Interview: Finding the Hardcore Mobile Gamer
Do hardcore mobile gamers exist, or will the medium forever be relegated to casual gamers, just looking for the occasional round of Zuma? Modojo spoke with Sprint's Games & Entertainment General Manager Jason Ford, who had some surprising answers...
2005 was a big year for mobile gaming. $600 million big, or $1.5 billion if you want to talk globally. So where are all the mobile gamers? A quick visit around the busiest, most-trafficked gaming forums shows a mild interest in the mobile platform at best, and disdain for the medium at worst.
Obviously these gamers are there. If they weren't, the mobile market wouldn't be in the midst of its current gaming explosion. The issue is that the gamers generating that $600 in U.S. mobile revenue and the gamers who read up on reviews and previews and form online communities simply aren't the same people. As big as mobile gaming has gotten, there still doesn't seem to be much of a hardcore audience. The mobile gaming medium has yet to find that core group willing to devour pre-release fact sheets and trailers, or hype up upcoming mobile-exclusive IPs.
Or so it would seem. Sprint's Games & Entertainment General Manager Jason Ford spoke to Modojo about where these hardcore mobile enthusiasts are hiding, just exactly who they are in the first place, and how mobile publishers can create more of them.
Cardcores and Hard-offs
Ford assured Modojo that yes, hardcore mobile gamers do exist, despite how bad things might look. IGN's "Food & Cooking" board has ten times the number of posts as its wireless gaming board, for example.
"Hardcore mobile gamers do exist, and most fall into one of two categories," Ford said. "First there are the 'cardcore' mobile gamers. These are people who play casual games in a hardcore fashion. The type that might spend hours and hours trying to get a Bejeweled high score, but don't own a gaming console."
"Second is the hard-offs. These are your more typical hardcore gamers, who are playing off of their normal platform. They're the type more likely to check out the mobile version of a hit console title, because they know and like the brand."
Ford also pointed out that mobile gaming's immediacy is appealing to busy individuals who might perhaps become hardcore console gamers, if not for the time commitment.
"Casuals have a competitive streak in them too, but they don't play on consoles necessarily," he explained. "There's a huge group of people that have to fit games into their lives- they don't have a lot of freetime. In a console game it can take a couple hours for things to wind up and get to the fun part. With mobile games you can take 10 minutes during your break to try and reclaim your top score someone captured."
Incredible Hours Spent
We asked Ford just how much time mobile enthusiasts were spending trying to get ahead on the company's Game Lobby scoreboards, and his answers erased any doubt that hardcore mobile gamers can be just as fanatic as those in the console or PC space.
"One of our most prolific players has played over 45,000 rounds of Bejeweled multiplayer," Ford said. "Our overall top guy put in about 7 hours per day for almost 3 months straight. It isn't just a couple of people, though. Across our entire top 100 the average number of hours played is 700. People take this stuff seriously. We've heard of people playing in the shower with a zip-lock baggie over their phone."
It's clear that Sprint's competition-encouraging Game Lobby is producing hardcore playing habits not unlike that of Xbox Live Arcade high-score seekers. What's less clear is why these enthusiasts haven't taken that next step, and carried their enthusiasm for the medium beyond their gametime, and into the tried and true game industry staples such as fansites, forums, or strategies.
Widening the Pool
One potential reason for the disconnect between mobile gaming's (lack of) outward online interest and actual revenue and playing habits is most likely just the size of that pool to begin with. Sprint's Game Lobby-driven competition proves that there are consumers out there who are passionate about the mobile market, but perhaps they just haven't yet hit the mass necessary to support a vocal fanbase similar to what gaming mediums enjoy. To Ford the solution is simple- just give these players more reason to involve themselves.
"We've seen that titles that feature multiplayer or high-score support enjoy a much longer tail than titles that don't," Ford said. "Gamers play them longer getting more value for their money, and they sell over a longer period of time, thanks to word of mouth. If mobile games keep giving users reasons to tell other people, the audience will grow. There is a latent demand for what we're providing."