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Multiplayer Mobile Games Poised For US Growth

As part of Gamasutra's regular Mobile Editorial column, SkyZone's Neil Haldar explains the role multiplayer mobile gaming will play in the future of the US mobile gaming space, and what US publishers can learn from Asia.

"The mobile games industry has expanded rapidly in the US market, rivaling early adoption in countries with more sophisticated mobile markets. However, even with the US growth, the Asia Pacific region still dominates (according to Informa), accounting for over 60% of the global market in 2006, driven primarily by Japan and South Korea.

The rise in development of the mobile games business in Asia is supported by higher end handsets, which in turn has fostered innovation, such as 3D games and connected multiplayer games that are superior in quality and provide a richer user experience. The Asian market, specifically Japan and South Korea, also has a more gaming centric culture that caters to longer gaming sessions and a more broadly accepted notion of using mobile phones as gaming platforms.

Interestingly, while developers and publishers in the Asian market turn their attention to higher quality, immersive games that seek to penetrate the handheld and console markets, the key market driver in North America remains casual games. This poses a certain challenge for North American publishers, who need to keep production costs at a minimum, while creating fun, casual games that are easy to sell, download and are proven to generate revenue for carriers.

What We Can Learn From Asia...

While the market for mobile MMOs and multiplayer games is still in its infancy, nowhere is this more apparent than in North America. A Park Associates survey in February 2006 cited that while 7% of Asia-Pacific consumers play multiplayer mobile games on a weekly basis, that figure is closer to 2% in North America. In areas such as South Korea networked games generated about 12.5% of mobile games revenues in 2005 (according to Ovum Asia Pacific), and in China, connected multiplayer games are also gaining traction, driven largely by the popularity of MMORPGs.

Although North America still lags far behind its Asia-Pacific counterparts, what we can gather is this: There is a slow rate of adoption in less mature markets; however, with the introduction of higher end handsets, the performance of the games becomes better, setting up a better connected, cross-platform experience. This was certainly the case with early rounds of the first MMO games on mobile and there is still plenty of opportunity to capitalize on the youth market?s reliance on peer to peer technologies such as text-based chat and IM.

Planning Ahead For The Future

Once 3G handsets and content types become more widely available in the US, we will see casual games yield increasing market share to higher end games that make use of multiplayer and connected gaming. And networked features such as real-time, direct communications will further serve to immerse mobile gamers. High-end handsets will also include higher quality graphics, and faster game play, luring the more illusive hardcore gaming audience.

The US market is already flooded with more mobile game options than consumers know what to do with, and for the average gamer, who only downloads two to three games per year, the purchasing decision will ultimately come down to popular peer options. While simple games like Tetris will always be a favorite among casual gamers, the market is open to true innovation. That said, we are likely to see more high-quality, connected games that offer a full range of entertainment options.

Certainly, popular name brands will stand a far better chance of gaining traction than lesser known titles, but what will drive the next-phase of growth is the increase in 3G mobile networks and affordable high-end handset market penetration. Come 2007, more games will feature social network options that allow for a more immersive style of game play; but before multiplayer gaming takes off in the U.S., carriers, publishers and handset manufacturers must continue to come together to ensure that the market remains primed for the next phase of growth."

Neil Haldar is Vice President of Content Programming and Strategy at SkyZone. Prior to joining Skyzone, Haldar was with MGM Interactive, where he helped grow franchises including James Bond and Rocky into videogame franchises.

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