People carry their phones wherever they go these days. According to Jiashen, CEO of Chocobots, “These days approximately 30% of people carry their phones with them to the bathroom.” “Of course,” says Samson Mow, CEO of Pixelmatic, “everything is about notifications” when it comes to social mobile, including unexpected messages you receive in the bathroom from people who want to “play with you,” as the audience bursts in laughter.
Though it is may be an obvious concept and a slightly bad joke, the thought serves a very important point: Mobile games are still experiencing a lot of awkward growing pains. “Social mobile games are not even seeing the tip of the iceberg,” says Gage Galinger, VP of 6waves. Business models are still not really fitting the “form factor,” he says, referring to the differences in device functionality.
Moderated by Maggie Wu of DeNA, today’s panel entitled “A Social Mobile Future” was made up of both developers and publishers, who all generally agreed that the market is not quite there yet.
What was perhaps surprising was how hesitant the panel was on the entire concept of mobile games, despite the fact that they are all involved with them. Andy Tian, GM of Zynga China, made the point that investment banks tend to spurn the mobile game market because they see it as a money loser, but the same was the case of Amazon when it first began. “You can’t expect Wall Street to understand a new industry,” he said.
Yes, social mobile games still represent “uncharted territory,” according to Maggie Wu. The good news is that it is possible to port many of the games, as something that has been done in the past in other markets can be redone. Gage Galinger points to Scrabble, which was greatly successful when first ported to mobile. Comparing the industry to movies, Andy Lee, Advisor to Yodo1, also makes the point that “there will always be movies about romance and aliens,” so in games all you have to do is “have the right experience” with interesting new aspects to the gameplay and the story.
Still, monetization remains an incredible issue for mobile games. In China, this issue can be cushioned ever so slightly by the low costs of operation, but Chinese consumers are still the least likely to spend money.
Other issues they saw in the industry were problems perhaps not as conventional. Jiashen pointed to several other issues including: the lack of battery life, the issue of bandwidth ubiquity (especially in China), and the fact that multitasking is still severely limited (compared with computers). Others echoed this point, saying that phones are incredibly limited in what they can do moment by moment. One limitation is touchscreens, which are pretty pitiful in terms of efficiency when compared with other devices such as keyboards and mice. They made a point of picking on the folks at Facebook, who leave something to be desired when it comes to their mobile app features, even though they admitted it was popular.
Every industry takes some time to mature, though honestly social gaming on a mobile phone at this point seems a bit gimmicky. Perhaps the viability of this market will change if touchscreen technology improves or becomes more interactive in some way. Until this changes however, customer retention rates and monetization issues will continue to be problematic.