This was the question and therefore the central topic of the roundtable at the Quo Vadis game developer conference in Berlin last week, which we attended along with representatives from arvato mobile, Jamba, Exit Games, Chromatix , Cipsoft and Exozet.[full]
Download fees and lack of marketing for mobile games
Naturally the well-known points of criticism such as the lack of presentation of mobile games and hidden download fees were brought up immediately. Stefan Blanck, Chromatix’s Managing Director who also moderated the roundtable, stated that these are the same problems as three years ago and that it doesn’t seem that the wireless service providers have any intention of rethinking this. Some of the participants put this into perspective by mentioning that almost every wireless service provider now offers data flat rates, but that most users are not aware of it. In fact, a lot of mobile phone owners still don’t know that they can do more with their phones than just make phone calls, send text messages and take pictures – they can also use them to play games.
We were able to offer some concrete examples of this since we often meet mobile phone owners who didn’t know how to get mobile games onto their phones and that there are even some games preinstalled on their phones. It isn’t surprising, because in many cases the mobile games are hidden deep in the menu. For example, how many end users are aware that “Java World” contains mobile games? Mouth-to-mouth propaganda could really help here, but which mobile games are worth recommending to friends and how can you then easily and quickly get that particular game?
No reward for innovation and quality in mobile games
This is another problem in the mobile games industry – a lot of mobile games are released every week so there is only so much attention that can be generated for each individual game. Therefore most companies prefer to spend a lot of money on known brand names, leaving only a small budget for the development of the actual game. Christian Twellmann, Head of Mobile Games at arvato mobile, which operates the O2 games portal in Germany and the Vodafone games portal in Ireland, explains the situation as follows: “Actually, only three categories of mobile games are sold successfully: innovations, Top 10 and recommendations. With the flood of game titles we get every week, most of the games have disappeared from these categories within four weeks at most and hardly generate any more downloads. The quality of the games barely plays a role. Innovation and quality can hardlycatch on this way.”
Casual gamers or core gamers – which target group ensures growth?
The group’s opinions to this question varied somewhat. Thomas Richter, Head of Games at Jamba, prefers to follow the strategy of introducing new users to the subject with very easy games or applications: “We want to attract new users to mobile applications using social applications such as Partner Tracker in order to then perhaps sell them a very simple game before offering them more complex games.” Matthias Hellmund, Head of Mobile Development at Berlin-based Exozet, added: “To do this, we first have to get rid of the potential users’ fear of expensive subscriptions. Especially in Germany that is still one of the main reasons most people keep away from mobile games.”
Those of us at Fishlabs are convinced that the core gamers are the right target group to develop the market. Like in many other areas, the “early adaptors” are the ones who enjoy trying new things and are also willing to pay for it and overcome technical hurdles. However, the vast majority of mobile games tend to still focus on casual gamers. In particular, core gamers merely roll their eyes at adaptations of console games with a simple game idea, comparatively simple graphics and short gameplay. However, we are convinced that this target group would be willing to pay more for better quality and more depth in the game, while casual gamers tend to be more sensitive to price.
However, the prerequisite for this is that we must finally be able to sell mobile games for more than 5 euros and that the developers’ percentage of the profits needs to be much higher. Instead, mobile games continue to be marketed like ring tones, which is in blatant contradiction to the time and money that is spent developing a mobile game. What is needed is a high-end segment for mobile games and commensurate marketing on the part of the wireless service provider. Especially with the opportunity for publishers and developers to be able to sell additional games or upgrades to the end customers.
Innovative and high quality mobile games through third parties
The roundtable agreed that the industry still has a long way to go. In fact, they expect that third party providers such as Jamba or even new players such as Amazon will do a better job than the wireless service providers. Thomas Richter added, “Of course we are also keeping an eye on this target group and are already offering high quality Symbian mobile games if they are available for a certain phone. However, we don’t advertise the game this way, because the average end customer doesn’t know what “Symbian” is.
We are also convinced that innovative and high quality games should be marketed on the Internet. The Internet allows users to learn more about the game and download a free demo onto their mobile phones. The success of free browser games, in which money is earned by selling in-game items, is paving the way. Access to the game is extremely easy and if the game is well-liked, money is earned through long-term motivation. Quality is the deciding success factor here.
Our summary of the event is: The market for mobile games has not developed much, despite the ever-improving quality of mobile phones, since the wireless service providers are too inflexible to try new marketing methods. In fact, the opposite is true: mobile games with well-known brand names are difficult to market and the pressure to simply adapt old games instead of creating new and better game experiences is continually increasing. The consequence of this is that new channels will established on the Internet. High quality mobile games with more content and the ability to purchase additional in-game contents or services using common payment systems appears to be a promising solution to the problem.