Mobile games taking casual inspiration (part 2)

We conclude our investigation into the increasing convergence between web games and mobile

Mobile games taking casual inspiration (part 2)

In yesterday's first part of this two-part feature, we looked at the growing trend of casual web games making the jump to mobile.

But what about mobile games travelling in the other direction, though, and becoming web or PC casual games? It has happened – mobile developer Morpheme's Prism game became a PC title released by Eidos, for example. And Digital Chocolate, meanwhile, is examining the potential of social networks with its Tower Bloxx Facebook application, an area that I-play may also capitalise on through Oberon's partnership with MySpace (see this feature for more details on that).

However, other than this, not many original mobile games have become web hits. Why not? "While there have been some successful, innovative games that have been created specifically for mobile, there's not necessarily an advantage to bringing those games to the web, as the audience of mobile game players is much, much smaller than the audience of web game players," says Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development at PopCap. "The awareness isn't much greater on the web than for a brand new web game."

I-play CEO David Gosen is more positive, suggesting that mobile to web will kick off "in significant volumes" over the next 12-18 months. "One of our most successful original IPs is My Dog, which is well on its way to being a million-download seller on mobile. There's every opportunity for that to move from mobile to web in the future. We also see original IP being developed cross-platform and launched simultaneously on all the platforms."

Meanwhile, RealArcade's Jeremy Wells is enthused by the potential of social networks. "We've had Summer Games 2 running on Facebook in a test environment, and it's great competing against your work buddies," he says. "Having tournaments and leagues keeps you going back for more, so there is potential there to grow new revenues based on subscription- or event-based downloads."

However, he does warn that it's still unclear how mobile firms can monetise their games online, with several alternatives available (such as making the online version free and using it to promote the paid-for mobile download, or charging people to play the online or PC version).

"Most casual titles on PC cost around £20 for a one-off purchase, or the customer pays a monthly all-you-can-eat subscription," he begins. "I think customers will expect more from a mobile game if it is to make the jump to PC in terms of quality and overall experience. Having said that, platforms like Xbox Live that have comparable price points to mobile represent a strong opportunity for mobile and retro titles. I'd certainly pay a few quid to play Summer Games or Tower Bloxx on my [Xbox] 360!"

Convergence Questions

There's a 'big picture' angle to all this convergence between mobile and web games, of course. Think about the way mobile operators are increasingly also offering broadband internet services to their customers, and vice versa. Many people are or will soon have the same company supplying both, which could provide opportunities.

However, making it work will be just a little bit complicated.

"Convergence is happening, but slowly," says Wells. "Many operators are beginning to offer fixed line and mobile services in the same monthly package, so it's fair to assume that data services and products will naturally converge. Whether this is simply through unified billing or more sophisticated operator-managed PC and mobile clients that incorporate side-loading remains to be seen."

Stein's views almost exactly mirror those sentiments. "Convergence is starting to happen but there's a long way to go. In the online world, portals are managing self-contained communities so the high-score for a specific game is often tied to the portal where the player played the game," he says.

"Pricing for the mobile game gets even more complicated as billing is almost always tied to a wireless operator's billing platform and some heavy lifting will be required to build an infrastructure that can authenticate a user as having already purchased a 'universal license' that enables play across different platforms or should be charged for the mobile game 'a-la-carte.'"

On a basic level, connected web to mobile gaming is more likely in the near future (indeed, some companies have already done it, but rarely in a high-profile way). However, that isn't stopping the publishers from being ambitious.

"It's ultimately just a question of time before I can sit at home playing Burger Rush 2 on my laptop, carry on where I left off on my mobile on the commute to work and then pick up and continue from the same point on my laptop at work, post my new high-score and challenge a few friends on my unified 'Buddy List' to beat my score," says Wells. "That's our vision, but it isn't going to happen overnight…"