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At GDC, mobile game-makers bemoan ‘giant sucking sound’

The opening day of the 2007 Game Developers Conference was all about 5 percent.
While U.S. consumers increasingly use their phones to send photos and experiment with the wireless Web, mobile gaming continues to lag. Less than 5 percent of all wireless users download a game, according to recent figures, while more than twice as many share photos or search for news or information on their handsets.
So speakers at GDC Mobile at San Francisco’s Moscone Center urged developers to be innovative in creating new wireless games, building titles that take advantage of the strengths of a mobile phone instead of trying to minimize its shortcomings.
“We just keep selling to the same customers,” said Digital Chocolate CEO Trip Hawkins in his keynote address. “Clearly, every new medium has to find what it’s good at. There’s definitely room for more originality.”
Hawkins, who founded Electronic Arts before moving into wireless, struck several familiar themes during his speech, including the need for mobile gaming to be connected and socially focused. And he slammed some of his competitors for churning out branded titles and investing more in licensing than in building a quality game.
“That giant sucking sound is money leaving the mobile ecosystem,” said Hawkins, citing an unnamed “major license holder” who demanded a 50 percent royalty share for mobile while settling for a fraction of that for games on other platforms.
“Developers and publishers are starving to death,” he said.
Other attendees agreed. Mobile gaming will never reach the mass market, some said, if phones are treated as nothing more than portable mini-consoles.
Instead, mobile games should offer MySpace-style features that allow users to create their own content, compete against others and meet new people. And they should allow for seamless, simple ways to do so.
“Mobile phones in general are to connect people,” said Antoine Doumenc, Nokia Corp.’s head of game sales for SNAP Mobile, the handset maker’s connected-gaming division. “I think this is absolutely fundamental . but we need to make sure it’s as easy as possible.”


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