The good news is that the market for mobile games is continuing to grow, even flourish. Everywhere you look, headlines from wireless publications, gaming publications, business publications and even consumer publications point to opportunity for wireless games and game developers (that includes you). The latest industry research points to opportunity as well, predicting that the mobile games market will climb from $540 million this year to $1.93 billion in 2006 (Wireless World Forum 2003).
The opportunity to make money from mobile games is out there, but how do you (the mobile game developer) take advantage of it? While developing the next great mobile game may seem like the hard part, developers often underestimate the challenges that begin when the development ends. The biggest challenge lies ahead - getting that game to market.
You must first consider all possible routes to market including mobile operators, aggregators, device manufacturers, consumer facing portals and more. While going directly to your mobile operator of choice may seem like the most obvious and profitable route to success, it may not be effective or even realistic. While the gaming market continues to grow, mobile operators still have a limited number of resources to dedicate to identifying and distributing new mobile games. As a result, many operators have decided to focus their efforts on developers with exclusive, branded content that already have consumer brand recognition.
Where does that leave you? With a number of paths to market, the difficulty of building direct relationships with operators shouldn?t deter you. More and more, operators are relying on outside parties, including publishers and aggregators, to identify or procure games from other content developers like you. And with virtually every operator offering some type of developer program, there is still ample opportunity for distribution.
An emerging model is a tiered access system, with different developers accessing operators in different ways. O2, a leading operator in the UK, has implemented a three-tier strategy when it comes to mobile games and other applications. They work directly with tier-one developers to create O2 branded content, including stock and music alerts. They also work directly with tier-two developers to deliver partner-branded content, including content from BBC and MTV - well known consumer brands. Tier-three developers (again, like you) can access O2 through a dedicated developer program that manages the delivery of third party mobile content.
With the sheer volume of content available around the world, O2 simply cannot afford to spend the resources necessary to manage it all directly. We decided to outsource that responsibility to a partner, with the goal of creating a very efficient channel to identify, procure and deploy a large volume of compelling third party content, explained Richard Sedgwick, business manager, O2. This has allowed us to establish ?indirect? relationships with a larger number of third party content providers and to quickly and cost-effectively deploy those applications to our subscribers.
While some operators have implemented similar models using third parties to streamline the process, others have made a strategic decision to deal with only top tier content partners to deliver a limited volume of applications to their subscribers. These third parties working directly with the operators may seem to be your best allies when it comes to getting your content to market, but they also demand a cut of the revenue - adding one more link in your revenue food chain. As part of your evaluation process, you should consider things like possible membership fees, co-marketing support, global reach and more. These companies can also offer valuable advice and insight, based on their experiences working directly. Use them to get smart about the market.
If you choose to pursue a relationship with an operator, direct or indirect, you must take the time to understand a number of business issues associated with each operator. There are a number of questions you should ask before pursuing this route to market, including:
What is the process for submitting my applications?
What is typically involved in the registration process and are there fees involved?
How long does it typically take to get new applications live?
What are the specific terms and conditions with this operator?
How will my game be priced?
How will it be promoted or marketed?
Will it be cataloged, or placed in taxonomy or bundles initially and on an ongoing basis?
What reporting capabilities will be available to track my application?s performance?
How will I get paid once my game is deployed?
Each operator also has specific technical requirements you will need to adhere to. You must consider things like handset compatibility, network limitations, content billing capabilities, etc. You must also understand the complexities involved in the technical screening process for each operator including style compliance requirements, device testing, application testing, and certification. You should also ask about possible fees associated with each. Some operators even require that applications go through third-party screening and certification processes or be qualified on specific devices.
To successfully maneuver through these issues, considerations and requirements, you should take advantage of resources offered by each operator. O2 for example has created a community site for developers at www.sourceO2.com. Here, you can access information about O2 customizations, handset adoption and more. You can also gain more technical guidelines and additional information and submit your games into O2?s mobile portals by signing up as an O2 Revolution member at www.sourceO2.com/revolution.
Likewise, Verizon Wireless and some other operators have chosen to deploy only those applications built on Qualcomm?s BREW(TM) platform.
You may also want to consider establishing relationships directly with handset manufacturers. Many of these manufacturers offer robust developer programs to encourage development on their devices and some even provide marketing support and sales channels to improve your chances of success (and theirs). With this route to market, you will have to address many of the business and technical issues specific to the manufacturers device.
A route to market that seems to be rising in popularity is participation in consumer facing web portals. New content services are springing up that provide consumers with the ability to purchase content outside of a carrier?s deck by providing all of the purchase and billing capabilities as well as the Over-the-Air (OTA) delivery mechanisms to deliver the content to the user?s phone.
No matter what route(s) to market you choose to pursue, there are other things you can do to increase your chance of success. By investing a little time in research, and using the resources mentioned above, you can find out what operators and subscribers look for in a game. Aside from tangible attributes like technology compatibility, there are a number of other attributes to consider, including the simple "fun factor, graphic appeal, interactive capabilities, etc.
You should also take the time to understand how consumers prefer to pay for games (such as a charge per download) and what impact the structure of your game may have on that. For example, if the game requires additional network usage (i.e. airtime charges) that might be appealing to operators (i.e. revenue stream), it might deter some potential subscribers. Do your research. Find out what you can do to increase customer loyalty; to bring that customer back again and again for that game and/or future games; and to get them to recommend your game(s) to their friends.
Justin Siegel, the CEO of JSmart, a developer and publisher of mobile applications suggests not only looking at titles that have succeeded, but also titles that have failed. He also suggests looking closely at the handset/device market. By researching what devices are popular or which ones are growing in popularity, you can develop your game to address those specific markets, explained Siegel. You may also be able to identify a niche market that is not yet overcrowded and focus on that.
When developing a game, don't forget to consider localization issues. While a baseball game might be popular in the US, it won't fly in the UK. A nice game of cricket would be more appropriate for that market. Localization means much more than simply translating into the local language. It involves sensitivity and awareness of the local culture, trends, and appropriate marketing and gaming terminology. JSmart works with more than 30 operators around the world and works with widely recognized brands such as Merriam-Webster, Betty Boop and Felix the Cat. In each instance, JSmart spends time working with their clients and brands to make sure localization is done right.
The goal of this article is not to overwhelm you or deter you from developing mobile games, but instead to share the insight and experience that some of us have already gained along the way. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of both the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and armed with the right knowledge and resources you can successfully maneuver through the maze of logistical, technical and business obstacles you will face.
In closing, Sedgwick and Siegel had some additional advice for up and coming developers.
Don?t expect your first game to make a million bucks, because it won?t, said Sedgwick. "This is an iterative process. Use the resources and channels available. Keep trying. The more you throw at the market, the more likely something is to stick.
It?s no longer enough to develop a good game, added Siegel. You need to research the market, identify a true opportunity and understand your competitive advantages.