The Clash of Mobile Platforms: J2ME, ExEn, Mophun and WGE
Mophun is described by its creators (Synergenix) as a "software-based videogame console". Although its development began in late 1999, its market implantation only achieved a serious level in November of 2002.
Its late appearance, allied to the fact that only three devices carry this engine (Ericsson T300, T310 and T610) made some developers discard the option of developing for this system. The somewhat biased market analysis performed by Mophun's producers also "scared away" some interested developers… for example, in one of those analysis, Mophun is shown dividing the leadership of the European market with J2ME. However, while the J2ME and ExEn information reported back to October of 2002, the values presented for Mophun were predictions for 2003. This fact passed on the feeling that something went wrong with Mophun at an operator and manufacturer support level.
Technically speaking, Mophun has no rivals. Tests performed by independent organizations showed that, in a device where Mophun reaches 60 MIPS, J2ME only went as far as 400 KIPS (this represents a performance 150 times higher). Synergenix also adds that, in certain devices, part of the VM code is directly translated into native code, meaning that it's possible to achieve 90% of the device's maximum capability (for instance, reaching 90 MIPS in a device that reaches 100 MIPS when running native programs). The remaining characteristics are similar to ExEn's.
Like ExEn and J2ME, Mophun is also freely available. In some aspects, Synergenix's business model resembles In-Fusio's: after the game is developed, Synergenix handles certification, distribution and marketing. However, since its current network isn't very extended, it doesn't seem to be as appealing as ExEn's, which made some developers choose the theoretically weaker system.
Mophun's future is "semi-unknown". If Synergenix fails to quickly acquire additional support, it's quite likely for Mophun to be dropped in favour of less powerful but financially more appealing development technologies. However, if the promises that several operators and manufacturers are going to adopt Mophun briefly are followed, this system's advanced technical skills can make it the new leader.
The "Wireless Graphics Engine" is TTPCom's solution. Although it began being considered the main candidate for domination of the game engines' market, the lack of support by game developers ended up decreasing the initial appeal.
It's impossible denying that, from a purely technical point of view, WGE has everything to win. It may be slower than Mophun, but the several API modules make 2D and 3D programming easier (including tile management and collision detection functionalities), allow a simple access to networking functions and grant sound support, among other capabilities.
As its direct contenders, the SDK download is free and TTPCom has a business model aimed at attracting the game development teams. To the usual revenue sharing from the games sold on a download basis, there's the addition of a "minimum income" resulting from selling the games directly to the device's manufacturers.
Unfortunately, despite the initially generated "fever", the lack of support from the primary manufacturers ended up limiting WGE's success. Most software houses avoided it, which lead small companies and independent developers to follow that example. The result is easy to see: the number of games available for WGE is slightly over 30. This lack of interest shown by the majority ends up bringing an advantage for those who want to start developing for WGE: with such small internal competition, it's easier for a quality game to succeed. The disadvantage lies on the lower number of possible players, which may considerably limit the profits obtained from the game's commercialization.
Although it's wrong to say that WGE's immediate future is dark, its perspectives have been more pleasant. Considering the strong competition that the current market fragmentation will bring in the next two years, if TTPCom isn't able to bring more software houses to its catalogue, it'll hardly get the support of additional manufacturers. On the other side, without the support of additional manufacturers, it's extremely hard to attract more software houses. WGE's future depends on TTPCom's ability to break this cycle. If it makes it within the next 3 or 4 months, the growth perspectives are quite positive. Otherwise, the end is almost unavoidable.
7. Which should you choose?
At this point, a question arises: which platform shall a programmer choose? Due to the high fragmentation of this market, there isn't one answer that suits all situations. To choose the platform that best fits the situation, it's necessary to set the objectives of what the team wants to produce and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the several available platforms.
When the objective involves reaching a wide market and it's possible to make some compromises on a performance level, J2ME is the best option. If commercializing the game is also an objective, the team must expect to lose some extra time negotiating the distribution deals.
If the project requires more potentialities than those offered by J2ME and there's the option of choosing a smaller market or if the team wishes to choose a platform that offers a simple business model, ExEn should be selected.
When the most critical aspect lies on the performances (both in speed and graphical terms), Mophun appears as one of the main choices. In this case, it's important to check if taking the risk of choosing a not yet widely spread platform is a possibility.
If the option for a platform with a reduced market isn't a problem, if the objective is the creation of a high-performance game and if Mophun isn't a satisfactory choice for any reason, WGE is the best option. Once again, it's advisable to study well the choice in order to prevent excessive expenses when compared to the expected profits.
With this article, the author intended to make a brief introduction to the main wireless game development platforms. It is expected that this may aid the choice of the platform by those who wish to enter this emerging market. This analysis was limited to the four main freely available platforms, in order to make this article especially useful for the amateur development teams who seek an entrance into professional game development. However, all those who wish to go through such entrance must remember that it will only be possible with the production of quality products adapted to the specific needs of this market.