“According to Sony, 91.62 million PS2 consoles have been sold since its launch in March 2000. That’s good going. But Informa Telecoms & Media’s prediction is that 743 million mobile handsets will be sold in 2005 alone. That’s a lot of people who’ve never even heard of Splinter Cell, Juiced or FIFA 2006. Hey, we should make some games for them.
Optimistically, the industry refers to these hundreds of millions of consumers as ‘casual gamers’, although in many cases ‘non-gamers’ might be a more
accurate term. What kind of games might these people like to play on their phones?
We’re not sure, but many publishers think the answer lies somewhere between Snake, Tetris, Pac-Man, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Solitaire and
Minesweeper. Casual games, in other words, with transparent gameplay, simple controls, and which are suited to short bursts of play on your mobile. Earlier this year, M:Metrics found that there was a strong consumer demand for puzzle and card games, which were exactly the genres which were most under-represented on the carrier decks.
And this is why every publisher and his dog is now making casual games, and shouting it to the hills. Mobile gaming is about to go mainstream, and
everyone gets to fill their boots with the resulting revenues. Hurrah for that. But if only it was that simple.
For starters, making a truly great casual game isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’d compare it to writing a perfect three-minute pop song: plenty of
songwriters say they’re going to do it, but relatively few succeed. What does this mean? There’s going to be a lot of truly rubbish puzzle games coming out in the next year or so, described as ‘casual’ when a more apposite phrase would be ‘intelligence-insulting’.
Of course, plenty of publishers will crack it. Look at the emerging genre of one-thumb games, with titles such as ‘Skipping Stone’ and ‘Johnny Crash Does Texas’. Look at the Playman Sports games. Or look at any of the puzzle titles developed by PopCap Games. These are all casual titles, and they’re all great.
However, publishers can’t assume that if they build casual games, the casual gamers will come. I’ve made a habit of thrusting my handset at non-gamer
friends and getting them to play these games, and in every case they’ve been a.) surprised at the quality, b.) really impressed by the gameplay, and c.) extremely unwilling to give my phone back without a fight.
Trouble is, none of these people would have thought to look on their carrier’s games portal. I wish someone would pay me to travel the world bullying
casual gamers into playing ‘Zuma’, but until that happens, the industry is going to have to figure out how to promote the best casual games to the hundreds of millions of casual gamers who don’t know they exist.
Traditional print and TV advertising? Still quite an expensive and inefficient way of getting the message across. Carrier promotions? Maybe, as that
monthly billing relationship does give opportunities for more games marketing. But personally, I think embedded games and viral recommendations will have more of an impact.
Casual games are notoriously hard to summarise with a couple of lines of text and a screenshot. But if carriers work to preload time-limited demos of the
most addictive casual games on their handsets, then provide a direct link to purchase the full game from their portal, they stand a good chance of driving sales.
It’s happening already through the efforts of carriers such as Sprint PCS and Vodafone, but needs to happen more. Publisher I-play has just released some consumer-survey results indicating that 49% of mobile users would be encouraged to play more games on their mobile if they were given free trials.
Secondly, there’s the viral recommendations, where you get the people who buy mobile games already to act as the salespeople to those who don’t. After my amateur spot of market research detailed earlier, I’ve got a pretty good idea of which games my friends would like. All my carrier has to do is give me some way of doing this through my phone.
Again, Sprint PCS has already introduced this as part of its Game Lobby, while InfoSpace Mobile has done the same for its ‘For Prizes’ tournament games. Getting back to those I-play findings, 30% of respondants said a friend’s recommendation would convince them to download games.
At Informa, we’ve just released a report predicting global mobile games revenues of $11.2 billion by 2010. Making more (and better) casual games, and then successfully marketing them to consumers, is critical if the industry is to achieve this level of growth. “