Month: January 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

News Flash (Lite)

A while ago, I blogged about a cool new site French company Mobitween had launched, namely on user-generated games. Now, the good folks are a bridgehead in mobile Flash (they had their fingers in the code more or less from day 1). So, where is Flash Lite today?

Here’s the install base numbers as recently released:

From just over 14% to 23% in a year (yes, I know, this is based on a flat 2 bn handsets out there)… In any event, that is rather respectable, don’t you think?

Flash has the great advantage that its graphics are vector-based and therefore scalable. This means that most of the porting nightmare that contributes to 30-50% of the cost of mobile games, etc would fall away. Nice thought… It would make the whole commercial model of mobile games dramatically rosier. And it appears to be gaining traction: e.g. does Adobe make Flash Lite available on Verizon phones (and I’ve been told – confidentially – of one publisher having recorded more than 2m Flash game downloads on there already).

Flash is particularly good for casual games, which is, as everyone close(-ish) to mobile games knows, all the hype for the (small) mobile screen, and rightly so, as it is normally easier to adapt a casual game to the screen limitations (not even starting to talk about processing power) that are inherent to mobile phones. A natural fit, huh? Just look what Mobitween and their users have come up with! And I don’t even get started on Atom/Shockwave (read an interview here) and all the others out there…

Is it then that we only need to wait until Flash Lite (finally) reaches the mass market? On the web, Flash hurt Sun‘s Java badly. Will the same happen on mobile? Or will Sun be smarter this time, and make sure that its currently dominant position will be reinforced by making it easier for developers to publish on their platform? The jury is out…

The Sun rises on QR — posh mobile bar codes, that is…

The UK’s favourite, erm, newspaper, the Sun, records good numbers with a recently introduced QR (Quick Response) codes using 3GVision‘s i-nigma application. This is how it works:

The barcode-based technology enables users to scan their mobile phone over pages of the newspaper, which in turn uploads relevant information onto the device. For example, a football fan could read a match report and use the technology to upload video highlights of the game.”

The Sun, the above source reports, has acquired 11,000 users of this, and all this in just over a month. This is quite respectable one might say although it is only a tiny fraction of the Sun’s daily readership of 7.9m (as we are informed here). The Sun freely admits that it needs to educate consumers on how to use this; it explains the service online and also plans to produce a pull-out to add to this. This would point to rather high expectations of what the service will do.

The paper’s hopes are that the service will help it to boost printed editorial and advertising content in the publication, and help print to become a more profitable medium (they are apparently suffering currently).

The advantage of this is, of course, quite obvious: the advertiser benefits as it can directly measure the effectiveness of its (QR-enabled) print campaigns through the amount of traffic received. The codes can even be used as vouchers. The user could simply scan a code and present the resulting data at a retail outlet to receive discounts or special offers. No surprise then that it is reported that a number of advertisers, including Sky, Ladbrokes and 20th Century Fox (the first and the last belong to the same Rupert Murdoch’s media empire as the Sun though).

The codes, alas, are not so new: It is said to be the most common form of bar code in Japan today.

EA, the iPhone and Mobile 2.0 in general…

EA‘s Travis Boatman, VP Worldwide Studios, recently commented about the adverse effects Apple’s iPhone would have on the sales of mobile games. He moaned that, whilst the device was good, “it’s a replacement for someone who had a Razr before. They still want their content but there’s no distribution platform in place so there’s a negative impact on the industry.”

Now, is that short-termism or the understandable fear of someone who oversees classic game development studios of being replaced by something else, namely online games. Because this is in fact what the iPhone is promising: a replication of the web on mobile. One could say, it’s the entry of mobile 2.0. Online games on desktops became prevalent with the ascent of broadband and data flatrates. This is exactly the environment quite a few people predict for mobile, too. And whilst it was “World of Warcraft” et al that gave the EA’s of this world the shivers on PCs, it is now the iPhone – but not because it’s the iPhone but because it is the first device that, due to its intrinsically different approach (OS, touchscreen), focuses solely and only on the web as the fulfillment medium of content dreams.

Someone then also smartly noted that “[t]he problem of transferring games to new phones has actually plagued the mobile gaming industry since its inception. When users upgrade to a new phone, they most often can’t bring a game that they bought for their old phone along with them.” And the market data seems to confirm the challenges the industry faces: the percentage of mobile phone users who have ever bought a mobile game increased from 10 percent in 2005 to just 12 percent in 2007; that’s not much…

Moving from downloadable games (or other content items) to ones that can be played (or consumed) online reduces the complexity to users enormously. Due to bandwidth challenges, there are some constraints as to what can be played with a certain level of satisfaction online and what can’t: as a rule, everything turn-based, casual puzzles, etc would appear to be adaptable, heavier, more action-related games can’t. However, is this any different on the desktop or, for that matter, the console? Has anyone ever heard of online versions of Call of Duty or EA FIFA? No, because they would not translate in such a constrained environment. Now, Tetris (published on Apple’s iPod by, guess what, EA), Zuma, Luxor, Bejewelled, Poker, on the other hand, provide a rather splendid user experience even when played online and, lo and behold, they are predominantly found as online games on the desktop, too.

