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GDC 2007: Mobile Games? People play those?

4:24 PM on 03.06.2007 // Colette Bennett

The scary thing about the Mobile Game Industry is that they seem no more sure of its ability to succeed than the gamer who reacts apathetically to it. I was curious about the real deal, so I checked out a seminar today called "Are We Having Fun Yet?" The name itself gave me the giggles, so I thought it might be worth it to see if the developers themselves could explain to me why I should be playing mobile titles.

Our host was Mark Stephen Pierce, CEO of Super Happy Fun Fun (got to love any company with the nuts to use a little meth addict face for the logo). They put out an award winning game called 3D Tilt-A-Whirl where you actually tilt the phone in your hand to control the pinball. Kind of a neat concept, right? So why is all of America clamoring to buy a Wii to go bowling, but less than 10 percent of gamers can be bothered to download any mobile game that isn't Tetris?

Per Mr. Pierce, in 2004 the top mobile games were Tetris, Bejeweled and Pac-Man. Fast forward three years later. The three top mobile games of 2007? Tetris, Bejeweled and Pac-Man. Wow. It's grown by leaps and bounds, hasn't it? According to the numbers, 7 million people play a game on their cell phones once a week. It makes me curious as to who these people are, because I don't know one gamer who plays anything other than Tetris on their bus or subway trips. Do you?

Mobile developers are aiming for a very simple customer with a short attention span. There's nothing wrong with that, but the very same consumer likely to be attracted to these games is likely to forget about them 5 minutes later. How to capture and keep the attention of this demographic is anyone's guess, and it looks like the developers themselves are still trying to get their finger on it.

For now, mobile games are the equivalent of staging a musical in a graveyard. They're trying hard to make it happen, but it seems to always be struggling to get to the next level. Do any of you actually play mobile games? If so, what games are so much fun that you actually want to play them more than once? Most importantly of all, do any of you think that mobile games can overcome the crappy medium of a cellular screen?

Colette Bennett,
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