Friday, December 22, 2006

Interview with Trip Hawkins re Mobile Gaming

Student Viraj Tipnis conducted this email interview with Trip Hawkins for his mobile gaming presentation in USC Gamepipe's CSCI 180, Survey of Digital Games & Technologies.

1. Do you think that mobile game developers are at the mercy of cell phone manufacturers? Can both work together while designing games on a particular cell phone. I mean certain hardware aspects of a cell phone that will be crucial to gaming?

** No, you just have to figure out how to be a good vendor and to understand them as customers. This includes listening to where they see problems and opportunities. The handsets are very cost-driven, which must be respected if you are going to have a mass market.

2. Is it best for cell phone games to stay as simple as possible ?
Wouldn't people play games on a console if they had more time? Is this a challenge considering that people increasingly demand higher quality for cell phone games?

** KISS is good for mass markets, although of course markets evolve and grow as better technology improves the experience, including both usability and fidelity. Note that everyone uses a PC and the most-played games are things like Solitaire and Minesweeper, not Grand Theft Auto, which a hardcore gamer may buy a console to play at a deeperlevel.

3. Do you have issues with finding talented people to work on making games for mobile devices? Wouldn't people rather work on a largercanvas of a computer monitor rather than a small cell phone screen?

** Yes. However, mobile is global, so we now have most of our staff in Helsinki, Finland, where working on mobile games is very "cool" and there aren't a lot of big console game companies to work for.

4. Social networking sites are doing great at present .Do you foresee such a trend in social gaming when it comes to cell phones?

** Yes. Go read all the press in terms of what I have been saying about this for many years now, eg NYT May 21 2006, but also USAToday back in 2004 and 2005.

5. Some of the early video game consoles were marketed based on the fact that they had some cool games on them. People bought the console for that game. Do you see a similar thing happening for cell phones, like people wanting to buy a cell phone because it has a really great game on it?

** This DID happen with Blackberry and Email, and with games this couldhappen, but it typically does not happen for infrastructure reasons.Eg, the handset maker does not want to limit the market and manufacturing demand of a handset to just those on one operator that want a specific game. And the operator is not likely to pay a higher price to narrow such demand - the cost of handsets is tied to manufacturing quantities.

6. Is making games for cell phones a safer option financially for companies and compared to making them for consoles? I am asking this question in terms of production costs, timing of launch and access to distribution networks/chains ?

** Yes, because we can still experiment with a fairly broad market and low costs, whereas the high cost of console game production forces the publishers to mostly make sequels and licenses.

7. In the mobile game business, there is very strong competition originating also from the traditional game console manufacturers, such as Nintendo and Sony. These companies are adding communication featuresto their mobile game consoles. How do you think it affects independent mobile game developers?

** Handheld game systems is an entirely different ecosystem from games for mobile phones. A phone game may be only 64kb in size and is delivered over the cell phone network from a carrier vending and billingsystem. The handheld game may be on a memory card or optical disc and may be literally 1,000s of times larger. In the latter case the game must be sold via a physical retail store and has tangible manufacturing cost. The latter game will have a hardcore brand, eg Madden, for a hardcore user on a hardcore device. But this same game would be too large to even consider delivering over the cell network, and 95% of thecell users have never used, and do not care, about Madden or other hardcore game brands. But they'll buy Tower Bloxx for $5, and zip, it's on their phone over the air.

8. Where do you see mobile gaming in the next 10 years.? Where do you see Digital Chocolate in particular?

** It will evolve as its own medium, following some of the patterns of the Internet but being more mass market. Digital Chocolate will play a role in this by pioneering innovative new products that serve this new mass market, notably with more usable games and services that have more social value, all in a mobile context.

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