Financial stakes rise in mobile gaming

8 Nov 2002

There is a growing school of thought that more money is spent by European consumers on mobile content than on PC internet content, and the belief amongst operators is that mobile gaming, infotainment and location-based services and games will achieve considerable success.

It is a Saturday afternoon and two grown men, out shopping with their families, get a break from the shopping trolley and the wailing babies. They seize the chance to check their text messages. They have never met, but as far as their mobile identities are concerned, they are arch enemies, and are aware that a battle is about to begin. Fifteen minutes later the same two grown men can be seen running through the streets in a curious game of cat and mouse.

No, they are not bereft of their sanity, but are participants in the next generation of mobile gaming. They are playing BotFighter, the world’s first location-based mobile game that takes advantage of mobile positioning and lets users play against others in their vicinity, by using a standard GSM phone. In BotFighter(pictured), the players locate and shoot at each other with their cell phones out on the streets, where location technology determines whether the users are close enough to each other to be able to score a direct hit. On a website hosted by the respective network service provider, the players may upgrade their robots, buy weapons, chat, view high scores and get the real-time position of other players. Also, from the Botfighters website, the players can sign contracts to find and destroy other players’ robots.

Sounds crazy? Well welcome to the new world of mobile gaming, where location, multimedia messaging service(MMS), mobile marketing and other technologies combine to challenge PC internet content and gaming. With the advent of camera phones and MMS this Christmas, the mobile gaming experience is expected to be much richer than before and pundits predict an explosion in Botfighter-type games and all kinds of MMS-based services such as dating and shopping over the coming year.

According to research from Forrester, the adoption of wireless gaming will be driven by short messaging service (SMS) and MMS-based games, and by 2005 some 70 million Europeans will play SMS games. Forrester says that most mobile gamers are under 35, accounting for almost 84pc of European SMS users. Forrester says, however, that older mobile users may well be tempted to take up wireless gaming as Seventies arcade classics such as Pong and Space Invaders are introduced as mobile games. Improved mobile devices, the emergence of 2.5G high-speed wireless networks such as GPRS and the eventual arrival of 3G (third generation) services will drive this mobile gaming boom further. A different report from Forrester, looking at which European mobile gaming markets hold the most promise for mobile operators, revealed Austria, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland as the ones to watch. Why? They have high mobile penetration and high games console penetration. The research firm believes that operators in three European markets (Ireland, Scandinavia and the UK) should give mobile gaming medium priority and should rely on revenue sharing partnerships with major games companies, rather than developing their own mobile games.

Proof that the market is ripe came from Nokia this week when it revealed that over one million people registered to play this year’s Nokia Game. Nokia Game 2002 is an interactive adventure provided by Nokia that will be played from 11 to 29 November in nine languages across 25 countries. During the game, players receive a mission that they must complete using clues and information provided via the internet, SMS, chat, interactive voice response calls and mini movies distributed over the web. Nokia has already introduced 15 handsets capable of handling MMS. The screen quality on which mobile games can be played has already increased in sophistication. For example, owners of the new Nokia 7650 phone can play the classic arcade shoot ’em up, Doom, in full colour.

The new Motorola T720 smartphone comes equipped with a full-coloured screen on which players can play the motorbike game Moto GP as well as download many other colour games via the web. According to John Quigley, director of the Motorola Design Centre in Cork, this is just the beginning. “I think there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon in this space. We are very excited about the rollout of location-based services, MMS and camera phone technology. The pressure is on manufacturers and mobile networks companies to make services and products more compelling for consumers and to get them to say “wow!” The challenge for manufacturers is to introduce phones that can take pictures and go online at the lowest possible cost. That’s a huge challenge,” he said.

Vodafone’s Java games product manager Silvie Thouret explains: “BotFighter is like a paintball game over location-based technology. You find the location of another robot that way and shoot ’em up. At the moment it is over SMS, but you can also do it over the web, build your robot and find missions that is one of the first location-based games in Ireland. In the meantime we also have Java games.”

“We believe that this type of game is for young people who have grown up on PlayStation. The community aspect is also very important to us. Chatroom technology is very powerful because people love to communicate and when we build communities, we build markets. This is only the first step into a new era of location-based games and services,” said Thouret, who added that at the end of this month, Vodafone will be introducing a further array of location-based services and products.

Game on!

By John Kennedy