Selling Mobile Games
By Steve Wallage, Tue May 20 11:45:00 GMT 2003

Telenor portal, Djuice, gives a few lessons on developing the mobile games market.

Every mobile operator now seems to offer a games portal, and have high hopes of its revenue generation possibilities. This is seemingly supported by analyst companies. For example, Forrester Research claim that, in 2005, 45% of mobile subscribers in Europe will regularly pay to play games on their mobile. Datamonitor forecast that the global mobile games market will be worth $17.5 billion, and that 500 million subscribers will be playing mobile games, by 2006.

Commercial sensitivities ensure that hard data is limited on their current success. One player who has released some number is In-Fusio. In January 2003, it offered games in France, Germany, UK, Italy, Spain and China. It hosted nearly 600,000 players and had 3.5m paying transactions. This came from a base of 1.5m registered players.

And, there is often conflicting information on which games are popular, user expectations, views on pricing and types of user and usage.

Djuice, the portal for Telenor Mobile in Norway, has been offering games for over two years. It is also one of the most innovative providers - for example, claiming to be the first operator to launch real time multi-player Java games. Although Djuice has since been extended to other markets such as Malaysia and Thailand, this article specifically refers to the Norwegian market.

The Service

Djuice offers around 100 games, of which there are 10-20 new games added each month. This is certainly not the highest number - for example, Vodafone Live! offers around 120 games plus approximately 30 additions per month. However, Djuice point out that to them, it is, "quality, not quantity", that counts.

Djuice offers a standard price of NOK30, for which there is no time limit. This strategy varies by operator. For example, O2 in the UK prices games at GBP1.50 for one month of usage. Most operators also adopted some 'introductory offers'. Thus, Vodafone Ireland offered up to four games free in the first two months of its games service.

For Telenor, a key objective is that Djuice remains the home page of users, and not just games, but e-mail, information and messaging functionality attracts users.

The Popularity Contest

Djuice has no doubts over its most popular games. The top three slots are all taken by sports games, and it believes they account for 40-50% of total usage. The next most popular category would be card games. Some games developers support the popularity of sports games. Anfy Team Company finds that sports games such as racing and tennis are its most popular offerings. Djuice believe that the European mobile games markets are broadly similar, although they see the Asian market as totally different.

There is some argument that quiz games are the leading sector. Games developer, Codetoys, has supplied Trivial Pursuit to more than 50 operators in 40 countries. It claims that the ubiquitous 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' is the most widely played mobile game in the world.

Djuice believe that 'branded' game have a future, although it does not see them knocking sports game off the top of the popularity stakes.

Lessons Learnt

The key lesson that Djuice has learnt on mobile gaming is to stick to what can be offered today. Therefore, it has studiously avoided over-hyping the market, or focusing on future developments.

Closely linked to this, it has ensured that it has the technology to ensure that it knows the terminal that the customer is using, and can optimize the game for their handset. It believes that many operators have not bothered to do this, putting the emphasis on the users to know their own set up, and creating disappointment as the mobile game does not meet expectations or even, in the worst case, does not work.

They do not believe network restrictions are a major obstacle, and that all their games can be downloaded within two minutes.

Djuice does not believe that users are particularly price sensitive, and, if they want to play a particular game, will pay for it. Linked to this, and the higher margins demanded by games developers, it is looking at developing premium priced games. These could potentially go up to NOK100 a game. Current charging is through the mobile bill (for contract users) and the SIM card (pre-paid users). Premium games could be charged through its m-commerce platform.

It is also looking at phased games, where the user pays for the next phase, or stage, of a game. This could relate to a second stage of an arcade game, or a second round of a quiz game. Djuice also sees more transactions within games, quoting the great example of the 'Strip Poker' game from Cellus.

Although Djuice believe the typical mobile gamer does download more than one game per month, it sees the market as dominated by the youth market and what could be termed as 'casual gamers'. Within the next 12 months, and spurred by interactive gaming, it sees the emergence of the 'hardcore gamers'. Thus, in 12 months, Djuice expects a significant proportion of mobile gaming revenues from a small number of users. Its aim is to absolutely to ensure that these hardcore gamers remain with Djuice.

Djuice does not see a near term demand for 3D games.

Steve Wallage works and writes for the451. Steve has more than 13 years of experience as a technology analyst specializing in telecommunications.