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Mobile Internet and the future of mobile social gaming

Games developers need to understand that while large games will need to be downloaded from the Web, social games will predominantly be browser-based. In either case the time to leverage the increasing universality of Mobile Internet, is now, says Zarina Toktomambetova.

Zarina is COO of social games publisher, SGP Co Ltd, Beijing and the Head of Asian distribution for i-Jet the largest social games publisher and distributor in Russia and Eastern Europe. We present below  with the author's permission, the edited text of the paper she read at the NASSCOM Animation and Gaming Summit in Hyderabad, November 13 2010, as a contribution to understanding the global opportunity presented to Indian developers in the area of social gaming.
The mobile Internet is growing very rapidly. A few years ago, many people could hardly imagine that the mobile phone would be not only a device for phone calls and SMS, but it would discover such a wide range of opportunities for work and rest, business and entertainment. Nowadays, almost every Internet user in Japan uses the mobile Internet. In the United States, mobile Internet users’ share is approaching 80 per cent of all Internet users. There is also significant growth in Europe and Russia.

Mobile Internet penetration level depends on the following factors: Acceptable stable connection speed, and affordable high-performance mobile terminals. The total popularity and audience of the mobile Internet generally grow as these indicators increase. Technological progress has been very fast. That is the reason why top phone models of 2009, for instance, are becoming affordable for the wide population in one or two years turning into average and mass ones. This is the way how the mobile Internet is becoming more and more people’s one as more and more people are getting a real opportunity to buy higher-performance mobile terminals and use always higher connection speed.

Let’s have a look at the way top-end mobile terminals, which means  those that are affordable for a small circle of consumers, are becoming people’s phones, which means mass and affordable for most people.
The development of mobile technologies, hardware and software allows us to model a situation which seems to take place on the world’s market approximately by 2012. 3G and LTE technologies will be widespread just in two years. At the same time, the mobile Internet connection speed is not likely to be less that 3 to 10 megabytes per second. As for mobile terminals, they will be equipped with dual-core mobile processors with frequency at about 2 gigahertz, as well as graphic processors, two-gigabyte RAM, and four-inch screens with average resolution at 800 to 1024 pixels on a main diagonal. Average tablets will mostly have the same characteristics, but their screens will be 7 to 11 inches diagonally with resolution 1280 to 1600 pixels on a main diagonal.

As a result, mobile phones will be very similar to computers and almost identical to them in technical terms. Mobile phones and tablets with the broadband Internet connection will take the place of computers or replace them in everyday use. It goes without saying that computers will predominate in fulfilling work and special tasks, and as a home entertainment centre. However, mobile phones will become full-fledged pocket portable entertainment centres. As a result, people are likely to spend more time surfing the mobile Internet than classical ones. That is why it is exactly the right moment for game developers, especially social game developers, to think seriously of how to keep abreast with this “universal mobilization” of the Internet. It is necessary to understand current trends well, as well as how the situation is going to change during the nearest couple of years.

Of course, social networks, being a natural part of people’s life, will increasingly reach to the mobile phone. But what about social games?

It is safe to assume that mobile applications will have almost nothing distinguishing them from the apps currently used on conventional computers. Actually, the war between browsers and consoles (web-based service models against desktop applications) may continue within the framework of mobile terminals as there will be mobile platform specific applications (today they are called just mobile application, but in the future we will need to change it as “mobile application” sounds more general) and mobile web-based service applications.

Large games which need to be downloaded and installed will be one of platform specific application types. That will be games like strategy ones, RPG, simulators, racing games, and many others. But such games have nothing to do with the social games market.

As for social games themselves, they will apply a browser model which means they will be mobile web-based service types
. Future mobile browsers will be comparable with computer browsers widely used today. Thus, you won’t need to download anything to join social games; the process of joining will remain simple; you will still be able to play social games from everywhere because the only thing you will have to do is to enter a certain social network.

In general, the market of mobile platform specific applications that need to be downloaded and installed is already quite big, and will grow further. At the same time, it is significantly segmented, or divided. iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile, and many others. And even lots of tablets. The market is divided into various types and models of mobile terminals, so it is getting really harder and harder to hope to win a large market share here.

Entering this market, you need to perform porting of your applications in the full sense of this word, and such porting is rather expensive. As a matter of fact, you need to focus on selling big and heavy finished products for every or a number of different mobile phones. And a web-based service model doesn’t work here.

