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|Lee Epting, VP of Forum Nokia|
The Okura Hotel in Amsterdam played host to the very first Nokia Games Summit earlier this month, where 190 delegates, made up of Forum Nokia developers, publishers and game industry press from around the world, were invited to participate in this annual forum directly addressing mobile games development.
The collaborative tone for the event was set by Kamar Shah, the chair of the summit, who delivered an enthusiastic speech, remarking that:“If we've learnt anything, it's that it takes a lot of companies to make this happen. The purpose of this event, is to get industry leaders in the room to make something happen.” Shah then handed the stage to Lee Epting, VP of Forum Nokia, who spoke about one of the event's key themes: the march towards a more ‘immersive' visual experience on the mobile platform. “People live in a 3D world in their everyday life. They will want that same 3D world in their handsets", predicted Epting, and “…we want to bring the visual experience of the real world into a mobile device.”
Epting continued in the same note, giving an overview of the mobile content market to date and highlighting three key elements that it needs to accomplished in order to achieve “nirvana”:
She was quick to point out however, that none of the key elements can fruitfully exist without quality content and applications. This set the stage for the focus of Epting's presentation: the unveiling of the Forum Nokia PRO Game Zone, an area within Forum Nokia specially tailored to provide high-value support to the developer market.
Mobile Emotional Attachment
The theme of three key challenges was echoed by the next speaker, Lincoln Wallen, Chief Technical Officer of Electronic Arts' mobile division. He stressed the same three points, albeit worded and approached differently:
Wallen began by giving an empirically research-based overview of the situation as he saw it, driving home some hard commercial/cultural realities along the way stating that the key driver of mobile handheld technology isn't games but streaming media. He expressed a belief that streaming media will deliver a broader, more general consumer experience – and that it is ‘lucky' that this technology is also driving forward the game experience.
Electronic Arts is expecting convergence to be driving the market forward by 2010, but realizing that convergence would require a concerted effort, according to Wallen. “Data is only really valuable to people when it's not mobile,” claimed Wallen. “By which I mean, people need consistency across their data. They don't want a separate email account for their mobile phone, they want the same one they use in their office.”
Moving on to address the consumer experience, Wallen explained that a key driver for emotional attachment is the mass market nature of the franchise; the repeated investment in a franchise game is an iterative expression of a growing emotional attachment to it. Mobile becomes an alternative access point to a media property. For an example, Wallen cited Star Wars, “a huge casual brand – a franchise that can be dipped into in lots of different ways.” In the same way, EA seeks to create and leverage relevant casual brands.
Addressing commerce, Wallen emphasized one key idea: that carriers would not be able to survive if they continue to model their businesses around ‘pipe rental.' As data increases in quality and volume, the first thing operators are going to have to address is getting it off their voice networks – WiMAX and WiFi are obvious ways of addressing this. This reality is anathema for the carrier-as-pipe proposition, and heralding the way for what Wallen describes as ‘carrier-as-platform'. Wallen concluded by sharing some of EA's lessons – with emphasis on his ideas about 3D; “The technology is there, but the consumers aren't quite ready for it yet. We need to be able to put experiences in front of consumers that they can recognize – that is the only thing that's important about 3D. It is essential if one is to reach a truly mass market.”
Wallen summarized his ideas in a response to a question during his final Q and A, explaining that mobile isn't an appendage to the rest of the gaming market – but an access point to the same core media property. “The FIFA console player should see getting FIFA Mobile as an essential addition to the experience. This isn't about mobile gaming from our point of view. This is about gaming.”
|FIFA Mobile screenshot|
The Mobile Gaming Future?
The liveliest session followed, with Wallen returning to the stage to participate in the industry panel, “How to make mobile a business platform for gaming in the future?” – a key for everyone in attendance. Joining Wallen onstage were Tim Harrison, Head of Games, Vodafone UK; Gonzague de Vallois, CEO, Gameloft; Jussi Nevanlinna, Nokia; and moderator Matthew Bellows from Floodgate Entertainment. This panel reiterated the major themes that previous speakers had identified – and added another which was to resurface constantly - quality. Harrison commented, “ In terms of the catalog - do we need to limit the amount of games on offer? Maybe we need to take a serious look at what our output is - focus on smaller numbers or better content.”
He went on to clarify his experience with Vodafone game sales, “It's encouraging to see the way that 3D is being encouraged is good.. But our cash cow is still 2D - old school games, the focus now is on revenue and flexibility.” De Vallois added, “We've always believed that quality was key, the fact is that people don't need to play on their phones. They haven't done so before - so we need to give them something brilliant. Marketing is still a key issue. We need to raise awareness massively.”
The discussion of awareness led the panel to turn their attention to some analysis of the street-level retail outlets themselves. Wallen commented, “When people go out to spend money on entertainment, they go to different places. They go into department stores, places where other entertainment products are being sold - we need to associate them with other entertainment outlets.” So, are there any retailers who are pushing the games well? De Vallois gave the following insight, “The problem is that putting a trailer for a game on a plasma in the store - it doesn't explain the game at all. In shops, people don't push the games as there's no immediate margin. They'd prefer to sell Bluetooth headsets.” This was corroborated by Harrison who candidly admitted, “We've experimented with retail. It hasn't worked.” and finally by Nevanlinna from Nokia: “Pre-installed games are the way forward.”
As the floor was opened to questions from the audience, Harrison refused to be drawn into specifics on how many people return to buy another game after purchasing their first, “We can't reveal the figures, but they're not as high as they should be. The problem is that it's an active purchase right now. We should be able to stream a demo down to them overnight; they find it in the morning."
The remainder of the event was concerned with seminars and presentations from both third-party publishers and developers, which went into a useful and candid level of detail in terms of both technology and business. A key and refreshing characteristic of the entire event was a conspicuous absence of marketing spin, rare for an event such as this.
The second day showcase area gave generous amounts of space to individual developers and publishers to conduct business and show their work. What becomes quickly apparent is the breadth of content that mobile entertainment is rapidly moving towards. Any assumptions that an outsider might have about mobile titles being limited to extremely casual puzzle genres are quickly put aside. Particularly as core console franchises are extended, not adapted, to the mobile space, we can expect to see consumer awareness rapidly grow.
There are some huge questions surrounding the mobile industry and it's characterized by an excitement, optimism and slight confusion about exactly what is going to unfold – both creatively and commercially. The ability to construct a summit such that is unafraid to face up to the more difficult questions surrounding the industry sets a promising precedent for the future of the form.