Pocket Gamer at the Mobile Game Pitch judging session

How it all went down

Pocket Gamer at the Mobile Game Pitch judging session
| Mobile Game Pitch

Today, at the Golden Joystick awards ceremony, a talented amateur mobile game designer received £1000 and an invitation to take part in a placement with EA Mobile and Nokia. One can only speculate that he's now drunk.

Previous to this however, we attended Channel 4's Mobile Game Pitch competition at which the winner was chosen.

In an X Factor-style full-day event on 29 October, eight finalists (it was supposed to be nine, but one didn't show up) spent the day perfecting their concepts with mentors from the industry before filing into a small meeting room and pitching their ideas to a panel comprising EA's Tim Harrison, Nokia's Scott Foe, Games Master editor Robin Alway, and Mandy Pollard of Channel 4 Mobile.

The judges attempted a stern demeanour, but they were disappointingly generous with their praise. Harrison was articulate and formidable, while Scott Foe was offbeat and amusingly obsessed with the dangers of mobile gaming, voicing his concerns several times to general laughter.

The other two were pretty quiet.

One after the other, all eight finalists delivered their pitches. The first was a location-based game called Treasure Hunt, in which the object was to use GPS to find treasure in real life. It seemed a neat enough idea. "Have you thought about this in a TV context?" said Harrison. The room – situated as it was in the Channel 4 building – momentarily hummed with excitement.

Scott Foe said, "What if someone dies?"

The winner, winning

Next up was another location-based game called Snapshot, in which the player would be required to take pictures of landmarks in order to rack up points. Interestingly, there would be Flickr and Facebook plug-ins.

The first question from the judges echoed mine: how do you moderate it? "There's a program that does it," the contestant said. The second question was trickier.

"How is it a game?"

Third up was Finders Keepers, a game about stealing. The idea is that the player can steal virtual assets in vaults located on other people's phones, and of course have their own assets stolen. Each room in the vault would assigned to a key on the keypad, making a nine-place grid, and to get to the prize you'd have to complete a series of mini-games. It sounded pretty good.

"Psychologically," Scott Foe declared, "loss is more painful than gain is pleasurable. How do you account for that?"

Ouch. The entrant bluffed his way to an adequate response, and on we moved to the next pitch.

It was called I Queue, and it basically involved completing Brain Training-style mini-games and answering trivia questions in order to make your way up a queue of contestants. It was a reasonable idea, but not without its problems - free quiz and IQ testing games already exist on sites like Facebook, where they can be played for free.

After that, it was Street Art, another photography-based game. This time, the object would be to take pictures of places in the world and tag the images using graffitos designed in a paint package on your phone. Interestingly, any street you tagged became your 'territory' on a multiplayer map, and it would be possible for opponents to vie for ownership by designing their own tags and putting them to a vote.

Scott Foe: "What if somebody gets murdered whilst playing." Christ.

Next, Alter Ego. "Did you ever wish for something," the pitcher asked rhetorically as he commenced his Powerpoint presentation (the only one of the evening.) "Want to race against Lewis Hamilton?" he said. I was sceptical about his ability to provide this opportunity, and indeed it proved too good to be true.

The game he was pitching involved entering real events virtually, tweaking variables over the course of weeks, being mapped to real life competitors, and hoping you win. It was a slick pitch for a confused premise, and at the end of it nobody had a very clear idea of what it would entail.

Next was Running Rings, a fitness-promoting location-based game that involved running in rings to seal off areas on a virtual map. Baddies would linger on the map, and if they were within the circle you made by completing a circuit in the real world you would claim them as points. The more points you accrued, the more space you would represent on the virtual map, so that by the end you'd be able to circumnavigate the globe with a single real-life step.

"This is the highest mortality rate of all," Scott Foe said, envisioning gamers running across dual carriageways to close their circles.

Finally, there was Day of the Dodo. You'll have noticed that the games so far were very ambitious, involving technology far beyond the scope of most modern mobile games. Day of the Dodo was different. It was basically a puzzle game along the same lines as Lemmings, with the eponymous dodos responding to cues as they ambled towards a goal.

It wasn't the most original or exciting of the concepts pitched, but it had the virtue of being plausible.

"It's definitely a good idea for a game," said Harrison, "but what makes it a mobile game?" Fair point, I suppose.

That was it. The judges retired to the adjoining room (allegedly the same room in which hapless Channel 4 staff are given redundancy), leaving the assembled entrants, PR people, mentors and journalists to pick tentatively at the biscuits and fruit.

After a reassuringly long time, the judges came back, gave feedback to all, and then announced the winner. It was the game that struck the best compromise between ambition and realism, it utilised the mobile's unique qualities, and it sounded like a lot of fun.

So, congratulations to Tobias for Finders Keepers, and to everybody else.

Author's note: In the original article, I mistakenly referred to Nokia's Mark Ollila when I meant EA's Tim Harrison. Apologies to both.