The same applies to other content sectors, too: prior to YouTube, the consumption of video via desktop was niche. One might watch a DVD on a long-ish train ride but who in their right mind would download shorter clips to watch them later (well, maybe with the exception of certain post-watershed offerings)? YouTube came and made it easy to consume AND operated in an environment dominated by an economical usage ecosphere, i.e. data flat rates and sufficient bandwidth, and off it went.

For EA (and any other mobile games publisher) this may mean that, in the mid term (i.e. once now pertinent issues such as data charges, bandwidth constraints, etc have been tackled), users will go online on their mobiles, too, to play such casual titles. However, fans of more intense genres will continue to download. The challenge is therefore not so much someone like Apple and any of their products but the current distribution and commercial environment (namely regarding billing) that would appear to slow down take-up. So, yet again, the finger points to the operators who, from their position understandably (why would they be reduced to a bit pipe if they don’t have to?), are in the way of turning mobile into a media consumption channel like any other. The front is however getting diluted: more and more operators throw their data plans into the open and offer more generous plans to users (led by 3 who even offer dedicated Skype mobile phones with the respective data plan to come with it).

And what will EA do? Well, continue to publish games which only make sense when played on dedicated devices. Oh, and they will probably release the Sims as an online version… Not so bad then…

Mobile Bloggers unite: in Barcelona

Mobile bloggers who read this and have not yet registered (well, can you then really be mobile bloggers?), note that Rudy de Waele, mobile blogger extraordinaire, with the generous support from his people at MyStrands hold yet another Mobile Sunday ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress (I am still itching to write 3GSM…) in Barcelona, more specifically on Sunday, 10 February.

Mobile Sunday is, in their own words, “an unofficial, informal and generally cool and funky gathering of mobile bloggers and their chums”, and, yes, I’ll attend in the vain hope that something cool and funky will rub off…

You’ll find the registration page here.

See you all in Barcelona!

ESPN Mobile gets 4.9m hits in 24 hours (10% more than on PC site)

MoCoNews points us to an article reporting about some noteworthy stuff on the usage of the revamped ESPN Mobile (you will recall that the full-blown MVNO they had tanked horribly and the service was then re-launched as a mobile internet destination). They (well, not they but “an executive briefed on the data”) said that for one 24-hour period, ESPN’s wireless NFL section, with 4.9 million visits, topped the PC NFL section’s 4.5 million visits. And that’s impressive!

In the same article, M:Metrics was quoted to point out that it was convenience that did the trick, and this is of course where the data might be a bit distorted (it might not be but it’s unclear): ESPN Mobile is available in two flavours. ESPN MVP is exclusively to Verizon high-end data subscribers who get it for free. So this basically supports the case that the mobile internet will become a fully-fledged “competitor” to the “old” internet once bandwidth and cost for bandwidth will be similar to the internet proper; and that is not a big miracle, is it? The normal ESPN Mobile is available to anyone but may be subject to data charges. It would be interesting to know the shares the two sites/apps have in the above data.

But I don’t want to divert from the fact that 4.9m mobile hits inside 24 hours is great by any measure. Sport is a wonderful starting point for mobile internet usage anyway as it is so time-sensitive (it is not really the same thing to record a live game and then watch it hours later after the city is steeped in the team colours already) and people all over the world are so passionate about their favourite sports and teams. Great stuff, surely!

Handmark gets its hands on Astraware

One is a leading content provider for the niche smartphone market, the other a leading games developer for the niche smartphone market (Palm, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, etc), now they will become the leading content publisher for the niche but quickly growing smartphone market. Enter the reported acquisition of Astraware by Handmark.

Handmark publishes smartphone versions of e.g. Tetris and Scrabble and also runs the Pocket Express mobile news service. Astraware does the same for Bejewelled, Zuma and Chuzzle but also has a sizable portfolio of generic games and applications. They also have their coding hands in iPod games. As a lot of high-end smartphone stuff is retailed through shops where Handmark has a decent footprint, the two should improve margins on Astraware titles immediately. Presumably their distribution footprints for the remainder (e.g. is Astraware a Microsoft Gold Partner and embeds lots on Windows Mobile devices) also provide for some synergies.

Unfortunately nothing was reported on deal terms but, on the merits, this makes sense. Good luck, guys!

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