Mobile Gaming Comes Into Focus
By Carlo Longino, Mon May 16 21:30:00 GMT 2005

As the video game world converges on Los Angeles for its annual giant confab, interest in mobile games is running high.

"Mobile gaming" news from previous E3s has tended to really be about portable games rather than playing on mobile phones and over mobile networks, but the big news from last year's show centered on consoles with wireless connections, and pre-show buzz this time points to mobile games making a significant impact.

Mainstream publications like the International Herald Tribune are taking notice of the market and touting its healthy growth, citing the high expectations of Wall Street analysts and investors. But the attention of these groups of people could have a significant impact on just how the market matures: many developers are focusing on casual games, eschewing truly technologically compelling titles in favor of simplicity and well-worn concepts -- and the revenues they easily drive.

See some of the pre-show announcements for how this is playing out: US operator Sprint announced several new games, some of which take advantage of the 3-D graphics capability of newer handsets, but are retreads of typical genres or existing franchises; Yahoo says its new poker game enables play across PCs and mobiles; and Nokia announced a few games that combine 3-D and multiplayer.

The games are incrementally more technically advanced than previous efforts, but are still far away from the immersive gameplay found in Asia, where network connectivity has become more than just a link to other card players or a role-playing world, but rather a means to the blending of virtual and physical worlds for more compelling, involved gameplay. Of course, the money right now says people in many areas outside Asia aren't as interested in that type of mobile play as they are in Tetris and other casual games.

So are maturation and innovation in mobile gaming mutually exclusive? Perhaps it's just the mobile games business needs to prove itself to carriers, that they can make money from average Joes downloading bowling and Bejeweled, before the reins get loosened and networks opened up to allow for a higher level of interactivity and some ultimately cooler gameplay.