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Keys to Mobile Entertainment Success

Despite industry scepticism and technological restrictions, the mobile entertainment industry is set to explode. The total number of users of mobile gaming services is forecast to grow more than 18-fold over the next five years from 43m to nearly 850m users by 2006.1

The question is no longer whether mobile entertainment will become popular and lucrative but which applications and business models will captivate the public and gain developer mind share. So, what are the mobile entertainment success factors?

Pick 'n' mix

Firstly, variety is vital for the success of any entertainment medium. It not only affects consumers' activity and platform preferences, but also whether or not they decide to seek entertainment at all. Television networks don't exist without a full slate of programming. Service providers must offer an ever-changing variety for mobile entertainment to thrive. This can mean universal brands and content formats mixed with localised selections or cross-media synergies.

Secondly, entertainment is often an experience best shared. The mobile medium offers more opportunities to share the entertainment experience than any other medium. Players can play against friends or be matched anonymously. For example, a Tamagochi game, launched on a Cash-U mobile entertainment platform, attracted more players when it enabled players to exchange pets.

Hobson's choice

The success of the use of mobile phones for entertainment depends largely on its availability in the absence of any other medium. Therefore, mobile terminals will, at least in the short term, continue to be the entertainment platform of last choice. All the same, last choice is better than no choice.

Another important consideration is that services and applications offered need to match the space, time-constraints and headspace associated with the use of mobile terminals. The mobile handset is a limited entertainment platform compared to the other consoles. These limitations don't render entertainment and game design impossible, but they are nevertheless significant.

A built-in billing mechanism is also critical to ensure the commercial viability of mobile entertainment and can add to the consumer experience. For example, an interesting twist on the 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' way of settling issues such as 'who waits in line at the cinema' would be to increase the stakes by setting up the game so the winner is not only excused from queuing-up, but also exempted from paying for the exchange in a 'Loser Pays All' twist on the popular betting standard.

In the mobile world such a billing system already exists, technically. Moreover, users worldwide accept it. In fact, most of us pay our phone bills without questioning each specific line on the bill.

Timing is everything

Like in the entertainment industry in general, mobile gaming has to identify, develop, produce, distribute and promote products and services in a timely manner, and in tune with popular tastes and demands. Fast development and deployment over large networks to large consumer markets will make adapting popular and emerging trends from other mediums to mobile easier.

A game based on the Academy Awards, for instance, giving consumers the chance to cast their votes and compete for the most accurate voting record, could be developed, deployed and marketed within the time-frame between the announcement of the nominees and the awards ceremony. This acceleration in lifecycle creates opportunities to consistently and profitably exploit previously unpromising areas, such as flash-in-the-pan hits and seasonal activities.

As technologies improve, so will the content's production values and aesthetic experiences: Downloading capabilities, bandwidth, platform and network capabilities and compression technologies will all increasingly positively influence mobile entertainment experiences. WAP enables limited animation; J2ME already exists and provides a possibility to renew games and change levels; and soon audiovisual capabilities, smoother animation, colour screens (iMode is already there) and user base tracking will enable richer activities.

Brands and trends

There are now exciting examples of mobile games, hyped by appropriate branding, making real and broad impact. Italy's Omnitel-Vodafone launched a game, produced by e-Muse, which incorporated the popular character of Megan, a well-known model, as a virtual lover. The attraction of the players was immediate.

The popularity and possibilities of mobile entertainment continue to grow. The increasing interest in the medium, new brands and cross-promotion, as well as the growing number of consumers with access to handsets and networks offering entertainment options, will create a groundswell of interest and excitement in the mobile terminal. And, mobile entertainment will become more fashionable.

The young, and their older predecessors, will remain the early adopters of new types and content formats while mobile communications penetrates other segments. These new segments, however, may eventually make up both the largest growth area and the biggest segment in total.

In summary, the mobile medium, at first glance, appears to hold little potential for entertainment. Its well-known lack of audio-visual impact, low data transfer rates and very limited client-side capabilities make difficult-to-overcome barriers. Nevertheless, with the growing popularity and penetration of mobile phones, and its place as a promising medium for providing content in general and entertainment, it will necessarily become a major business for those who capitalise on it.

This opinion piece is based on the white paper Rann Smorodinsky wrote jointly with Mr. Leeron Travish, Founder & Director, Universal Mobile Entertainment ltd. (UME). For the full white paper please visit Cash-U's web site - www.cash-u.com

Rann Smorodinsky, (Ph.D., MBA) is an expert in the field of Game Theory, which applies mathematical models to the analysis of strategic interactions. Since 1998, Rann has been a faculty member of The Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology. Prior to this, he was a Professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Rann holds B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees in Mathematics, and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Rann also founded the Mobile Entertainment Forum and is extremely knowledgeable about the mobile gaming industry.

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