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WirEless Week

JANUARY I, 200'D

Content and Applicatinns

Mobile Game Standouts

BY SUE MAREK

Wireless operators weigh in on what it takes to make a top-selling mobile game.

w IK-II it comes to dcvel- o[iing a coiiipclliiig mo- biie game, tiiere aa* no clear-cut rules lor cre- ating a blockbuster.

l-inick> consumers. risk-uii\'cisL' oper- auii^, compiex icchtiologics and an un- proven market are all hurdles to a tno- bile game's success. Game developers take quite a gamble when ii comes to trying lo develop games that will res- onate with wireless consutiiers and. in turn, generate revenue for developers and citn iers. And it's quickly ttecumlng clear that what SJKIIS success in the tra- ditional game market doesn't necessar- ily translate to the mobile world. One major diflereiice between mo- bile and console games is thai mobile games attract a slightly ditTerent demo- grapbic than traditional games. Ac- eording lo Seanius McAteer. senior an- alyst at M "Metrics, a higher percent of mobile game players are female - a fact ihat is dramatically different than tradi-

tional gaming where young tiiales dom- inate game sales. "We have fotind that a sllgblly higher percentage of mobile gamers are female and young." McA- teer says. As more research becomes available, operators are getting a better under- standing of what types of games appeal to their subscribers - and thai knowledge is making them savvier when it comes to game selection. "You can see that over the last two to three years, most of the early entrants - aside Iroiii Janidai Mobile - were focusing on port- ing titles that did v\eli in the console and VC area. They have done well, but they have not seen the same main- stream take-up that casual

games are getting." says Michael Gal- lelli. director of content services at T- Mobile USA.

KEEP IT SIMPLE While hardcore gamers

want fiwt-paced action, compelling audio and lifelike grapbies, mobile gamers tend to be more at ease with simpler games that are easy to un- derstand and navigate. "We are finding that brand recognition,

simplici-

ly and mindless games do well," says Chris Wiihrer. senior product manager for digital media at Boost Mobile, an MVNO owned by Nextel Comtiiunicalions thai caters piimaiily lo tbe youih seg- ment and recently topped I million in subscribers.

Most of ibe U)p games designated by wireless operators are known for their simplicity aiid brand recognition. Top- sellers tend lo be classic games based on popular thctne-s from the past, or gatnes that use familiar concepts such as bowling, solitaire or poker. Currently there is no independent source to compile and rank mobile games based upon sales Iigures. In ihe ringtone business, analyst firm Consect tallies ihe top 20 ringiotie cliart in con- junction with liilihimnl Muiidzinf. Likewise, in the traditional video game world, game relailel^ pixivide sales informaiion about their uip-selling games to the industry. "Tbis is great for the industry because everyone knows how they are doing." says Mike Yuen, direclor of FiRKW developer relations at Qualcomtii Internet Services. Yuen hopes that one day a similar ranking system will exisl for mobile games be- cause it helps generate competition among publishers.

OLDIES BUT GOODIES Operarors may not provide spccifif game sales Hguivs, but they have hinted at iheir top-sclHng games. Verizon Wireless. Sprint and T- Mobilc USA name Tetris by Blue Lava Wireless as a top seller. Likewise. Atari's Driv3r by Sorrent receives top-selling marks from Citigular Wireless. Verizon Wireless mid Boost Mobile. Other top-sellers mentioned by car- riers include Jumdai Bowling. Sponge-

However, other operators still advo- cate demos. T-Mobile USA recently

launched a promotional campaign called "Try It, Like It, Buy It" in which the company allowed customers to try games for free. The carrier

pro-

J J J

J_l

Hob Bowling by THQ. NFL 2005 by THQ. PAC-MAN by Namco. Bejew- eled by Jamdat and Ms. PAC-MAN by Namco. A common theme running among these lop-sellers is the consumer likely will know exactly what type ol game they are buying without having to ex- perience the game or read about it. "The No, 1 thing to look lor with a top-sell- ing game is consumer expectation." says Lou Fasulo. senior manager of down- loadabies. games and application soft- ware at Cingular. "When customers look at our storefront, they can look at the top five games and know what they are getting before they download. You don't see some obscure product that you couldn't imagine what the game would be."

moted the offer with Hyer.s in more than 4.000 retail stores as well as through bill stuffers to 9 million customers. "This is the first time we've done something like this, and it's been very exciting." Gallelli ,says. "In this husiness. it all has to do with the capability of the handset. So many handsets had the capability of playing games, but that capability was- n't tapped into. This promotion provid- ed a great message to our base and re- minded them that they have this capa- bility." Boost Mobile also advocates detnos. The company has several demos of

"We are finding that brand recognition, simplicity and mindless games do well."

CHRIS WUHRER* senior product manager for digital media at Boost Mobile

This has hecome particularly im- portant because some carriers have stopped offering demos. Sprint moved away from that demo concept because the carrier found it wasn't worthwhile. "U you have 50 demos, the customer will never pay," says Jason Ford, gen- eral manager of games for Sprint. But he doesn't aile out the use of demos in the future, particularly if games become more sophisticated. "I think that as games get more complex and in-depth, it may warrant demos."

games preloaded on its iDEN handsets and at the end of the demo version there is a link to the company's Website for consumers to purchase the game. "We put full version preloads on handsets." says Craig Thole, director of value- added services at Boost. "Part of our strategy at Boost is to provide that in- stant gratification that you don't neces- sarily get with a traditional carrier."

ROTATING GAMES Boost Mobile may have a relatively small subscriber ba.se

compared to the nationwide heavy- weight operators, but company execu- tives say they believe they have some of the highest game consumption in the industry. Because of thai hi"h con-

sumption, the MVNO rotates its games frequently to keep customers coming back for more. "Content must be tar- geted and rotated often. We try not to allow it to be stale." Wuhrer says. Of course, a game's popularity also is tied closely to its placement on the operator's top deck. Without this key placement, games ;ire less likely to have success. "Deck placement is the pritnary driver and the strongest marketing you can do." says Cingular's Fasulo. "Prod- ucts gel placement on the deck because of good game play." But securing that top deck placement can he dillicult. Al Sprint, company ex- ecutives evaluate games based upon game reviews, comments from Sprint's Game Lobby and also through the per- ception of the PCS Game Boiuxl, a group of Sprint employees that provide feed- back on games. According to Ford, the members of the Game Board rank games based upon many factt>rs. hut in- novation and fun are weighted most heavily by the company. As mobile gaming grows in popu- larity, wireless carriers are becoming more skilled in their selections of games that appeal to their subscribers. But pre- dicting top-sellers will likely never be an exact science, T-Mobile USA's Gallelli admits that the popularity of Tetris still amazes him, "I knew anecdotally that Tetris was doing well, but it has drawn the kind of numbers thai are very encouraging. It stands out from the pack," W

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