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The Wright Stuff: Why mobile games are failing

Mobile games veteran Chris Wright tells it how he sees it
Product: The Wright Stuff | Publisher: Game Consultancy | Format: Mobile
The Wright Stuff Mobile, thumbnail 1
You might think this is a depressing way to start a series of columns about the all-exciting, all-conquering sphere of mobile gaming, but let's face facts: if mobile gaming hasn't actually failed yet, it hasn't been the massive success everyone in the industry expected five years ago.

The market, so the analysts keep telling us, is going to be huge, but in five years' time. That's what they said five years ago, and that's what they're saying now. Always jam tomorrow.

The reason is actually very simple but it's something no-one in the industry is willing to own up to. The problem is that mobile games are simply not appealing enough to get most people to play them. That's why the percentage of people who've downloaded a game onto their mobile remains stubbornly stuck at five per cent.

Technically mobile games are okay, but what's vital is that there are few games that aren't done better on a different console. To that extent, the mobile is the ultimate also-ran gaming device, suffering from badly ported versions of games designed for other platforms.

Everyone know it, but in the desperation to keep the money flowing, it seems we're prepared to buy up any old film or TV licence and try to make another mobile game. Licences that have no right being made into games seem to be announced on almost a daily basis. It's a case of quantity over quality and I also think it's the sign of a market about to hit the wall in the same way the console market did in the 1980s when Atari released its ET tie-in game, and then had to bury millions of outsold cartridges in the desert.

This downward spiral must and will end but if we're not careful, just like the Atari games crash all those years ago, a lot of companies will go to the wall in the process. Those that survive will be the companies able to innovate and bring something new to the platform.

Of course, it's easy to talk about innovation, but to sell innovation, you need to encourage the market. And having been involved in mobile games development for years, I know better than most that the hard realities of delivering a game across 600 handsets kills innovation.

So if the industry wants to take the next step forward, it needs to pause and work out what the players really want from mobile games and how it can deliver this. But it also needs to be honest with itself; the answer isn't going to be casual games and it certainly isn't going to be yet another lazy match-three game that most publishers pump out as casual.

No, what mobile needs is a killer app, something that takes advantage of the fact it is being played on a mobile. It needs to be something that uses the inherent qualities of the medium to provide players with a unique and enjoyable experience. Just look at games like Brain Training (DS), Lumines (PSP), Wii Sports (Wii) or Geometry Wars (XBLA) to see entertainment that takes advantage of a device to deliver a new and unique experience. Now try to think of similar examples out of the thousands of games that have been released on mobile?

And that lack is the problem. Until we solve it no amount of second-rate licences will do and success will always be 'another five years' away.

After 12 years in the games industry, the last eight as head of production at I-play, Chris Wright finally has escaped. He now runs his own consultancy firm focusing on casual games.

He thinks his greatest achievement is being called a 'veteran of the mobile games industry', while his greatest regret is not completing Gears of War, even on the easiest setting. He can be contacted at chris[at]gamesconsultancy.com

All opinions expressed are the author's own.

Reviewer photo
Chris Wright 12 April 2008
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