Cliff, You Have a New Mission
By Malathy Devendra, Thu Apr 05 00:00:00 GMT 2001

On his way home from work, his phone beeps. The message contains intstructions that he should meet the agent ?Scarlet? to exchange information at the Phoenix statue?

The race towards inventing the most innovative mobile game continues despite sluggishness seen in the technology market. Market participants are compelled to squeeze revenues out of virtually everything they can get hold of due to the huge commitment made towards 3G. And it may very well be mobile games this time - location based games.

After so much talk about future killer app, we all know now that voice is still going to be the revenue generating service (for the mobile operators). So why are we fussing about content then? Well for one, because we have ascertained that the demand for mobile data is genuine, especially among youngsters (as evidenced by the overwhelming uptake of SMS).

After having offered successful yet simple entertainment services - icon and ringing tone downloads - mobile operators are encouraged to move to a more sophisticated service, the type that would create an exhilarating experience for the end-users. Enter pervasive mobile gaming.

Mobile operators are keen in offering mobile gaming not only because it is rewarding financially, but because it is what customers want. Imagine this: A 24 years old male is walking home after a hard day at work. What better way to add some adventure to his journey than to having an enemy agent attack him on the street, right then and there?

The mobile gaming industry today is doing away with its static, offline and single player based image. For awhile now, we have been limited to games that were bestowed upon us by the mobile phone manufactures - snake, memory etc.

"Today's mobile games are too dull. We want to create games that appeal to the 'Playstation Generation' by bringing the mobile phone to life!" says Tom Soderlund, cofounder It's Alive!, the Stockholm-based game developer.

But how is this Swedish company transforming the 'dull' gaming culture into action-packed adventure? Sven Halling, the CEO of It's Alive! talks with about his company and how he envisions the future of this explosive industry.

TheFeature: Tell me about It's Alive!

It's Alive!: It's Alive! develops and markets pervasive mobile games that are distributed through mobile operators and mobile portals to the end user's mobile phone. By exploring existing and future technologies such as mobile positioning and Bluetooth and combining different media such as SMS, WAP, the Web and TV, It's Alive! creates games that bring the mobile phone to life.

TheFeature: What is a pervasive mobile game by your definition?

It's Alive!: In the future, games will surround you and be a part of your everyday life. You're always connected to the game, and it's not always easy to tell reality from fiction. We call this pervasive gaming. As a first step in this direction, It's Alive! released the world's first location-based game, BotFighters, in November 2000.

TheFeatue: How does It's Alive! mobile gaming solution differ from other similar ones out there in the market?

It's Alive!: As mentioned earlier, we develop what we call "pervasive mobile games". Games where the player enters and then is always in the game. We take the game arena off the PC screen and drape it on top of the real world. So the user is actually walking around in the game world when he/she is on the street, in school, etc.

At any time can he/she can be contacted or attacked by another player that is nearby. The game may contact the player and issue a mission to do something and so on. We create an adventure that is always there in the back of the player's mind, and this gets very exciting for the player. We are not limited by handset graphics or bandwidth - the phone is not a phone but rather a weapon, a radar system, metal detector, etc.

TheFeature: What is the most important factor for a location based game to sell?

It's Alive!: Same as for any other game, that it is fun!

TheFeature: What are the setbacks of location based games today?

It's Alive!: First of all, there are almost none in the market. BotFighters was the world's first, and the only other game we have seen so far was very boring. The biggest problem compared to a "normal WAP game" is that it is more complex to integrate it within the operator's network.

TheFeature: How do you envision location-based games in the future?

It's Alive!: Our games will develop to become always present play adventures where the players are always in the game. Game activities and events can be triggered by simply walking past certain places or persons, and the player can be pulled into the action at any time. Similar to the movie "The Game", but of course without physical interaction or violence.

TheFeature: What kind of developments do you see in the m-gaming in general? Are there any threats/opportunities that is still awaiting the m-gaming industry?

It's Alive!: Mobile Gaming and entertainment services will drive the take-up of mobile Internet services. There is still a lot of focus being placed on future technologies like Java phones and GPRS, but with some creativity it is possible to develop very exciting games on SMS.

The biggest obstacle to application developers and content providers today is that airtime is expensive and it is hard to charge extra for the content. Some operators are also slow to adopt new and creative pricing schemes to charge for applications. In order to ensure growth of exciting applications, there must be viable business models for application developers so that they can make money.

It's Gaming Week on TheFeature. Be sure to check back daily for original reports, interviews, analysis and discussion covering the mobile gaming industry!

Malathy Devendra is still a stranger to location-based games, but not for long though.