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The CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment convention, held in San Francisco’s Moscone West conference hall, which operated from September 27-29, is not typically the biggest space for games. But as the mobile market increases, the mobile entertainment and games industries are increasingly starting to converge at this unique mobile technology-centric event. With keynote talks from important industry figures such as Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Chairman & CEO of Warner Music Group, Sean Maloney, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Mobility Group for Intel, and noted Electronic Arts and 3DO founder Trip Hawkins (now with Digital Chocolate), the show is gradually increasing its scope.
|D12 Pro Wrestling|
Though games did not command a prominent floor presence at the show, many major and up-and-coming players were represented at the event, largely located in the ‘M-tertainment & Gaming’ section. Hudson, though not the largest U.S. game firm, had a prominent presence, showcasing its new 3D racing title Ghost Racer 3D, as well as 6 Shooter Black Jack, the new D12 Pro Wrestling, which features the likenesses of the famous rap collective, Super Bomberman, Bomberman Kart, and most excitingly, Bonk’s Return, a new iteration of the Bonk’s Adventure franchise. “We’re rebuilding the company,” said Tsuji Naoyuki, CFO for Hudson Entertainment, Inc., over 20 years in the company’s employ, “We lost our presence in the U.S. for a while, but are dedicated to coming back, not only in mobile, but the console space as well.” Hudson also operates The Source portal for mobile, which hosts numerous wallpapers and ringtones, from the premier hip hop music and culture magazine.
Nokia had a large presence as always, this time showcasing its Series 60 platform through a number of smaller developers, with a wide variety of origins and products. One interesting company in the Nokia developer circle was Noumena Innovations, a Beijing-based developer which largely operates in mobile, but has done PC work in the past. MGS Subsonic Racer, a WipeOut clone, was particularly impressive. “I know MGS usually refers to Metal Gear Solid,” said CFO/COO Zeus Chen, adding when pressed, “It stands for Magical Game Station [the company’s proprietary mobile middleware]. We’re going to change that.” Chen professed to have never heard of WipeOut, let alone have played it, but someone on his team certainly has, as the game features ships and tracks somewhat reminiscent of the series. The other big game from Noumena was Mad Macs, and here the reference was clearly acknowledged. “It’s a bit of word play,” admitted Chen. The game features cute animals in tanks, in a Worms-style 3D turn-based battle. When questioned about the development environment in Beijing , Zeus called the city “…essentially the Silicon Valley of China. A lot of China’s technology originates there.”
Jamdat had a single station within the Qualcomm area, which pushed its classics; Tetris and Jamdat Bowling, but also showed the brand new Doom RPG in playable form. The turn-based combat and dungeon-crawling gameplay updating the classic is quite appealing, and was developed (at least for a large part of its creation) by famed id programmer John Carmack, with help from his wife’s company, Fountainhead Entertainment. Other major titles from Jamdat included Jamdat Mini Golf, Downtown Texas Hold’em, and Jamdat Sports NFL 2006.
Former Ubisoft offshoot, and now powerhouse in its own right Gameloft was also housed within the Qualcomm area, pushing many of its 3D titles, from Ghost Recon to Asphalt. And though 3D titles may grab the eye, Gameloft’s bread and butter is still in 2D, with titles such as the arcade-style War of the Worlds, Platinum Solitaire, Prince of Persia Warrior Within and Block Breaker Deluxe. “3D still isn’t really that profitable yet ” said Gameloft’s J. Webber, “We do it primarily because if we don’t get our foot in 3D now, we’ll be behind when it really does hit.” Adding “It’s a good thing to do for the carriers, who are trying to promote their 3D-enabled services, which also benefits us in turn.”
Seattle’s RealNetworks, Inc is also making a big push for the mobile space, with its mobile-based RealArcade, newly operated in the U.S. and the UK. For its debut entry into the space, Real is offering multiple titles at a flat subscription rate of $5.99 per month, with individual game titles purchasable for $2.49 per month. The service currently works with Cingular, and Real has also partnered with July Systems to allow ‘try before you buy’ and pay-per-use models via a mobile store. At present, Real’s offerings are extremely puzzle heavy, but as Kali Sakai, product manager for Real-owned GameHouse mentioned, “That’s where the market is now!,” assuring Gamasutra that a greater range of titles would be rolled out in the future.
