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Oh, Barcelona; how we hate those carriers

by Jon Peddie on 27 February 2006, 07:42

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Why I can’t get interesting games on my handheld

I went looking for pixel pushers and games. I found plenty of both, but what I mostly found was blockage and dumassedness.

We just got back from Barcelona where the 3GSM conference was held this year (formerly festivities were held in Cannes.) I used to think I wanted to move to Amsterdam, but now after seeing Barcelona, I’m not so sure, what an incredible town.

The conference was big (early estimates were 33k+ people, and it felt like more), located at the spectacular Fira de Barcelona with great parties, fireworks, and terrific exhibits, giveaways, and even a few discoveries.


The entrance to 3GSM and the Fira de Barcelona

I went looking for pixel pushers and games. I found plenty of both, but what I mostly found was blockage and dumassedness. Several companies (a list too long to put here) had games on display, chip builders, handset suppliers, publishers, developers, aggregators, and even a couple of carriers.

But no one, not a single person, could tell me if a given game was available on any of my phones, or even what phones any of the games I asked about were available on. It was “We’re talking with the carriers,” or “We’re in discussion with the publishers,” or “Uh, I dunno.”

Games, like those we play on PCs and consoles, don’t translate well to a cell phone. Games on a handheld like the DS or Gameboy are more similar to what could work on a handset, and the PSP is kinda in the middle ground, much better than a DS, not nearly as good as a PC. So if you’re expecting the same kind of experience on your phone or PDA as you get at home on the PC or console, forget about it.

There are two major problems with games on phones: the physical problems, and the carriers.

The Physical Problems

The physical problem is two-fold, screen size and resolution, and controls/UI. The average high-end 2.5 or 3G phone has a QVGA screen at best. VGA is coming, but not until the end of this year and then only in the very expensive phones. The screens are typically 1.5 x 2-inches, and limited to 16- bit color. Screen sizes are getting a little bigger, some as large as 3.6-inhces (diagonal) and color depth is expected to hit 18-bit on the high-end phones maybe next year. Worse yet, there is no common standard of expression for a mobile phone screen. Some use pixels but never mention physical size, some use diagonal but never mention aspect ratio, and others mention number of colors. This is out of either ignorance or misdirection to get the prospective buyer to look at some other feature.

Then there's battery life. Who in their right mind wants to watch their battery meter decline? A hi-tech phone game will use up battery fast, and when it runs out, that leaves you with no phone.

Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell on a phone, not much fun to play

The Carriers

It’s almost a miracle any games get on to phones at all.

I have seen and played some games on phones that were actually fun. There is a certain type of genre that works on a phone and several that don’t. FPSs don’t work, you can’t control them, and with a couple of exceptions, they look and play like crap. In-Fusio promises to change all that with Halo (some time next year); however, they said it would not necessarily be the same experience as one finds on a console; and we saw some great demos at Imagination Technologies, Nvidia, Nokia, and TI’s stands, but not for sale yet. (We’re talking with the carriers…da da da .)

Games that do play well on a phone are racing games, SIM games like Everquest or the much anticipated Da Vinci Code. Some sports games work well, and simple fighting games, but they aren’t easy. And the most popular are the puzzle games like Bejeweled and sites like Neopets.

But regardless of what game genre you like it’s up to the carriers if you can get it, and get it on the particular phone you have. The carriers don’t seem to have a clue about how to deliver games, what games to offer or to make it easy to get and then play, pay, or try a game.

The supply chain to get a game on your phone is torturously long and complicated; in fact it’s almost a miracle any games get on to phones at all.


The game development and delivery tree

There have been dozens of panels at various conferences, and dozens of articles written and dozens of user surveys, and consumer analysis, and demographics done on games on mobile phones, and as far as I can tell, even though the carriers are paying for a lot of this research, they have successfully managed to ignore every bit of it and keep on frustrating the consumers and suppliers.

Will it ever change?

Yes, of course it will change, but probably not this year. One carrier, most likely a Korean, will figure it out. They will understand that users want to try a game before they buy it, and want to be able to get to the game catalog in two clicks, three max, and want to own it (but some may want to rent), and some will want to play on-line with others. Some carrier, somewhere in the world will wake up one day and say, “How come Nintendo, and Xbox Live, and Sony are so damn successful, and we’re not?” And then that person might actually remember, there is a report in his or her desk that tells him or her why, and then – this is the real science fiction part of this scenario, they might read it, or at least the executive summary.

And when that one enlightened carrier starts to show how much money it is making, all the others will copy it, and you and I will finally be able to have mobile games on our phones. In the mean time, continue carrying your DS or PSP, and get on a PC or a console whenever you can.

Oh, and one more thing, if you’ve never been to Barcelona, go as soon as you can.

HEXUS Forums :: 2 Comments

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Mobile Phone gaming is something that I doubt will ever take off in a big way. There are just too many problems with it…where to start?

Firstly, there is the obvious set of hardware issues. There are thousands of different phones out there, and precious few are directly compatable with each other. They run different operating systems, use different chips for sound/video/data processing, have different amounts of memory, different screen sizes, resolutions and colour depths. This makes it nigh on impossible for a developer to create a single version of a game that can be marketed to a large number of people. So, a developer has to write many different customised versions of a game to be able to sell it to as many people as possible. So that's problem one, lots of work to create even relativly simple games - and that means lots of money to develop them

So to help get around this issue, developers have the option to use Java or a similar VM based language to try and get the most compatability. Great from their point of view, but for the user, this means a) their phone memory gets clogged up with an unremovable java VM (grr), and b) the games themselves are now even more performance limited than before due to beinn interpreted rather than running nativly. The whole java thing doesn't even help THAT much either, although it gets around the basic hardware issues with the chips and OS used (assuming there is a java VM for your phone's OS), you still have hardware issues with screen size and control layout. Again the programmers can compensate to a point by having different versions, or some code that lets you re-map controls/adjust the screen size, but this adds to the complexity of the program, and therefore the cost and size.

Then there's the issue of what games work on a phone (as you discussed). Primarily puzzle and card games, or anything that doesn't require lots of fast movement. For example I have played ‘Mr driller’ on my phone quite successfully, whereas trying to play ‘XIII’ (sideways scrolling shooter) didn't work quite so well. While there is a market for puzzle games, there is only so much you can do with a phone, and only so much you can charge for simple games.

Which brings me nicely to my next point - cost. Generally games seem to cost 5-10quid, and are obtained by downloading them from your provider, using your phone's web browser. You only get one change to download it, and generally can't back up your purchase (with the exception of one or two phones). This is alot of money to pay for somerthing you don't even know will work on your phone, or be any good. Of course there are good reasons for these prices, but it's a little too much for most people to pay..

You have already discussed thigns like battery life etc so I won't go there, but who really wants to play games on their mobile? If I wanted to play games on the move I would buy a DS. If i wanted to watch videos I would buy a psp or portable media centre. If I want to make phone calls I would buy a phone…or to do all three I would get an XDAII or similar :)

mobile phone games.. I just don't see the point.
hi all

other problem is if you take your mobile back a mobile shop to get the software upgraded (firmware) the first thing you will be asked is have you backed up all the data on it as the mobiles memory is formated.

even if the mobile does have abitiy to back up all data to a pc you end having to buy the data cable sepertly.

some retailers will charge you £30 for a basic usb lead which should cost less than £10.

the type of games that tend to work are

some basic platformers

triva quizs such as the weakest link and how wants a millionaire ect which can be played online for free.

some racing games.