mobile devices is going to force change in previously unrelated markets. Even if you're not sold on the iPhone, it's indirectly done more good for the advancement of consumer-level technology than any other single device in the last 10 years. Aint competition grand?
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Last edited by Scrivener; 06-26-2008 at 12:39 AM..
Old 06-26-2008, 12:21 AM Scrivener is offline  
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tl;dr

Android is just an OS, isn't it? Unless there's a specific platform I doubt android will really help mobile phone gaming. iPhone...maybe.
Old 06-26-2008, 12:32 AM threefingeredguy is offline  
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tl;dr

Android is just an OS, isn't it? Unless there's a specific platform I doubt android will really help mobile phone gaming. iPhone...maybe.

That's like saying "Windows is just as OS". Yes, it is - and that presents a few unique challenges not facing the iPhone. For starters, system requirements. Not all phones are created equal and Google means for Android to run anything from ultrathin flip-phones to full on multi-touch smartphones. Admittedly, speaking as a developer, that makes iPhone the more attractive option.

Furthermore, with the first crop of Android phones still many months off (Q4 08 at the earliest), and with no idea what the hardware is going to look like, it's a bit premature to start throwing any real time or resources into development. Personally, I'm 100% sold on the iPhone 3G. On June 11th, I'm dumping my old, faithful, $30/month, unlimmited everything Sprint SERO plan in favor of a $100/month, not quite everything AT&T plan with the iPhone. For me, though, it's sort of a strategic move, as I fully intend to develop my ass off for the iPhone. I have a slew of ideas for useful mobile apps I've always wanted but could never have before - and now I can. Based on my limited experience with the SDK so far, I'll be able to easily port over one of the games I've been working on to iPhone (previously planned as a PC title).

Now, I plan to support Android once it's released, too - when I have some idea of what hardware I'm dealing with. The SDK is just a Java-oriented IDE called Eclipse (plus a special Android plugin), so it's old hat. CocoaTouch/XCode is new to me, but in the one week I've been playing with it I've picked up a lot. It's one of the more intuitive languages I've learned. Anyway, yeah, there's lots of variables left for Android - but it's still got something WinMo and Symbian doesn't have... profit potential.
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:01 AM Scrivener is offline  
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Open platform in the sense of FOSS might be ideal, but if all you want to do is get away from vendor lock-in, here's the miracle: if it can connect to the internet, it has a browser. "Cross-platform" is free. Desktop convergence means they get dragged kicking and screaming to open standards.

We haven't seen the tip of the iceberg with mobile games -- owning a nice phone still puts you in a business or geek-chic demographic. That won't last two years.

It's obvious, now, we should be able to time-shift our entertainment. I believe time-shifted social interaction has similarly fundamental appeal, from MMOs, to forums, to IM, to SMS, and when Joe Sixpack realizes this is possible there will be a goddamned army ready to capitalize on it.

I don't think homebrew will triumph over industry more than it ever has. And of course there are fundamental I/O limitations to anything mobile.

But it's a good time to be a web developer.
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:07 AM möbiustrip is offline  
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Handheld gaming will always be my favorite medium. Just being able to chill in bed or by the pool while gaming provides such an intimate experience with the respective device and the game. Although, I'm at a crossroads.

I think we can see a lot of the future of handhelds in the current state of consoles. Fanboy-ness aside, the Wii was my first current-gen purchase partly because it's the only system "completely devoted" to gaming (see: Nintendo's logic as to why they didn't include DVD movie support). At the time, I thought this was admirable, and for a while, the Wii provided most of what I wanted from a gaming system.

Then, I discovered the great functionality of the PS3, witnessed the risky digital distribution models for both Sony and Microsoft, and got to thinking: maybe multimedia, communication, and indeed all other welcome forms of entertainment can share a place on the same device.

The consoles are on their way. Play TV foreshadows the eventual mainstream fusion of something like Apple TV/DVR with the already-able console, resulting in a device that does...Well, everything.

So, looking toward mobiles (sorry that took so long to get here), I think it's safe to assume (based on what's happening with consoles) that we will one day have an all-encompassing device. Does that mean an Apple/Nintendo partnership? Will AT&T simply contract Ubisoft? One thing's for sure: the phone companies can't ignore the success of the DS/PSP. However, it'll be hard to market another "game phone" to a segment largely interested in only playing solitaire (Isn't it something like 70% of people who currently buy games for phones are women 35+?).

