Tag: casual games (Page 1 of 2)

Mobile + Social: Show me the Money / Presentation

Here is the presentation I delivered at Casual Connect Europe in Hamburg.

Conference: Casual Connect Europe (10-12 Feb, Hamburg)

We’re in full swing in the conference season, and next week, one of the more exciting conferences in the game space opens its doors in pretty Hamburg again: Casual Connect Europe, the old world iteration of the event by the Casual Games Association gives a fantastic cross-section of the state of the game across platforms. There are a number of strands to follow, including mobile, where a lot – unsurprisingly – centers around smartphones and the iPhone as well as the change to ecosystems that app stores but also the higher (actual) connectivity of these newer handsets have brought about.

I will be there, too (attending and speaking). So if you are in town (or want to get a good grip on the latest and greatest in the casual games space, head over to Hamburg and give me a shout.

4G, LTE & Games: Casual On Speed!

Next to app stores (or markets or marketplaces or app worlds or, well, Ovi), the dominating theme of CTIA Wireless was 4G/LTE. Now, as sexy and de jour as app stores might be, the latter has a hugely larger commercial impact (the Verizon Wireless contract for their LTE network will be a multi-billion deal alone!). But what is a network without applications?

So it was just as well that, one day before CTIA Wireless, I had the great pleasure of contributing to the “Connecting the Consumer” panel at Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G Symposium (with Disney, Samsung, Buzznet and Atlantic Records all contributing, providing for the various facets of content [games, video/film, music, web]). The ground had been laid by the keynote of the formidable Mitch Singer, Sony Pictures CTO and a long-standing thought-leader in changing sectors (he’s one of the people who brought the original Napster down and – in his own words – “look was the music industry has become”). Mitch had reminded us of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (Read it! It’s worth it!), which deals with how businesses should tackle change…

And this brings me to the nucleus of this post, which is how the content industry will (should?) approach the next big thing that is LTE.

By way of background: LTE (Long-Term Evolution; don’t ask why but this is apparently what it stands for) is largely seen as the successor to current third-generation (3G) networks (UMTS, WCDMA, HSDPA, HSUPA, CDMA2000, EVDO, call me if you want more acronyms…). LTE appears to have won the “fight” against Wi-Max (as some early commentators predicted) with carriers (Verizon Wireless, Vodafone and China Mobile amongst them) and vendors (Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, etc) strongly supporting it. The standard is capable of delivering speeds well in excess of 10MB/s over wireless networks. So, world, be prepared!
One of the obvious beneficiaries should be the games sector home of the tech-savvy early adopters: ultra-high broadband, super-speeds, fantastic opportunities. Or so they say…
The games market can probably – to this extent at least – be simplistically divided into a) hard-core and b) casual games. The former would comprise massively multi-player online games (MMO) as well as fast-paced, high-end racing and action games. The latter is, well, everything from Solitaire to Scrabble and Tetris. And, yes, the latter is the one genre played by far more people, including the online gaming industry’s “golden customer”, the proverbial 42-year-old housewife from Ohio (absolutely no offense meant, implied or indeed merited!). Whilst it is easy to see how a high-end action game would benefit from high bandwidth, the case may be slightly less obvious for the casual games space (on PCs alone, this is a $2.5bn+ market already today!).
Given the casual games’ higher adoption across a much broader demographic, it is however conceivable that carriers (the ultimate gate keepers for mobile content at least in the world as we currently know it) would want to reach that broader demographic: higher spending power than geeky kids, faithful, not necessarily wanting to change things every 5 minutes, predictable spending habits – this is a much safer and more promising target demographic than my 13-year-old son who will happily switch allegiance to a provider the moment another one has something cooler, cheaper, slightly funkier, whatever, … to offer.
So what can 4G do for the (mobile) casual games space? It brings, quite simply, wireless (or wire-free; remember that sweet tagline from Orange days long gone?) digital media to par with the wireline one (and will, in very large parts of the world, effectively be digital media (or do you think Brazil, China et al will dig up their vast countries to lay down copper or fibre cables to connect their non-urban consumers?).

So what, you say? Well, this allows consumers to actually play as they did before the arrival of the first crude iterations of the Internet, and that is socially: what was a game before computers and gaming consoles took over? An intrinsically social activity (cards, board games, petanque, golf, you name it). We have seen a huge uptake of social games on the Internet with tens of millions of consumers enjoying fairly simple games on Facebook and other platforms. And the next generation wireless will enable that again wherever you are (see here for a presentation I recently gave at Casual Connect in Hamburg on the topic).
So, high connectedness it is then! Games that will allow to interact with peers, friends, total strangers that happen to have the same passion for the same type of game around the world. Games become a social activity again. It is a less fancy, less futuristic vision than all-immersive high-end niche products such as World of Warcraft (which will also see its fair share of fame once the wireless networks can support it) but it is one that will finally make any wireless device as ubiquitous as many in the industrialized world (East or West) have learned wireline connected devices to be. And it actually takes some of the sting out of concerns that (digital) games will make video zombies out of our children.
This development (with LTE as the backbone) opens a market to be counted in billions rather than millions, and most of them will be wireless (the number of mobile phones outnumbers the number of Internet-connected PCs by a ratio of 2.5:1 already today!). And this is where the true market opportunity lies!

iPhone Mobile Entry Gate for Game Developers

Having just spent three incredibly inspiring days at Casual Connect Europe in beautiful Hamburg, there were – in respect of mobile games – two observations to be made: 1) the horror online and PC game developers express when looking at the fragmented space and the resulting “crazy” (quote) business models and 2) the iPhone is different, from a developer perspective this time.

