@Austin Game Conference – Mobile Keynote

Jason Ford, the general manager of games and entertainment for Sprint Nextel gave the mobile keynote this morning at the Austin Game Conference. Here are some notes from his presentation:

– All this talk about the “third screen” — the mobile phone is more like the 4th or 5th screen for gamers.

– Who is the gaming customer? 51% male, average age of 30 (compared to 44 for general wireless subscribers), ethnic minorities “over-index” for mobile game purchasing. But the next wave of mobile gamers is more mainstream: the average age of people intending to buy games in the next year is 35.

– New gaming demographics, such as the “hard-off” player: hardcore mobile gamers off their normal platform, and are more than twice as likely as average consumer to buy a mobile game.

– Casual games are the most popular for mobile, leading to the “cardcore” player: hardcore casual games players. Sprint’s top Bejeweled player has logged 44,171 games in 2,025 hours, and the average of top 100 players is 750 hours. For the World Poker Tour game Sprint offers, players start with $2000. 17 people already have over $10 billion, 61 have over $1 billion, and 675 have over $1 million.

– The market is immature, so it’s important to exceed customer expectations with great games and a complete experience so they’ll both play again and tell their friends.

– 8 pillars of mobile gaming business: quality, partners, , attract, pricing, carrier, but the three most important are exceed (exceeding customer’s expectations), megarg (acronym for make every gamer a repeat gamer), buzz (what happens when you succeed on exceed and megarg)..

Exceed: games must exceed customers’ expectations, which are the bar by which they judge everything. For example, Sprint offers two very similar tennis games. One is branded with a famous player’s name, and the second is not. The unbranded game ranks 88 places higher in user ratings, and the branded version is next to last.

– In-fusio’s VP of game design says “the definition of a fun game is the one that is able to tap into the emotion of the player so that he/she is compelled to automatically press ‘start’ again. There is some new hook (and it can be simple) that keeps me coming back. The two biggest reasons people stop playing mobile games is lack of interest and poor overall quality of game play.

Megarg: Make Every Gamer A Repeat Gamer. New customers are great, but let’s keep the ones we have. Look to the customer for feedback and direction. For one game, Sprint’s ratings partner had rated a game 8.6, whereas the average customer feedback from 400 votes was 6.1. Evaluate games from the player point of view, not just employees, people in the office, and professional reviewers. To that end, Sprint has a review board of 10-15 customers to look at games. The focus needs to be on what customers feel about a game. Do they feel cool? wowed? happiness? warmth?

Buzz: Consumers will spread the word about good games if we give them the opportunity. People don’t buy games because of brands or technology — they buy them because they’re fun. Customers become “mini-evangelists” if the focus is on great games. 21% of mobile game customers heard about a game from a friend (74% heard about it from a carrier). The highest rated games in Sprint’s game lobby have the lowest churn.

– Sprint did a study by geographic area of games downloads, and it could see tiny pockets with high download rates, a phenomenon they put down to people spreading games among their friends.

– Carriers don’t always understand what has to happen in developers’ business for them to be successful. Conversely, developers don’t always understand carriers’ business — these misunderstandings cause much of the conflict between the two. For instance, games are just one thing carriers market to customers, not the only thing.

From the Q&A:

– Multiplayer is being used increasingly as an aspect of mobile games, rather than their top characteristic.

– The “predominant” force behind deck placement decisions for Sprint is customer feedback.

– Sprint wants to see the industry grow through alternate distribution channels (premium SMS, etc), but wants to make sure they’re done in the right manner and don’t alienate customers through things like unclear subscription plans.

– Sprint’s policy is that for a game to be billed on a subscription basis, it has to have a service element — no monthly payments simply to keep the ability to play a game.

– The phone’s biggest advantage over portable devices like the PSP and DS are that people have their phone with them all the time.

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