Why Is Mobile Gaming Still the Next Big Thing?

Is it me or has mobile gaming been the next big thing for game publishers, mobile providers, and marketers for quite some time?

I’m actually embarrassed to mention mobile gaming here because this column’s primary focus is on emerging trends in digital game advertising. We could blame mobile gaming’s slow adoption on the lack of standardization in mobile devices in the U.S., among other factors.

No one can dispute mobile gaming’s potential: over 80 percent of Internet users ages 12 to 64 own a cell phone, according to one estimate. In fact, many are forgoing landline connections for cell phones, preferring the latter. Not to mention, cell phones have become an indispensable item in our daily lives. Much like a wallet, we take our cell phones everywhere and keep them readily available. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for mobile gaming to play a larger role in the overall gaming industry.

Still, research from consultancy Frank N. Magid Associates suggests the majority of mobile phone owners remain reluctant to play games on their phones. Only 10 percent of those surveyed say they play a mobile game at least once a week, according to the research published by GameDaily. Even more surprising, 54 percent never play a mobile game, not even the free ones.

How have these people not heard of Brick Breaker? This represents a significant gap between mobile gaming and traditional gaming, as over 63 percent of Americans report playing games online or via a console, according to an NPD Group report, “Expanding the Games Market,” released in December.

Could it be that games for mobile devices are no different than games for PCs or consoles? Do game developers ask me where I want to play my “Madden NFL” season opener: on my HDTV or my 3 in. x 3 in. mobile phone screen? Let me consider my options: high-def’s 1080p (define) or a BlackBerry screen. Of course, I’m going to play on my couch with the full HD experience and surround sound. I’m not going to spend 45 minutes playing a complete game on my phone while waiting at the doctor’s office. I can’t see the defense’s coverage on my phone.

Fortunately, game developers have started to acknowledge this dilemma. While it may be the easiest and most cost-effective option to port over your best-selling console title, it’s just as easy for gamers to play that title when they get home.

Mobile games must be differentiated from their console and computer brethren.

To no one’s surprise, the type of games most likely to fit the mobile device closely mirrors casual games on popular gaming Web sites. These games are played in short durations and require minimal instructions to begin playing. Popular genres such as puzzle and strategy are made to succeed on mobile devices.

In addition to casual games, mobile devices could be leveraged to broaden the game experience that starts in front of the television. Many developers are investigating features that would allow gamers to extend their game to mobile devices. Imagine being able to determine your next move in a role-playing game while sitting on the train on the way to work.

Developers are now looking at custom content for mobile gaming, a shift in how mobile games have been developed. But developers are experiencing new challenges, because the mobile device marketplace is considerably more fragmented than the computer or video game console industries. Games must be developed to work with various devices. Dedicated departments are required to drive the innovation necessary to break into this emerging platform. We marketers understand how the hefty need for resources coupled with slow adoption rates have caused delays in mobile gaming reaching its potential.

Insert advertising here.

Bottom line: marketers can help game developers close the gap in mobile gaming and reach prospective consumers. By showing advertiser interest in the space, marketers will encourage game developers to support these projects. We can help increase the interaction rates by creating custom game experiences. This isn’t limited to filling their memory with advergames. As much as you like playing your brand’s version of pool, a consumer will only download games she sees as valuable.

As with all game advertising, marketers should respect the game experience and look to integrate where the brand improves the game. For example, a consumer packaged goods company could reward gamers with product coupons for completing the hardest level of Snake. The brand doesn’t have to interrupt the addictive game experience; it can provide the consumer with a valuable offer for engaging in a game she’d play for fun. An auto manufacturer could challenge consumers to use the camera features of mobile devices to capture their vehicles in the real world and unlock custom game experiences related to a larger campaign.

We marketers have a responsibility to help move mobile gaming from a potential opportunity to an actual medium for connecting with consumers. I can only hope this change takes place in the near future, because I’d hate to be sitting here next year reading a similar report.

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