Iâ€™ve been involved in the Mobile Games and Mobile Application development space for the past 3.5 years and decided to post the basics of what Iâ€™ve learnt. If you are someone who wants to enter this hot industry or are just looking for some basic knowledge on how the industry and mobile gaming and application value chain works, then read on.
Currently the two most popular languages to develop your mobile games or applications are J2ME and BREW. J2ME is Sun Microsystems technology and BREW is controlled by Qualcomm â€“ the same company behind the CDMA mobile technology. Of the two, J2ME is the more popular one and the easier one to find developers and code in. There are also tons of online resources that help you code in J2ME and it is supported by a lot *many* more devices than BREW, which is a more closed environment and more difficult to code, with very little online help available.
When you develop your game or application you should target to develop 3 separate versions â€“ one for low end phones (known as 40 series – smaller screen size less power phones), one for higher end phones (60 series – larger screen size, more power) and one for very high end phones (known as a QVGA version – very high end phones with high graphics (320 x 240) and power, top of the line). These 3 versions will be your base reference builds that you will submit to a Publisher or 3rd party that you contact to help you put your game into the market.
The Publisher will be the one who picks up the tab to â€œportâ€ your game into all the popular (500 to 1000) handsets available in the global market. They will also attach a brand to the game â€“ if it fits in. Getting signed up with a good Publisher is not easy and your content needs to be of stellar quality. Publishers put a lot of money in packaging, branding, deploying and marketing your game at a global level through Wireless Carriers located in countless countries â€“ so they need to be sure they invest and risk in a game that is of very high quality. Wouldnâ€™t you do the same?
Prior to submitting your game to a Publisher, make sure you have the following ready to submit –
(a) Three versions of your game – as mentioned above
(b) A video of the game in play
(c) About 5 to 20 good screenshots of your game in play (include startup, splash screen, menu screen, help screens etc)
(d) A good one paragraph brief spiced up write up about the game, instructions and gameplay control key information.
If you are deciding to self publish, then you are up against a mammoth task. You will have to invest a lot of money in porting your game or application to all the popular global handsets that carriers support.
You will also have to â€œbuildâ€ a network of contacts at various Wireless Carriers located globally and this is just not feasible for one single title. Simple emailing does not work. You will have to travel globally to be present at the various Wireless Trechnology conferences and do a lot of business networking in an effort to meet the right people in these companiesin an effort to get a shot at putting your content on their content portals (“game decks”).
If you insist, and are determined to self-publish and believe you have the capacity, bandwidth, money and capability to achieve this – then a quick way to overcome the porting hurdle, would be to pick up the porting costs by approaching a well established porting company like The Porting Lab – and get a quote for devices you would like your game to be compatible with. Then decide if its in your budget, and if it isnâ€™t try and narrow down and cut down to the popular devices or limit yourself to specific regions (eg. USA only or Europe only etc).
Going The Aggregator Way
Once your porting is done – you get all your ported builds and files from the porting company. If you find that the aproach to directly go to Wireless Carriers is just not working for you â€“ you can approach mobile content â€œAggregatorsâ€.
Aggregators are exactly what they sound like. They â€œaggregateâ€ content from various people. They put them all together, and then supply their portfolio directly to Wireless Carriers, through a direct relationship wioth them. The Carriers ofcourse have the final word on which games to put on their “Game Decks”.
A â€œGame Deckâ€ is essentially the digital mobile page a subscriber or customer of the Wireless Carrier sees in their phone browser when they want to download various games. The Game Deck shows up on the mobile screen exactly like a mini-browseable directory. So, for example, the first screen may display a list of clickable links like â€“
The user selects the appropriate category and clicks to access info listed in that category, and the list of games in that category are displayed.
Now, obviously the games on the top or higher up in the list are going to do better than the ones much lower down. This is exactly like the early days of the Yahoo! Web directory. Space higher up on the lists, are as important as prime physical shelf space in brick-and-mortar stores. Some Carriers are slowly moving into providing search boxes to cater to the large varied user preferences, and thus allow the The Long Tail phenomena to kick in and increase their VAS revenues. (Value Added Services – this is all services other than the basic voice and SMS services offered by Carriers. It includes ringtones, wallpapers, games, internet browsing etc. …anything that is not voice and SMS related – which is the primary service carriers offer).
Carriers often have an in-house team that evaluate your content and decide where to put it up on their Game Deck based on its quality and potential.
So, how does one get on top of your category on the Game Decks?
Many Carriers make additional money by charging you a fee to get “higher up – on top”. Yes â€“ you need to pay them a monthly fee to get on top. This is a model that many Carriers are moving towards in an effort to squeeze out even more money from the system.
An Important Observation
Since users see only a few text based words prior to downloading â€“ a branded game that shows a title like â€œSpiderman 3â€ or â€œLord Of The Ringsâ€ is definitely going to be downloaded (and thus sell) higher than a game with a title like â€œAlien Attackâ€. This is the reason why most Carriers openly welcome branded content.
Different Revenue Models
The current model practiced by most Carreirs is a download and pay model. Users simply download payable versions and are billed for the download every month. All the billing and tracking is done by the Carriers.