I think a smoother transition would occur if the gaming device embraced a phone component, and not the other way around.
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:10 AM Gloibin is offline  
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:58 AM Gloibin is offline  
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Gloibin
 
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I saw potential in this discussion so I'm bumping it again with another link

My Phone, My Game Machine
http://www.forbes.com/2008/06/15/mob...0616games.html

So I know nobody wants to admit to it, but the iPhone is certainly poised to become the device that breaks the proverbial ice. How ironic that an Apple product could revolutionize gaming.
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Old 07-02-2008, 02:26 PM Gloibin is offline  
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The phone may be the future of gaming devices, but I don't care much for that.

I still use the most basic phone available by Nokia. It can call people, send text messages, and AFAIK thats about it. I don't want to think about e-mail while on the go, I don't need GPS b/c I think it is better to learn where you are going instead of letting a computer tell you. I don't need to browse the internet, or check movie times, or send IM's or any of that stuff while on the go. I don't use an organizer, I use my brain .. it seems to have the ability to remember stuff without running out of batteries.

I'll admit that these gadgets seem cool, but to me they are just gadgets and I really see no need for them personally.
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Android is an open source mobile OS to the best of my knowledge, thats it.
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Old 07-02-2008, 03:47 PM theNoid is offline  
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Having worked at a mobile game company I can site some of the bigger obstacles preventing mobile phone gaming from ever becoming a truly growing/viable market:

1.) No standard device. Every phone you support adds another resolution/system specs you have to deal with. Incredibly annoying when you have an application that runs on all the nice high end phones, but the piece of crap everyone gets for free at BestBuy(and thus is your largest platform) is too slow/doesn't work properly.

2.) Verizon/AT&T/Sprint all have horrible online store fronts that making finding a game to buy incredibly troublesome. If you're lucky, you pay for placement on the front page. Otherwise someone has to KNOW your game and search for it to find it and buy it.

3.) The lack of a brick & mortar option really hurts. You are completely cut off from that lovely impulse mall buy. You can't have great store front displays or shelve space. Advertisement is limited to users reading mobile magazines.

4.) Few people want to play a game for any extended period of time on their phone. It tears through phone battery life too much.

5.) Japan/Europe have much nicer phone plans/networks than the USA. The US is years behind those regions when it comes down to cellular networks. And even in those markets where cellular phones are EVERYWHERE, the attachment rate of games to phones are incredibly low.

I've been hearing for 5+ years now how true mobile phone gaming is only 6 months away. I just don't believe people want to play video games on their phone. They'd rather use a handheld gaming system for that need(DS in japan is a good example, despite how well DoCoMo and such are doing over there).
Old 07-02-2008, 05:15 PM ChaosPhoenix is offline  
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Originally Posted by ChaosPhoenix View Post
Having worked at a mobile game company I can site some of the bigger obstacles preventing mobile phone gaming from ever becoming a truly growing/viable market:

~
I'm fully willing to admit that you're the expert here, but don't you think that the iPhone has the install base to overcome a lot of these? Apple stores will expand further into malls, and some kind of kiosk for digital distribution isn't that far out, especially with Apple's interfacing skills. However, there's one more big issue at hand: boxed games sell because of their concrete ownership. The iTunes store has the potential to have that kind of stranglehold on your account (if your device dies, you could redownload your games), but I don't think that's a concept that the public will latch on to easily.
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Old 07-02-2008, 06:02 PM Gloibin is offline  
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I'm fully willing to admit that you're the expert here, but don't you think that the iPhone has the install base to overcome a lot of these? Apple stores will expand further into malls, and some kind of kiosk for digital distribution isn't that far out, especially with Apple's interfacing skills. However, there's one more big issue at hand: boxed games sell because of their concrete ownership. The iTunes store has the potential to have that kind of stranglehold on your account (if your device dies, you could redownload your games), but I don't think that's a concept that the public will latch on to easily.

I think the iPhone has done a lot to bring *interest* back to mobile gaming (Spore being ported, Super Monkey Ball, etc), but I still can't see people buying those games and playing them in the mass as you would see on the PSP/DS despite the much larger install base(cell phones as a whole - not necessarily just the iPhone). I have yet to hear a single person ever utter the phrase "I can't wait to have that game on my phone" and I think we're probably 5 years out from hearing such a phrase from joe consumer.

And, let's not forget, the iPhone install base is probably heavily out numbered by Razr's and other "free" phones. So, even if you get 20 - 30% of the iPhone user base (or even 60%) it's probably still not enough to bring a revolution to the mobile gaming market.
Old 07-02-2008, 07:20 PM ChaosPhoenix is offline  
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masamune
 
You know what's weird?
Blackberries are really popular, and you have to pay like a hundred dollars on top of the contract for the phone itself, but they are like the weakest phones out there.

Low scores all around when running JBenchmark when all the other companies score at least twice as much.
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