Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Campus Catalyst for Mobile Gaming?

Former gaming writer/editor Steve Palley now has a mobile games consultancy called Foci Mobile and posts at his Mobilize! blog about the potential for college campuses to be a catalyst to get the mobile gaming market rolling. It's a lenghty piece and Palley cites a recent CBS News article, and writes:

90% of college students now carry a mobile phone--and that number actually seems conservative, if anything. Apparently, a number of prominent schools have already mobilized their campuses to some extent; some have even teamed up with mobile carriers to provide their own branded services. Many others (including my alma mater) are planning a new campus communications strategy based on mobile technology. There’s no standard program at this point, of course, so the spectrum of options varies from school to school. Some are thinking about supporting students’ personal phones, while others have started swapping out painfully obsolete dorm land lines for four-year mobiles, gratis.
Palley gives some great examples of how campuses have become the testbed for many trends that are now mainstream such as MP3s, massively multiplayer online gaming, etc. He writes that:
not coincidentally, mobile games designers have been feverishly trying to recreate this experience--the totally insane, virally propagated, mass-market explosion that will change video games forever. We’ve witnessed the potency of a mobile content meme unleashed in the irritating amphibian person of Crazy Frog, who took most of the world by storm a couple years ago. Why hasn’t something similar happened in mobile games? It’s not necessarily because there haven’t been enough awesome products. I’ve played several valid candidates for the position of the Next Big Thing over the years.

I think the failure is due to the fact that most people simply aren’t used to obtaining mobile games, let alone playing them. At the moment, they don’t generate much conversation among friends, unless your friends are all in the mobile games industry. Nevertheless, once you add the base ingredients to the cohesive social medium of a college campus, the germ will almost certainly take. Can you imagine a download link to a hit mobile game circulating through campuses on successive waves of text messages? The technology is already there. Some current games even allow you to send messages to your friends from within the game itself. Now imagine a good massively multiplayer mobile game under those same environmental circumstances. After that, someone will probably figure out a way to turn it into a drinking game. From there, the next image that comes to mind is a bunch of pundits dissecting the huge new campus fad (and important commercial phenomenon) on cable news.
Palley concludes that:
There’s scads of technical work to be done before any aspect of this scenario will be realized, and administrative inertia in the universities themselves always takes some time to overcome. Nevertheless, it seems as though students have already gotten the most difficult part out of the way: nine out of every ten are showing up to their matriculations with mobile phones in their pockets. Young people have already demonstrated the demand, and certain colleges are beginning to manifest the resolve necessary to catalyze the process. It will be up to the mobile content industry to target this fertile new ground and turn it into the promised land.

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