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BlackBerry gets in the game: Gameloft, RIM to target high-end crowd with games

Teens and young adults dominate the console gaming space, but mobile publishers are hoping their parents can help take wireless gaming into the mainstream.
Gameloft this week plan to announce a deal with Research in Motion Ltd. to develop, market and distribute games for BlackBerry users. The games, which will be available for $6 to $8, will include popular tiles such as Asphalt Urban GT 2, New York Nights and Midnight Pool.
The announcement underscores the attention game-makers are beginning to pay to smartphone users. While most independent pure-play publishers focus on more popular platforms such as Java and BREW, developers are increasingly extending their wares to high-end devices. Nokia Corp. is banking on its Symbian platform to push its N-Gage initiative, and Electronic Arts Mobile is considering building games for OS-enabled handsets.
Once the exclusive property of front-office executives and road warriors, smartphone manufacturers are finding an audience with more mainstream users. RIM appears to be gaining traction with its Pearl, and the company recently launched a device that combines voice and e-mail with multimedia capabilities, GPS technology and the Pearl’s trackball.
Such efforts are proving successful: Smartphones will account for nearly half of all feature-rich phones sold in 2011, according to Informa Telecoms & Media, and will represent one-fourth of the overall handset market.
But while OS-enabled handsets can provide a more sophisticated, immersive gaming environment, publishers are focusing on the end user, not the platform, according to Gonzague de Vallois, Gameloft’s VP of publishing.
“It’s not so much a technological change as it is access to an untapped demographic,” de Vallois said via e-mail. “In the past, professionals had two devices: their BlackBerry for e-mail and a cell phone for calling. Increasingly, with the advancements in BlackBerry smartphones, people are combining the two into one. Consumers who would normally have access to games on a standard cell phone now demand it for their BlackBerry.”
And just like their feature-phone-using counterparts, smartphone users are looking for simple games they can pick up, grasp immediately and play for just a few minutes. Card games are popular among the smartphone set as are well-known casual titles such as Tetris, which dominates feature-phone gaming.
“Even as the platform becomes richer, if you’re really into gaming, you’re going to buy a handheld gaming device,” said Douglas Edwards, co-founder and CMO of Handmark Inc., a Kansas City, Mo.-based developer and content aggregator. “Games on these devices are primarily about diversion during that time when the consumer is doing something other than talking or checking e-mail.”
Which is not to say that smartphone games are cheap. While most mass-market wireless titles sell for less than $10-or a few bucks a month for a subscription-Handmark’s games are priced in the $10 to $20 range. For users accustomed to paying for third-party applications and the high-end software that runs them, though, such price points can be easy to digest, Edwards said.
“It’s ironic, but I think if you look at the feature phones, at the size of the screen, it defines the scope of a person’s experience,” Edwards suggested. “There’s a relationship between the size of the screen and the amount of money people are willing to pay to play something on it.”

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