Mobile Games: Platform Standards!?

Mobile games blogger extraordinaire, Arjan Olsder, provided for a great guest post by Qualcomm games guru Mike Yuen, and it's well worth a read! Mike addresses this most horrible of issues to mobile game developers that is called fragmentation or, in his words, "[t]he lack of platform and hardware standards continues to be a major inhibitor to mobile game growth in the United States [and elsewhere; ed.]. This diversity in development platforms (Android, BREW, Flash Lite, iPhone, Java, Linux, Symbian, WAP, Windows Mobile) and hardware configurations (display resolutions, RAM/heap memory size, processing and graphics power, audio formats, keypad and other input modes."

Mike rightly points out that, "[i]n many cases, the costs associated with individualizing software builds to the particularities of each handset, operator and language account for more than half of the overall development budget for new game titles. It’s a simple, but important concept. If fewer resources were diverted to porting a title from handset to handset, operator to operator, more resources could be dedicated to advancing the development of new and innovative gaming concepts."

He goes on to draw an interesting comparison to the Korean and Japanese markets where there are not as many handsets (and platforms) around and where consumers are more than twice as likely to download mobile games. He then goes on to look at market disruptors like Apple (iPhone anyone?) and others only to conclude, sadly, that "[m]obile gaming is in a state of flux – platform and hardware fragmentation has clouded the once blue sky of gaming’s future and positive disruptive products such as Apple’s iPhone have changed industry perception and consumer expectations about the future of the mobile gaming device. I’m not expecting us to reach consensus anytime soon. Fragmentation is an inherent element of the mobile industry and perhaps always will be."

Now, is that really so? He is of course right in his analysis of the current environment. But does this really have to be like this? The mobile space suffers from too many very large companies with very large markets. And if this wasn't enough, there's two different groups of them, with diverging interests, namely operators (carriers) and handset manufacturers: the former want everyone to be on their network, the latter to be on their handsets. Both are more often than not big old molochs of companies with a lot of market power in their segments. However... the markets seem to gravitate (under consumer demand) towards a more open set-up: operators seem to be accepting the fact that they cannot reign their users into walled gardens forever (more and more resign to flat-rate data and open the mobile web to users) and OEMs seem to realize that they need awesome numbers of users to have a real impact and so most of them gravitate to more open platforms (or, in the case of Nokia, create them).

As most of the newer platforms appear to be based on C++ or siblings thereof (Symbian, UIQ, Linux, Android [yes, I know that they us a JVM], BREW, Win ME, etc), it would appear that a reduced complexity might be nigh. Not as easy as online, mind you, but light at the end of the tunnel nonetheless. And it makes sense as the current fragmentation isn't really helping anyone: consumers grow frustrated with ever-changing platforms. They want cool content, not a proprietary operator-variant of cool content. Hope, my friends, there is hope!

Ticking off Idle Screens

Ever heard of response-based segmentation? Super-cool, isn't it? You can group your customers depending on their actions... Israeli firm Celltick has now published the results of its first trial, an unnamed Brazilian operator. According to the press release, "the results demonstrate a 60% increase in the number of users responding to teasers on the idle screen, and an incredible 80% increase in the overall number of clicks-per-day since the service enhancement."

So... this means that 60% more users respond to things happening on their idle screens than normal. What happens normally? Nothing. So 60% more than what? Now, don't get me wrong: I find the concept pretty intriguing but the context is somewhat unfulfilling ("you're not doing anything. So I, the infamous MS paper clip, think you might want to play a game..."; not very likely).

The Celltick platform seems to have it all: "[it] is designed to provide mobile operators, content providers and advertisers with a mobile marketing media channel [...] that maximize response rates, customer retention and enhanced revenue opportunities. User profiling through RBS compliments LiveScreen Media’s existing segmentation capabilities which include location based broadcasting, handset segmentation and time-sensitive campaigns." How cool is that? Alas, no details are given... I would really, really, REALLY like to learn more substantative things about this but this turns out to being a relatively meaningless PR blurp. The fact that the "Brazilian operator" prefers to be unnamed doesn't really instil more confidence, does it?

Celltick: please provide us with some meat. Then you'll get good coverage here, too. And: EVERYONE would love a success story such as yours. Bring it on, guys!