I-Play Riding the Mobile Mass Market Wave
Modojo spoke this week with I-Play CEO David Gosen about his company's one-thumb design philosophy, and why the mobile space will soon make the console industry seem small...
Formed in 1998 as Digital Bridges, I-Play has slowly and steadily built its modest mobile empire by never wavering in its focus to provide mass-market mobile experiences. The company isn't the largest player in the space, with seven offices spread across three continents totaling over 150 employees, but it's difficult to argue that I-play isn't doing something right, nonetheless. I-Play has always enjoyed excellent year over year revenue growth, and is content to grow at its own pace by releasing around 20 titles a year, instead of the 40-50 released by some of its competitors.
Modojo spoke with I-Play CEO David Gosen about how one-thumb gaming can appeal to casual and hardcore gamers, the best brands for mass market mobile exploitation, and why mobile gaming will one day make home consoles the niche gaming devices.
One-Thumb for Light Snacking
There seems to be a divide forming between two very different schools of mobile game design. On the one side are those pushing game complexity upward and outward in an effort for mobile games to more closely mirror those of the console space. I-Play sits firmly on the other end of the spectrum, consistently repeating and acting on its one-thumb design philosophy.
"Mobile gaming is a snack, not a three-course meal," Gosen said. "When I want to play my console I make an appointment with it. I set aside two or three hours for The Legend of Zelda. Mobile gamers are a completely different audience than this, so mobile games need to be developed in a completely different way."
"One-thumb gaming is about ensuring a simple, pick-up-and-play interface- it isn't about creating simplistic game design, necessarily. 24 is a great example. The game has a lot of depth and variation in its design, but it was still designed with one-thumb play in mind. One-thumb is simply about creating an intuitive interface," Gosen continued.
24 does indeed back up I-Play's insistence that one-thumb mobile game design is applicable to long and varied action/adventure games as well as the obvious puzzle and board game applications. Modojo awarded the game 4/5 stars in its review. The design philosophy also garnered I-Play an award for Best Mobile game at last fall's Mobile Choice Consumer Awards for their game Skipping Stone.
"Skipping Stone is a perfect example of this simplistic design done right," Gosen said. "Anyone can pick it up and instantly understand how to play, and everyone enjoys it, whether they're a traditional gamer or not."
Portfolio Balancing Act
In addition to one-thumb control layouts, Gosen stressed that the mass market nature of the mobile industry requires a balanced portfolio of licensed titles, and original IPs. The huge number of women playing coupled with cellphone ownership broadening by the day means that a different type of license should be sought by mobile publishers.
"To succeed you need a balanced portfolio of original and licensed IPs," he said. "Brand recognition is important, but the brand has to fit up with what the mass market consumer wants. I-Play doesn't go after a lot of huge movie tie-ins. Our latest licensed titles are 24 and the Turino Olympics--two brands that are as broad as possible."
The company's original IPs aren't necessarily attempts to create mascot characters or longterm franchises. Its original titles are mostly experiences aimed at casual gamers and female gamers like Skipping Stone or puzzle titles.
Riding the Mass Market Wave
"Mobile gaming is going to be a true mass market business," Gosen said. "When you look at total videogame console sales compared to total cellphone sales, you quickly realize the potential of the mobile market. The percentage of cellphone owners downloading mobile games today is about 5%. You don't need to raise that percentage too much to quickly reach a point where there are many more mobile gamers than console gamers. The console space will be the niche."
"In 2006 and 2007 I see I-Play scaling significantly, in line with the growth of mobile gaming. It's a 1.5 billion dollar business today, but within the decade that's going to grow to almost 10 billion. I-Play is well positioned to ride that growth wave."