Sprint and EA Mobile Try The Subscription Game

The day I arrived in San Francisco for CTIA a few weeks back, the “big” news was that AT&T had finally launched an OTA music download service with Napster Mobile. It’s pretty much like every other OTA operator music store that’s been around for a while, which is to say it’s got a limited selection and it’s overpriced. But Napster’s synonymous with subscription music services, and the AT&T store doesn’t offer subscription tiers — perhaps a reflection that the mobile music subscription business just isn’t working.

A few days earlier, Sprint announced it was launching the “Sprint Arcade” along with EA Mobile, offering users access to a range of games (currently there’s a selection of 6) for $10 a month. A post about it this morning on Engadget Mobile caught my eye, if only because at the Austin Game Conference a few years ago, I listened to Jason Ford, Sprint’s then-GM of games and entertainment, say that the operator didn’t allow games to be billed on a subscription basis unless they offered a distinct and clear service element. This is a great policy, because game subscriptions are pretty lame, and are really set up only to benefit the operator and content provider, to the detriment of the consumer.

I guess Sprint’s given up on that policy, since the arcade doesn’t appear to have any sort of service element. Consumers can buy these six games for $5 or $6 each, so a $10 per month subscription hardly seems like a good deal. But perhaps Sprint’s decided it’s okay to go down this route since the mobile gaming market is shrinking, at least according to analyst firm iSuppli.

hockeystick.jpgBut keep your hockey stick at hand, iSuppli says mobile gaming revenue will still “nearly triple by 2011, growing to $6.6 billion”. How, you ask?

One of the main problems is that number of subscribers for mobile games remains quite small. Game publishers’ and developers’ moves to broaden the awareness of mobile games will help build the subscriber base – but only if they target the right demographic. In the coming months, expect to see game innovators focusing on characteristics that separate mobile gaming from other types of gaming, including:

* Mobility
* Connectivity
* Community
* Location awareness

That sounds like the same sort of stuff we’ve been promised since, oh, 2004 or so, that’s pretty much failed to materialize — but it’s going to add $4.3 billion in revenues to the mobile gaming market within three or four years? If you’re trying to grow this market and succeed in mobile gaming, go back and read my notes from Jason’s talk in 2005. They’re still more on point and more useful today than the pipe-dream musings of an analyst firm’s predictions.

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