Many, many developers of PC and Mac-based games (be it downloadable, online, browser-based) look at the iPhone as an entry gate to mobile gaming. A lot of the developers I spoke with were interested to work with a specialist mobile games company with a view to bringing their content across to the mobile platform but would not consider including the iPhone in this: “We’ll do iPhone ourselves. It’s a pretty easy platform to work towards and we understand the distribution model.”
This is likely to mean that there will be an ever-growing influx of games from reputable and experienced game companies onto the iPhone, and this might just increase the gap between Apple’s hit phone and the “rest” in content terms even more. Today, there are c. 4,500 games available for the iPhone (or so I hear; and remember that this is a mere 7 months or so after the AppStore launched), and a lot of providers are still missing on there. Whereas “traditional” mobile games have very high barriers to entry because of the complex (and hence expensive) landscape that one needs to address (hundreds of handsets, hundreds of distribution deals all to be struck with very big, often slow-moving “old-school” companies), none of this exists for the iPhone: Apple provides a simple agreement, there is one build to be delivered and one store where it is sold. Easy!
Irrespective of where the remainder of the mobile world will run (and they all seem to run now in order to catch up with the latest “Apple Revolution“), the AppStore is likely to become the first test case where game developers from different backgrounds (PC, online, etc vs. “traditional” mobile) will compete for customers directly. The former have a huge advantage in that they could leverage their online presence to promote the mobile version, too. This is only done by a few of the mobile “pure-plays” and it is tough to compete for eyeballs with an online games company that has 100m+ unique users per month. On the other hand, the mobile specialists have better knowledge about the specific mobile device constraints (which are very different to the ones on a PC).
Another interesting field to watch this year!

Casual Connect Europe in Hamburg

With the conference season upon us, I shall be trekking to my former hometown of Hamburg on Monday to join the good folks from the Casual Games Association for their European iteration of Casual Connect. It looks like a pretty cool show with lots of interesting stuff going on, in particular also on social gaming and cross-platform initiatives: they have numerous panels and keynotes on both and a whole strand on mobile. Interesting speakers, too: Rob Unsworth (Digital Chocolate), Ami Ben-David (Oberon/I-Play), Philippe Dao (Gameloft) are there plus an interesting panel with Fishlabs’ Michael Schade and Handy Games’ Christopher Kassulke on the same panel (their two companies had a little bit of a tiff recently). I’ll be there to elaborate a bit more on mobile social gaming… Fingers crossed.

If you are there or close, drop me a line, a tweet (vhirsch) or whatever else. I’ll try to post my impressions in between but it might need to wait (day jobs turn into night jobs during conference seasons, you see…).

Playfish fishes for big bucks

Playfish, the social network gaming company founded by wireless industry veteran Kristian Segerstrale, announced a series B round worth a very respectable $17m from Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Playfish boasts 10m monthly users and claims that 4 of its 5 games are in Facebook’s top 10. The company also said it recently joined Google’s in-game advertising solution and presumably banks on capitalizing on this success. No word on financials but they surely are getting their slice of it (just how thick that slice is, I’d like to know). No word either on any mobile activities (which might be coming given Kristian’s background as founder of Macromedia).

Playfish’s mantra is to enable people to play games with their real-world friends via the infrastructure provided by social networks, and I can confirm that this works: I am an avid player of their games, particularly “Who has the biggest brain?” (I am no. 5 amongst my friends so far; a list which is topped by Kristian and I cannot help but think that he might possess cheat codes…).
A round of this size by investors of this pedigree raised in these times deserves our unreserved respect. You rock, guys!

Paramount gets game

Viacom’s Paramount announced to enter the sphere of video game publishing, and they want to concentrate on “casual, hand-held and mobile” because of the lower production cost compared to “proper” consoles. The latter would, it seems, remain reserved to sister company MTV, which recently entered the space with Rock Band, a title that sold a respectable 1.8m units since November 2007.

Paramount still seems to be looking around for the right models though: Sandi Isaacs, its SVP Interactive & Mobile said that they “are entering into deals now where we will be publishing games this year. There’s going to be a slate where in some cases we’re publishing, in some cases we’re co-publishing, or in others we’re funding development and another publisher buys it. It’s important for us to have a flexible model.” She also said that the studio might use external finance to fund video game development, which would be closer to business models widely applied in the film industry but which is still relatively nascent in games (although there are a select few project finance companies out there that also take on game development).

Irrespective of the relatively cloudy nature of the announcements, it is good to see that a major studio starts putting more emphasis on gaming as a way to capitalize on their IP besides (relatively speaking) shabby guarantees and advances for licensing their rights to others. For mobile, the most exciting bit may well be a co-publishing model: Paramount does not and – at least for a while – will not have the distribution footprint of many mobile publishers, so a partnership there might be mutually fruitful for both parties. Should this become a successful example, it might well help to break open the somewhat old-school business models that sometimes tend to strangle developers and publishers in the mobile space: they are required to cough up money that they would really require to put into game development, marketing, sales and promotions rather than contributing what is a relatively tiny percentage to a movie’s overall revenue. Encouraging!

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