Okay, so we can't predict the future with 100 per cent accuracy. If we could, we'd be sitting in a Carribbean mansion counting our fortune. And in an industry as young and emergent as mobile games, even a vague stab at what's going to happen in the next twelve months is doomed to abject failure.
Still, we're nothing if not
foolish resilient, so we're going to try anyway.
Rather than a set of cast-iron predictions about what's going to happen to mobile games in 2007 though, here's the ten trends we think could be important. Just don't come back this time next year to beat us about the head if they haven't come true.
10 mobile games trends for 2007
|1 Advertising-supported games
2007 is the year when advertisers will dive in to the mobile games world. It's already happening to some extent – this week, mobile advertising firm Greystripe announced that 1.4 million ad-supported games had been downloaded from its GameJump portal in just four months, for instance. But in 2007, there'll be a lot more publishers, and a lot more advertisers, looking to reduce the price of mobile games through some form of ads. Is this a good thing? It's a natural development – think of the way commercial TV channels are funded by ads – and it could help mobile developers and publishers cope with rising development costs without jacking up the prices we pay. But there are concerns too. Will advertisers expect creative input into games too? Will it lead to a glut of rubbish free games with ads slapped in? It's simply too early to tell.
|2 Get set for D2C
What's D2C? It might sound like a novelty '80s rave act, but it actually stands for Direct To Consumer. What it means is mobile games publishers selling games directly to you, rather than just through the mobile operator portals. Why should you care, if the games cost the same? It's a fair question. But as publishers set up D2C sites, it could make for a better experience browsing and buying mobile games. Gameloft's new Connect application, which we wrote about recently, is a good example, being an iTunes-style application that lets you check out new games, view demos and then easily buy and download them. Expect to see other publishers follow suit next year, while other firms (for example Mpowerplayer in the US) try to bring a number of publishers' games together in one application. And D2C can mean other ways of buying mobile games too. For example, EA Mobile bosses have talked about their desire to sell mobile games in high-street games shops.
|3 Next-generation N-Gage
N-Gage is dead! Long live N-Gage! 2007 will see the debut of Nokia's long-awaited next move in mobile gaming, which in short involves putting its N-Gage technology in a host of multimedia handsets, for example its N-Series phones. We got a few hints at what this'll mean when we checked out Nokia's stand at this year's E3 show, and from our recent interview with the company's games boss Jaakko Kaidesoja. The games will be attractively 3D, boast cool connected and community features, and will be purchasable directly from your handset. We can't wait to see what Nokia comes out with, and rest assured you'll be able to read about the latest games and news in our N-Gage section throughout 2007.
|4 More connectivity and multiplayer
As we bemoaned in our recent look back at 2006, Europe was a bit rubbish for mobile game connectivity this year. This will improve in 2007, as operators get their acts together to enable game developers to include community and multiplayer features, and also launch unlimited-data tariffs so that we don't end up paying through the nose if we play online. Our hope is that by the end of 2007, there'll be a healthy bunch of connected games available in Europe, although this doesn't have to be full live multiplayer. One game we'd love to see come out here is Gamevil's Path Of A Warrior, for example. We've even heard rumours that some UK operators may consider launching their own mobile gaming communities, along the lines of Sprint's Game Lobby in the US, which offers high score tables and the ability to rate and recommend games.
|5 Tetris will sell millions of downloads
Some things never change. Amid all the talk of connectivity and swizzy 3D, it's important to remember that there are still millions of mobile gamers who just want a simple, addictive puzzle game to kill time on the bus or train. It's no bad thing. Although if you have friends in this category, may we suggest you point them in the direction of Tower Bloxx to remind them that there is more to life than falling blocks. Oh, hang on...
|6 More crossover with Web and online gaming
A big buzz-phrase in the mobile industry is 'fixed-mobile convergence' (think Orange or Vodafone providing you with home broadband AND mobile). This could have implications for mobile gaming, like being able to play simple games over the network against people playing on their PCs. It's happened a bit in the past, but will become more common. There are other ways that Web and mobile will crossover. Several publishers are talking about making Web versions of their casual mobile games – after all, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to play a Web version of Rollercoaster Rush or Turbo Camels: Circus Extreme. And 2007 could be the year when massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs for short) get their mobile freak on. Imagine having a mini-game on your mobile that lets you level up your World Of Warcraft character, or construct extra weapons and items. Or simply an application that lets you check up on your character stats and messages.
|7 At last, 3D gaming will take off
In 2006, phones proved they were up to the task of running 3D games. This will continue in 2007, as more people upgrade their phones to find that they've actually got a pretty powerful games machine in their pocket, even if they didn't explicitly ask for it. Besides Nokia's next-gen N-Gage, there's been a lot of talk within the mobile games industry about 'native' gaming – games which use the raw power of your mobile's innards rather than running on top of the Java platform. If you've got a Symbian or Windows Mobile handset, for example, there'll be more and better games coming out in glorious 3D for it. However, we'd offer a warning. 3D mobile games will only be as good as their control systems. We'd like to see handset manufacturers paying more attention to including features that improve gaming – better joysticks for example, or button layouts that support landscape gaming (holding your phone sideways). Sony Ericsson has been good at this in the past, but we hope its rivals do likewise. And in the meantime, mobile developers should continue to refine their control systems to ensure that mobile 3D can still mean one-thumb gaming.
|8 Flash Lite will make an impact
Slowly but surely, the Flash technology that powers so many Web games is making its way into phones. Apparently over 115 million handheld devices now have the technology inside. Developers are already creating attractive-looking games that use Flash Lite, although so far there's been no easy way to get hold of them, unless you're a tech-head or a developer yourself. We expect this to change in 2007, although it remains to be seen whether the mobile operators will start selling Flash Lite games on their portals, and if so, how they'll be priced compared to regular games. Meanwhile, Flash Lite could be the technology that kickstarts viral advertising games on mobile, just as Flash has on the Web.
|9 Mobile game audio finally gets some props
Does anyone actually play mobile games with the sound turned on? Well, more people than you'd think. While we often quote the train / bus idea (ahem, like in Point 5), industry research shows that many mobile gamers play at home. As publishers realise this, they may well put more into their audio budgets, to make sure mobile games sound as good as they look. Another trend that'll be important in 2007 is the rise of music phones. We'll spare you the 'phones are killing the iPod' rhetoric that's spouted by an increasing number of mobile manufacturers. But suffice to say, music handsets come with earphones, which you're likely to carry around with you. And in that case, why wouldn't you play games with the sound turned on, even in public? In 2007, Pocket Gamer will be making an effort to mention the sound in every mobile game review we publish, to take these twin trends into account.
|10 More camera and LBS games
Bit of a catch-all point, this one. But behind-the-scenes technical improvements mean that on the latest handsets, mobile games can take advantage of other phone features more easily. For example, the cameras. 2006 saw a few examples of snap-happy games, such as Brain Genius, 3D Tilt-a-World and Foto Fighter. More developers and publishers will look to include camera features in 2007, for sure. Then there's location-based games – something that's been hyped in the past, with little resulting from it here in Europe. A key trend is that more mobile phones in 2007 will come out with GPS built-in. It'll mainly be used for navigation and mapping applications, but in theory it can be used for gaming too. Is there a future for a GPS-related mobile game involving hundreds of players chasing each other round the streets? Realistically, no. But location data could be used in other ways – bringing the real world around you into games, even if it doesn't involve other players directly. How? That's what we're hoping to find out in 2007...