Sprint Vision and Games

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Kyle Ackerman

It's easy to lose sight of the tremendous scope of the mobile gaming market. Computer and video gaming is a decidedly young business, but only the last few years have seen widespread adoption of phone handsets sophisticated enough to provide games on the go. Suddenly, mobile gaming is huge, and what could be a better platform than the device you have with you at all times, that serves as your connection to the world? It's not just the current focus on mobile gaming that has major players drooling – it's the potential market. For example, Deloitte and Touche declared last week that they believe there will be 2.6 billion devices capable of playing electronic games by 2010. They aren't talking about game consoles. They expect that growth to come primarily from mobile phones and personal data assistants, which are increasingly converging.

While in Los Angeles, Frictionless Insight had a chance to sit down with Jason Ford, Sprint's General Manager of Games to hear more about the company's efforts in the mobile gaming space. As a service provider, Sprint doesn't have any plans (for now) to be a first-party publisher of games. They are wise not to do so. There are several established publishers and aggregators of mobile content, and even the major publishers for consoles and PC are becoming more involved in mobile gaming. Instead, Sprint is focusing on creating a game-friendly platform to attract customers to their service for everything ranging from voice and data to play and personalization.

More Than a Game Service

Sprint's platform for those services is Sprint Vision, which accommodates data-intensive services for a monthly fee, in addition to the usual phone charges. Games are only a part of those services. Other services include personalization (such as ringers and screensavers), information (such as web access), and messaging, which is the most popular. To give you an idea of the scope of use Vision has seen, Sprint is touting that its customers have sent over one hundred million pictures and videos since Vision's launch in August of 2002, and sold twenty million ringtones and screensavers in 2003 alone.

When it comes to games, customers purchased around 3.5 million games from January to April of 2004. The games service on Sprint had eight publishing partners when Vision launched, but has now increased to around twenty. Some of the recent additions, such as Square Enix, are particularly significant in light of Square Enix's stated strategy. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Square Enix made it clear that they expect games to become increasingly platform agnostic. As such, they see mobile phones as just another device for playing their games, in addition to the PlayStation 2 and PC. Square Enix was clearly considering a future in which mobile phones were a way of accessing the same game you might play at home on another platform, or that might provide you in-game alerts anytime and anywhere.

By the end of April, Sprint had sold around 9.5 million games over the Vision service since its launch. Ford holds that the idea that mobile games are further ahead in Europe is a common misconception, and that game uptake in the US has surpassed that in Europe. While many entrenched PC and console gamers perceive mobile games as something for casual gamers, keep in mind that those casual gamers can be very hardcore about their casual games, and with a mobile phone as the platform, they can play anywhere. Ford had a few anecdotes about some players. A multiplayer version of Bejeweled was recently introduced on Sprint's service, and the top player put in over 660 hours over a period of six months. The top players on the leaderboard have typically put in nearly four hundred hours over the same period. The Price is Right is another popular title, with one player going at it for more than 166 hours in just over two months. The average for the top 25 players in the same period is 55 hours.

Meet Me in the Lobby

One interesting development is Sprint's Game Lobby. Online console gamers have praised Microsoft's Xbox Live service for its ability to track high scores, keep buddy lists and connect friends. The Game Lobby does something similar. At no extra fee (beyond the Vision charges), players can sign up, create a user name and load a personal image for their profile. You can create buddy lists for finding multiplayer partners and post scores to high score leaderboards. By May 10, around 70,000 players had joined the Game Lobby, and over 250,000 scores had been posted. The Game Lobby is particularly interesting for its potential, as it puts the infrastructure in place to let Sprint allocate prizes and dole out frequent player rewards. (Not all games support this feature. While Sprint lists more than 250 games in its catalog, games must specifically incorporate this feature, so the company hopes developers will take notice and support the Game Lobby as well.)

Savvy business folk are already taking the mobile game space very seriously, and as Sprint's example shows, there are plenty of gamers, ranging from the casual to the very hardcore, playing games on mobile handsets. Watch the space – major publishers are increasingly bringing popular franchises to mobile phones. According to market research company IDC, 2003's most popular games included Jamdat Bowling, but also Tony Hawk's Underground and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. If you aren't already trying out mobile gaming in life's little gaps, there's a lot to enjoy, and service providers and publishers are trying to make the experience even better for you.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 1, 2004 6:57 PM.

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