Mobile games likely to broaden gaming appeal

Market beckons variety of vendors

LONDON - The development of advanced games on mobile phones is likely to expand gaming beyond its traditional market of young men, Vesa-Pekka Kirsi, Nokia Corp.'s senior manager for games applications said Tuesday.

Kirsi is in London this week to talk at the Games Developers Conference, Europe. As phone technology develops, the big games players are starting to move into the mobile market and the smaller development companies that have traditionally enjoyed this space will have to fight to survive, he said.

"I foresee a survival game going on, as companies try to find the recipe to stay alive. It's already more difficult to enter the market than it was 12 months ago. With the big guys, Electronic Arts (Inc.), Sony (Computer Entertainment Inc.) and Ubi Soft (Entertainment SA), all moving into the mobile market, it'll make it tougher for the little guys. Finding the right niche could provide their survival route," Kirsi said.

"In my opinion there's not enough segmentation in the games market yet, and I'm sure that the competition will bring out some very interesting niche markets. There's been too little investment in games that attract female players, for example." Women own half of the mobile phones in Europe, so there's a huge potential market there, he said.

Nokia is trying to simplify the games development process for all of its phones to encourage developers to come up with new ideas, Kirsi said. The latest versions of its Developer Platforms allow developers to write software for a range of mobile handsets at once.

Development Platform for Series 40 and Development Platform for Series 60, launched this week, allow game developers to design games for all Series 40 and Series 60 handsets. In addition, developers can use software developed on the Series 60 platform in Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s SGH-D700 and Siemens AG's SX1phones. The Nokia 6600, due out by the end of the year, will be the first Series 60 platform 2.0 phone to reach the market, Kirsi said.

It is much easier for developers to develop one program and only have to tweak minor UI (user interface) options, instead of having to rewrite a game for each phone. However, Nokia has to balance that with the fact that its customers have different tastes in games and that there is a need to differentiate for different markets, he said.

The Nokia 6600 phone includes Bluetooth, which Kirsi believes will pull more people into multiplayer gaming. While players can currently play one another over their normal mobile connection, Bluetooth is cheaper and more likely to get a group of people in the same room playing together, he said. "I can pass on skills, potions, help someone out," Kirsi said. Users will help and work more closely wth someone in the same room than someone out of sight, he believes. That will then get people used to the concept and more willing to use their regular mobile connections for gaming, he said.

Nokia will also launch in October its N-Gage gaming phone, first announced in February, and has set up a publishing unit to develop games suitable for it. The N-Gage looks more like a games device than a phone, and will be marketed as such, Kirsi said. 

Mobile gaming still suffers a bit of an image problem compared to console- and PC-based games, but technological capabilities and speed are growing, Kirsi said.

"And we're not competing for the same time and usage as them anyway. We're addressing new users, expanding the whole market, and really, any entertainment is our competition," Kirsi said.

Eventually, however, Kirsi expects to see a convergence of the two areas, with a multiplatform approach where a user can transfer what they were playing at home and take it with them on their mobile phone.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.