Some Wireless Carriers are moving into the try-before-you-buy model – with some games only). With this model, users can download one free level of the game to â€œtryâ€ and get a feel of. Read this interview where I also speak about other alternate models adopted by Wireless Carriers.
Now back to marketing of your gameâ€¦
There are other alternate ways to get your mobile game or application out in the market. D2C (Direct 2 Consumer) portals is one. These are rapidly springing up all over the Internet. They allow anyone to download games by browsing the site with a browser and then providing an SMS number to send the game to, after the purchase is made. Most of these portals allow mobile game develoeprs to submit their content for inclusion at no cost. This channel of game distribution is gradually gaining momentum (although, the Carrier Game Decks remain the most popular). The advantage with the web channel is that consumers can actually see the screenshots, videos and detail write up and reviews and ratings before spending $3 or however much to purchase and download the game. This automatically weeds out all the bad games and content. The web medium also gives wings to The Long Tail concept and surfers can conduct site searches for specific genres that they like and content they are looking for.
Many of these web browser based models also have WAP browsing systems by which users can directly fire up their cell phone browser like Mini-Opera and surf to wap.thegamesite.com .
Since this competes with content found of the users Wireless Carrierâ€™s game deck, the Carriers are setting up â€œwalled gardensâ€ and blocking access to these sites and downloadable content. This however, is a very short term strategy and in the future Carriers will have to break these walls, and start being happy in making money on the â€˜data â€“ transferâ€ charges. They will be forced to allow anyone to make their content (sites, games, ringtones etc) available to all subscribers – in return for signing up more users rather than loosing them because of the Carrier blocking and limiting entertainment content offerings.
Imagine your local ISP blocking your favourite websites! Wouldnâ€™t you sign up with someone else?
A few popular D2C websites
Handango.com is a very popular site for downloading applications for mobile devices. They have trial versions available for a lot of their content.
GameJump.com is a new site that provides free games â€“ that are ad supported. The user sees a small graphical advertisement before the game starts up and on closing the game. Gamejump is basically of aggregated mobile games that developers have submitted to be listed. You can even submit your own game to GameJump catalogue through Greystripe, the company behind the system. They also have an interesting “white label” solution through which anyone can setup a website (exactly like GameJump.com) – and thus offer free mobile games to their community. In return webmasters stand to earn a % revenue share from Greystripe – for the in-game ads and wap portal ads.
There are other interesting ways of marketing mobile content to users, and you could approach some of the companies foraying into these alternate channelsâ€¦
+ Mobile Kiosks in malls â€“ doing direct bluetooth transfer of game into phones.
+ Off-the-shelf purchasable game packs in Retail Stores â€“ these have scratch cards inside them with â€œpin keysâ€ that can be SMS to a number in order to download the game(s)
Revenue Shareâ€¦ how much can you expect?
The amount of money and revenue share you can expect from Wireless Carriers varies a lot from Carrier-to-Carrier and geographical regions. In China, for example, developers and publishers can get as much as 90% of the gameâ€™s selling price. With some Carriers in India however, this is reversed, and developers and publishers get as little as 10%. Although there are other Carriers that give 40%, some 30%, some 50%. Remember this is the money they give to the party (aggregator, publisher) who supplies them the game and signs the contract. So if you go through another channel, your % revenue share deal with this in-between party, will be based on what they get. So, if you strike a 50-50 revenue share deal, you will essentially get 50% of the amount the Carrier gives your distributor. So if for example the game sells for $2 to the end user, and the Carrier gives 40% revenue share – you will get 50% of 40% of $2 which is – 50% of 80 cents, or 40 cents per sale.
Going Direct to Wireless Carriers with your content
Many Carriers are have stopped entertaining direct developers and small players â€“ and prefer to deal with only the prominent publishers and aggregators that are reputed. This is naturally, because of the various overheads incurred to keep these channels open. They naturally prefer to deal with the larger companies and build a strong relationship through which quality games can be funneled. So, if you are just starting out â€“ you can drop the idea of trying to approach a Carrier directly. You will have to go through a publisher or aggregator. Of course if you have $10 million in funding and in the bank, you can go out and pick up a handful of known global or local big brands (movies, celebs etc) and build stellar games around them, port them over to 500 handsets, sponsor the big global and local wireless trade shows and conferences (CTIA wireless, GSM, GDC etc), and buy a few full page centerfold advertisements in LINK â€“ mobile-ent.biz Mobile Entertainment Magazine. Do all this to get your name out there and in front of the gatekeepers in charge of content acquisition at Wireless Carriers. And of course, if they still ask you for $1 million to be placed on the very top of their gamedeck for one month, heck why not do it?
Top Mobile Game Publishers (2007)
Real / MrGoodliving
Top Aggregators (2007)
PlayerX â€“ 85 direct carrier deals
Selatra â€“ Irish company in 50 countries
Airborne â€“ Canadian company, well positioned in North American market
Telcogames â€“ good with off-portal distribution, representing over 100 companies
Upstart â€“ pushes Japanese games in Europe