Nowadays, there are various experiments regarding social games distribution onto mobile platform specific applications. At the same time, practice proves that the greatest obstacle to win is very high cost of such applications porting. This market will remain experimental until the porting cost decreases significantly. But it doesn’t seem to happen during following two years because from our point of view this market won’t be unified in this period of time.
On the other hand, the browser market is unified. Browsers are habitual; they have Flash which is more or less standardized and unified. The mobile browser of the future will have same qualities as the current conventional computer browser.
That is why you will need only to adapt social games slightly to specific features of certain mobile terminals to launch them in a mobile version. The more so because social networks are likely to refuse to launch their own mobile version sites in the form of platform specific applications. Social networks will proceed to a service model because it is much more natural for them. For example, Facebook is already using a mixed scheme: it launched a full mobile browser version, and iPhone and Android specific applications which are not even full-fledged applications since they still use the same Facebook’s mobile version.
The service model is also experimental today because most people currently use past century’s browsers. Mass mobile terminals are built on HTML without Java-script and Flash. But there are already top models of mobile phones which allow to use a phone just as a computer. That means such phones support Java and Flash, as well as have high resolution big screens which allow users to look through web pages without significant reduction of these pages. Such models of phones already allow  one to play modern social games. At the same time, the mobile browser market is already unified, and in this respect it is catching up with the market of computer browsers if we speak about their facilities, and is likely to achieve its level of development within the next two years.
So we believe that social games will be in browsers for the most part, and for phones, they will be mobile web applications.
I would also like to share an example from our own experience as i-Jet Media publishes and distributes social games by various developers on dozens of social networks all over the world with great success. One of titles we launched is City Gangs. It is now one of the most profitable and widespread game in our portfolio. It is already published on 15 social networks. We also launched a mobile version of City Gangs on mobile versions of two of these networks. We attribute the success of City Gangs to its availability in mobile versions. What is very important for us is to provide connection between users’ web and mobile accounts so that a person could keep all his achievements while playing it under the same account via both his mobile phone and computer. At the same time, mobile versions enlarge game sessions. Moreover, City Gangs is a great example of how they increase payments too. So if we take Russia, first we published City Gangs on two social networks, Odnoklassniki and Moi Mir, and then launched its mobile version on these networks’ mobile web sites. After that, we saw that the audience increased by 20%, and these were exactly new users playing the game only from their mobile phones. The most exciting thing is that these 20% made 30% growth in total payments coming from the game! So we can see that, first of all, the mobile version brought more new people to the game, and these people started paying more than users visiting the conventional web version. This is very important. There also appeared some share of players using both phones and computers to play City Gangs.

One of our more important goals as a publisher is to supply all the key games in our portfolio with mobile versions. And we expect to do that during two years. i-Jet Media is not the only one concerned with a question “how to go mobile?”. But we are one of few who have already answered this question for themselves: it is necessary to focus on browser-based model of the social game performance to stay on better positions within the future social games market.

Social game industry professionals should decide today on how to act under circumstances of the mobile  Internet. Actually, I see just one appropriate way which is to enter developing markets of social games as soon as possible to win more comfortable and significant positions there. At the same time, we all need to understand that experiments with platform specific applications are not profitable on the social games market. This market will be at that place where social networks will be. This market will have such a shape and features which social networks will have. By the way, at present, almost every self-respecting social network considers itself to be obliged to offer anything for mobile Internet users. There are two basic directions many of them. Some of them make separate applications adapted to certain mobile terminals. For example, let’s take Facebook and its applications for iPhone and Android. Most social networks are launching their mobile versions that are web versions adapted to mobile terminals. Social networks are also in the area of experiments. However, we all need to ensure that the cost of mobile platform specific application porting will not decrease significantly, and finally they will be transformed to adapted mobile web browser applications. Moreover, social networks are web services by nature. That is why they will merely stay in their own environment which is classical Internet that will be available via any mobile terminal in the near future.
With regard to the development of technologies and other indicators, we can suppose that not all countries will reach that stage when mass mobile terminals will be extremely similar to computers in terms of power characteristics. The Japanese market is almost at this stage. The USA will have been there by 2011-2012. And next will come Europe and Russia. The author can be contacted at 

Nov 20 2010