I’m not above changing course or view on a technology. Particularly when I see a set of forces with enough potential inertia to push an otherwise static market towards or past a tipping point.
That’s why I think cell phone based games could at last begin gaining momentum in the US market. What’s happening here is that basic cell phones are becoming much more powerful and more feature laden. Furthermore the number of so-called smart phones sold with initial two-year contracts is steadily creeping upward.
In my years at Demo I routinely sat through meetings with entrepreneurs who thought they would target cell phone users with entertainment or game software. I seldom rose to the bait because I never saw an offering that was compelling enough to suggest cell phone users would waste precious minutes playing games on a network.
But wait there’s more. Somewhere near the end of my 60- and 90-minute initial interviews with the potential demonstrator I’d ask a loaded question: Who pays for your cell phone service, you or your company?
Guess what the answer was? If you’re a working parent still paying for a young family member’s cell phone usage the last thing you want is that youngster playing games on a cell phone network.
See my point? Furthermore, I never once saw a game for cell phones that convinced me it could gain a big enough subscriber base to make a viable long-term business. Also, to hit the common denominator hardware base needed for a viable business just wasn’t up to snuff.
But that’s slowly changing as Palm, Danger and others gain market share. I do have a couple of games (Sodoku and a version of Tetris) on my beloved Treo 650. I installed them on the advice of my doctor who jokingly suggested that by playing them I might be able to regain the use of parts of my brain that were damaged by a stroke. Some of my understanding of and ability to perceive spatial relationships have improved. In fact I no longer get so infuriated with Tetris that I want to hurl my beloved Treo against a brick wall. I never did it, but there were times a couple of years ago that my frustration almost exceeded my common sense.
I’ve thought a lot about Danger and its wonderful little smart phone a lot over the last year. When I first saw the device I thought, “only ex-Apple guys would do this.” I fell in love with two things that Danger did: the design of its smart phone and the back-end software. Over time, I thought that Danger could become a great platform for cell phone games. I still think it could, if it’s carrier partner got on board with the idea.
And this morning, Apple launched iPhone, which I see as a great design at the tail end of a great distribution service. All the speculation leading up to this morning’s announcement is what really forced me to reexamine my position on the future of cell phone games. That and seeing close-up photos of the device.
Apple Inc. has exactly the right stuff to push cell phone games ( and even cell phone video) through the tipping point towards success. First, it has the requisite core of software designers needed to build great products. Second, it has a great hardware design team. Third, Apple’s iPhone runs the OSX operating system, which has the power and graphics primitives needed for great games.
Furthermore, Apple Inc.’s dropping the word “Computer” from its corporate moniker is another sign of this company’s intent to go deeper into the consumer market, which by definition includes games.
The only down side to iPhone is its high price. I’m sure lots of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs playing with other people’s money will be pulling all the strings that are necessary to get first shipments. But me? I just don’t see myself in a position to buy a $500 smart phone. And besides, I’m locked into a new two-year contract with Verizon.
But I’m sure there are some very savvy entrepreneurs out there today who will jump on iPhone as a gaming platform. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Imperial Wizard of games, Electronic Arts founder, Trip Hawkins, use his latest company, Digital Chocolate, to carve market here.
Apple is a strong force in the market and it has the momentum and technology to stimulate a cell phone games market. Apple at three times the share price of Microsoft? Who would have thought that—Jim Forbes on 01/09/2007