Games Vs. Games

I made a couple of posts over at MobHappy about some panels on mobile games I went to at the Austin Games Conference yesterday. It’s a developers’ conference, really, so they were skewed towards creating games and how developers can sell them through carriers, and as the day wore on, an interesting dichotomy was emerging between creating mobile games and games for mobile. That is, between creating games that take advantage of the unique characteristics of mobile devices — ubiquity, voice and data connections, their personal nature and the amount of personal data they contain — and games whose main goal is to push the graphical and technical capabilities of devices, essentially trying to emulate console games. Greg Costikyan made a number of points about how the deck is stacked in many ways against developers trying to make either type of game, both because of the limited capabilities of devices and networks, but also because developers often can’t access what capabilities are there.

Sprint’s games boss took a little different tack, highlighted some important characteristics for mobile games: first, games must exceed customers’ expectations, whatever they may be for a particular title. Then, games must make people want to play again and again. Succeed on those two and you’re rewarded with buzz, which sells more games. He also added that the focus used to be on getting licensed brands for games — because people would flock to familiar titles — then it shifted to “quality”, which meant flashy graphics and sounds. The focus now needs to be on fun — these are games, after all.

The difference between mobile games and games for mobile devices even plays out by carrier. When you look at the demographics of mobile gamers and consider Sprint’s a mass-market operator, it’s not surprising for its focus to be on a wide array of games, with less emphasis on flashiness. But a carrier like Amp’d, which is aiming for 18- to 30-year-olds, can focus on a smaller set of games, and it will emphasize 3D and multiplayer games, and focus on letting developers access all the capabilities of the device. What’s the right approach? Both, really, given the different target markets. But the ideal mobile game remains elusive. What will it be? According to Costikyan, something that makes use of the unique capabilities of mobile devices, and something that probably can’t be easily replicated on any other medium.

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