Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Steve Palley: Mobile Gaming Winning Qualities

Steve Palley at Foci Mobile takes a breather from his usual posts about the problems facing the mobile gaming biz to highlight some of the brighter spots. He writes:

A great example of a real industry triumph has been the publishing sector’s embrace of the quality ideal in product design. Many who observe mobile gaming in a professional capacity agree that overall quality has improved greatly over the past year. At first glance, this development would seem to be perfectly natural, given the level of improvement in the industry’s technological and business positions. Thank you, Mr. McObvious! But the story goes deeper than that.

In fact, the change I’m talking about is purely volitional, and it comes as a result of several years of experimentation on the costs and benefits of mobile game production. Until recently, the jury was out on whether making the highest quality mobile games would also make a company the most successful mobile games publisher.
Palley then discusses the problems that plagued in the past stating "I remember many cases where the capability to make a great game had clearly been present, as had the desire and the plan...but the execution wasn’t quite right. Something was missing, and that something was expertise." He then cits some examples like:
For instance, take the inclusion of a sound on/off switch at the beginning of a mobile game. It makes sense that someone playing a mobile game in public might want to silence the game before it can produce any embarrassing noises, right? Not to designers who had worked on console games for their entire careers. In fact, I didn’t see a game with this simple feature until late 2004, and it took a full year after that to become commonplace.

How about guided, step-by-step tutorials designed with non-gamers in mind, or one-handed controls, or simplified, high-contrast graphics, or gameplay symbols that are readily identifiable on tiny phone screens? There are a million of these seemingly trivial design tweaks (here’s an excellent preliminary list, compiled by UK reviews site Pocket Gamer), and more are being discovered and tested out every day. In aggregate, they are hugely significant.
Palley believes "It’s now clear that the industry has evolved at least a basic set of conventions and ‘best practices’ for making mobile games. Publishers finally have a good idea of which features work well and which ones don’t, so they don’t have to spend lots of resources reinventing the wheel; they can simply make a decent mobile game right out of the gate by copying their neighbors." He concludes with:
Now that the industry has become obsessed with raising the quality of its games, the next step will be for it to apply that same fire to thinking up entirely new game ideas. All the polish in the world can’t make an old design into a novel product.