3D Mobile Gaming Ahead Of Its Time
We are a true pioneer in 3D multiplayer mobile gaming and have been working on games like V-Rally 3D – featuring online ghost racing and first person shooter Robot Alliance in a massively multiplayer online gameplay (MMOG) experience – all the way back in 2005. Of course, we had to face extreme technical hurdles back then and the functionality was quite limited. Also, the number of handsets that these games worked on was very small. Actually, only three devices from Sony Ericsson (F/K500i, K700i, S700i) could handle reasonable 3D graphics at that time. However, in order to exchange the game data online we had to stop the rendering every time we wanted to connect to the mobile network. Gameplay-wise it was far from what core gamers desired but it was revolutionary at the time.[full]
No Business Without The Operator
Over the years, mobile phones became much faster. With 3D enabled mobile phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia dominating the game downloads in 2007, theoretically, we could have addressed a potential user base of some 100 million mobile gamers with basic multiplayer online features. However, even with a reasonable user base installed, we still had the issue to implement new business models like subscriptions or micro-transactions with in-game billing dealing with 160 carriers worldwide. A task that was impossible, especially since most operators had outsourced their gaming business to aggregators who had no interest to go beyond simple pay per download models. But even if those business models had been in place the lack of flat rate data plans would have left any game utilizing connectivity floating dead in the river before it had a chance to start.
The iPhone – The Game Changer
Nobody had it seen coming. While the mobile gaming industry complained about fragmentation, operators taking too big a cut , crappy WAP portals and a value chain that hardly delivered any great value to the consumer, the iPhone came simply out of the blue. With computing power somewhere between Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, an even larger display, innovative touch and tilt controls and, even more important for connected gaming, no extra costs for connectivity, Apple took the lead in mobile gaming contributing 10% of the whole mobile gaming revenue with a handset market share of only 1.2%. Apple was clever enough to force operators to sell the iPhone with all-you-can-eat data plans to drive content downloads, with only one goal in mind, to sell more devices.
Generating Critical Mass
With the Apple App Store, made for developers to come up with innovative ideas, users have the power because content is ranked by users and the content created by third party developers not gaming managers. This new store reaches a target group of more than 40 million wealthy early adopters who all use more or less the same device and with a direct business relationship, Apple started a new era in mobile gaming. They knew, only in an ecosystem where taking the extra risk is rewarded and a fair chunk of the revenue is given to the developer, could innovation and quality succeed. Following Apple’s tremendous success, other handset manufacturers like Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and lately LG have introduced or announced app stores. Finally, operators started realizing their approach of selling content is outdated and under the umbrella of JIL (Joint Innovation Labs) app stores will finally come from the operators. So the app stores are coming. Some still have teething problems but competition will force every stakeholder to get their homework done. Finally the number of handset users addressable for high-end mobile gaming is gaining critical mass.
In-App Billing – Monetizing Multiplayer Gaming
Now, with a market big enough for 3D multiplayer mobile games, it is again Apple who introduces the last missing part to even justify costly developments of MMOGs on mobile phones: subscriptions and in-game transactions. With the latest firmware 3.0 for iPhone and iPod touch developers can monetize their applications beyond the pay per download model by selling subscriptions or micro-transactions for in-game items. This may be less important for games with simple multiplayer functionality – like turn based tournaments or asynchronous ghost racing as the multiplayer mode is not a necessity for the game – but a good way for games to diversify from its competitors and does not need to be monetized beyond a single payment per download.
However, in MMOGs a constant and expensive hosting service is needed to run the persistent game world and players of MMOGs expect constant content updates or they lose interest and flock to other MMOGs with a better offering. All this has to be monetized over the lifetime of the MMOG. Subscriptions are a proven model to do this for premium titles whilst casual MMOGs seem to be more successful with a business model gathering a vast number of players to play for free and monetize through in-game items.
LTE – Get Up To Speed
So Apple has successfully set up an ecosystem with about 40 million high-end connected devices and a strong shopping system that enables MMOGs on mobile devices today. However, these MMOGs won’t be truly “mobile” because only the Wi-Fi connection of the iPhone provides enough bandwidth to deal with dozens of players in a 3D scene simultaneously. It is LTE networks that is needed to bring MMOGs on mobile phones so users can be play their games literally anytime and anywhere. Also, with LTE as a new service operators have the chance to introduce subscriptions (only Verizon does already) and micro-transaction billing methods to make sure that developers/publishers will take the risk in massive development and the constant operating service of MMOGs. It is in the operator’s very own interest to do that as MMOGs will heavily drive the usage of data and content services and, if the content offering is compelling enough, keep the churn rate low. It might take a while to reach critical mass on LTE for core or even casual gamers on mobile devices to play against one other but it is inevitably MMOGs on mobile phones with ubiquity and constant connectivity that will reach an addressable market of more than 4 billion users.
(Originally posted on ng Connet Program Blog)