Playphone was also in attendance, with its unique direct-to-consumer Java game distribution method. The company, in addition to selling directly from phone decks and an online storefront, distributes games on cards that contain nothing more than an access and activation code, but are available as impulse-purchases at major retailers. Playphone is known particularly for bringing SNK properties to mobile, but also has original titles, and distributes some big licenses for other mobile groups, such as EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005, Gameloft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3, and Glu’s Fox Sports Batter Up! Gamasutra was shown two new Playphone-specific titles; Last Blade and Saurus-developed, SNK-published Irritating Maze, a title that’s actually quite well-suited for mobile. The rather addictive gameplay involves the maneuvering of a stick through a scrolling maze, without touching the walls. The only thing missing is the electronic-smelling air that shoots out at you when you make a mistake, in the arcade version. “That’s true!” Said Darryl Williams, executive producer at Playphone, who previously worked at both SNK and Capcom, “On the Verizon phones there will be some nice rumble effects though."
Mforma had a number of big-name titles on display, ranging from Activision licenses such as X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, Call of Duty 2, and Ultimate Spider-Man, which played a bit like Capcom’s Bionic Commando in parts, to other licenses such as CBS Fantasy Football Companion, and World Poker Tour. The company also operates a service based on the Billboard charts. Users can browse the charts to see the latest movement in popular music culture, read album and concert reviews, and download ringtones.
Speaking of Capcom, while the company did not have a booth on-site, Gamasutra was able to track down business development manager Anthony Pereira, who stated that while Capcom has dabbled in mobile before, the company will be getting a little more serious with the platform. Previously, Capcom had released 1942, Ghosts and Goblins, and Bionic Commando through a third party, but is now poised to release mobile titles on its own, beginning with the first two title mentioned, 1942 and G&G, with at least one more title planned for this year.
I-Play’s booth was largely devoted to Skipping Stone, an original IP based on nothing more than skipping a smiling yellow stone across a pond. You control the speed of the windup through a meter, then simply press the button at the right time, to keep the stone skipping, gaining powerups along the way, and encountering enemies (such as octopi) to avoid. This was quite fun, and much more appropriate for the mobile space than many games that attempt to emulate a console experience on the small screen, usually with limited results. Other games included Maria Sharapova Tennis,3D Pool Urban Hustle, Metal Slug Mobile Impact, The King of Fighters M2, and Mahjong Quest.
There were a number of companies introducing new or continuingproducts for the mobile game space, from new handsets to improved networks. Immersion Corporation is one such company, with its VibeTonz System, which provides dynamic vibration effects for games and other applications, such as ringtones, on VibeTonz-enabled handsets. The demo shown at CTIA was a racing game on a Samsung handset (other manufacturers include Sprint and Sky Teletec), in which on- and off-road portions of the game yielded different vibration ‘textures,’ and acceleration was reflected in the vibration intensity as well, which we were assured puts very little extra strain on the battery. Though it’s always tough to roll out new hardware features, Immersion is optimistic. “The hardest part is convincing manufacturers to put it on the handset,” said Mark S. Belinsky, VP of marketing strategy for Immersion, continuing “but we have a few more lined up, and hope to get into 1 million phones by the end of the year.”
Another quirky company competing for the mobile entertainment space is Fun Little Movies, a Los Angeles-based company that distributes mobile-specific comedic short film content. Through a partnership with Mobile Streams, FLM’s content can be seen on mobile phones across 25 countries, via carriers such as O2, Vodafone, 3, Telstra, and Hutchison. The content can also be viewed on the web through DAVE TV, as well as that company’s proprietary video player device, the X2 Box, and Microsoft’s Portable Media Center.
Seattle-based Tooned In is another unusual company, operating on the fringe of CTIA’s gaming area. Appropriately, the company’s major IP is Fringe City, developed by a long-time Hanna-Barbara employee who decided to move into the gaming space. Tooned In was shopping for distributors for its proprietary wallpapers, and potential games based on the very unique Fringe City license. The game’s promotional work makes it look a bit like an interactive movie, and the company is indeed composed primarily of people that come from film. Producers generally just aren’t adventurous enough to pick up an IP like this, lamented a Tooned In representative, “Some producers come from the business side, and just want to make money. But some come from a place of creation, and those are the people we’re hoping will be interested in our property.”
Another company looking for greater recognition in the industry is Toronto, Canada-based Capybara Games, which makes quirky, original games for mobile. Gamasutra asked president and COO Tom Frencel how a developing company benefits from an industry event like this one. “We're here to meet with publishers face to face, many of whom we usually deal with from afar,” he begins, adding, “and we’re also here to meet new contacts that might want to pick up some of our properties.” Though much of the market is license-based, Capybara is still largely committed to original IP. “We’re just getting a feel for the market, where it is currently, and where it's going in the future.”