The Future of Mobile Gaming: OGPH or One GEC Per Home
Qualcomm Gaming Group Senior Director Mike Yuen expands his opinion on why the mobile phone could be the most important consumer device emerging markets will ever see, and what that means for game makers...
The gaming industry has never been more complex. On one hand, consumers increasingly demand visual eye candy and "wow" factor in their games. On the other hand, publishers are becoming more risk averse due to the dizzying developmental costs that result from the ongoing next generation console wars, among other factors. The ability of these companies to truly drive innovation combined with the current state of the industry often forces gaming companies, particularly publicly-traded ones, to sacrifice innovation in return for a clearer path to return on investment. Perhaps there is an alternative.
To be certain, expanding the borders of the gaming market to entirely new customers would contribute to revenue, but in my mind it could also serve to inject some long-overdue innovation into the industry as well. Currently, the United States, Europe and Japan comprise the overwhelming majority of all gaming sales, a full 80 percent. The gaming industry could conceivably look beyond these borders and modify its business paradigm for not only the customer, but also that customer's gaming needs and desires. Huge potential lies in developing nations such as Brazil, Russia, China and India, in a number of permutations that lead to a non-zero-sum situation for all involved.
Consider the PC. By rethinking it, the PC can easily take on a different form or a new purpose. A good example is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, launched by Nicholas Negreponte of the MIT Media Lab. The goal of OLPC is to develop and distribute a simplified yet eminently affordable laptop to every child in the world's underdeveloped countries. OLPC is intended to bridge the educational digital divide and broaden the possibility of improving children's education around the world. By re-thinking and applying innovation to an advanced technology like the PC, a world of possibilities arises.
The Wireless Last Mile
In a guest editorial titled "A Vision of Mobile Gaming in 2016" that I wrote for Modojo last October, I introduced the concept of the GEC (Good Enough Console). The GEC is intended to be a vision of the future where mobile phones will have evolved to the stage where they can easily provide a good enough console gaming experience for the emerging market digital living rooms of tomorrow. 3G (and someday 4G) wireless digital distribution would provide the secure high-speed episodic content pipe for this GEC device, which would be used as a normal phone during the day and a home console gaming device by night. In this case the GEC is intended to bring gaming to consumers who previously couldn't afford it.
Increased sophistication at lower prices will continue to drive the affordability and mass market access of the GEC in emerging markets to function not only as a video game console, but also as a digital media center, enabling the secure wireless over-the-air (OTA) delivery of multimedia content into homes. In this scenario there is no need to lay physical cable or fiber to the curve because the last mile will quite literally walk home with the consumer in the form of their mobile phone. High-speed wireless networks will bring in video, music, Internet access and more.
The "Peripheralization" of the GEC
Taken one step further, through a USB controller/hub a consumer could also attach a keyboard and mouse as well as (budget and disposable income permitting) speakers and even an external hard drive. This "peripheralization" of the GEC has in fact converted it into a PC. With gigahertz processors on the horizon, this phone will be as powerful (if not more powerful) as many mainstream PCs in developed regions of the world. Combine this with a browser and web-based software services and one essentially has something that somewhat mirrors what the OLPC is intended to be, except in this case the device is targeting low to middle income homes that can't quite afford a PC let alone a video game console or media center box. I call this concept OGPH or One GEC Per Home.
In this vision of the future, OGPH will serve multiple functions. It can be used as a mobile phone during the day and then when brought home in the evening it can be used as video game console, a digital media center for music and video, and finally as a PC to surf the web and complete computing-like tasks via web-based software. Furthermore, consider the OGPH will also now have access to a "big screen" in the home via TV-out on the device. It's not too difficult to imagine advertising and ad-based business models quickly appearing, which can further broaden consumer access to more content and services. I would hazard a guess that there are many companies out there that would be quite interested in gaining access to new consumers via this "big screen" and would gladly pay the toll required to gain this access.
Is It A Mobile, Console, Or PC Game?
From a gaming perspective, what exactly is a mobile game delivered on the GEC? It's delivered via a mobile phone, yet from a game play perspective it may be in the form of a console or PC game because the consumer can easily hook up a game controller or a keyboard and mouse. So is it a mobile game, a console game, or a PC game?
At GDC 2005 in a session titled "The Tipping Point in Wireless Gaming," I spoke about how cross platform design can in fact drive new innovation into the industry. I think OGPH can foster the creation of new gaming experiences for consumers simply because the device demands an appropriate experience for multiple instances, be it mobile or console/PC in the home. Certainly cross platform games can be created, and in fact should be created, regardless of whether or not a GEC/OGPH exists in emerging markets. However, my belief is the existence of such a device will ultimately accelerate the design and development of new games optimized and tuned for this platform.
I've written about the potential opportunities emerging markets can create in my previous Modojo editorial, as well as how secure wireless digital distribution can help conquer piracy so I won't dwell on these points again. However, this does provide contextual backdrop on the potential affect the GEC/OGPH can have on the overall gaming industry.
The OGPH Effect
The effects of pursuing the OGPH are manifold. Smaller, independent gaming companies will likely have a place in the market because as long as they're granted equal opportunity access to the GEC/OGPH, new consumers in emerging markets may not necessarily always gravitate toward the established publishers of the developed markets, although we can safely assume the incumbents will do everything they can to create a similar economy. Experimentation and innovation in game development can become prevalent once again, in an industry long grounded by risk aversion. The standard formula for gaming success can be expanded by the possibilities that are inherent when a new platform and customer base are realized.
GDC Conference Director Jamil Moledina once said, "Speed to market and functionality likely will win the day. The first device that can truly serve all digital entertainment needs and wants will probably be very hard to dislodge from the consumers' living rooms." What does the future of gaming look like? In a converged wireless multimedia and media-driven world, wireless phones in the form of a GEC/OGPH can possibly become THE single most important consumer device in the emerging markets of the world, as well as help drive new game design innovation into the broader industry.
[i]Mike Yuen is the Senior Director of Qualcomm's Gaming Group. Prior to founding the gaming group, he led the BREW developer relations team.
Do you work in the mobile games industry? Would you like to be featured in a Modojo Biz Op/Ed? Let us know.