Feature

A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2000 - A brave new world

A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2000 - A brave new world

We had survived. The world hadn't blown up, collapsed or come to a juddering halt at one second past midnight on December 31st, 1999.

But if we woke up with a headache, we came back to the office ready to catapult the mobile games industry into the big time. And indeed, 2000 was the year that two of the giants of the mobile games industry were born.

One of the most important was publisher JAMDAT Mobile.

It was founded by three ex-Activision game execs - vice president Scott Lahman, creative director Zachary Norman, and Austin Murray who inbetween Activision and JAMDAT worked with US operator Sprint.

Mitch Lasky, another ex-Activision exec, joined as CEO in November. (JAMDAT would float itself on the US NASDAQ exchange in October 2004 and then get gobbled up by EA in December 2005, but that's another story.)

It wasn't just the Americans who were positive about the future of mobile games either.

The start of Gameloft

February 2000 saw the founding of French company Ludigames (aka Ludiwap). Headed by Michel Guillemot, it was the mobile game joint venture between Ubisoft and the Guillemot Corporation; both companies controlled by the Guillemot family.

Sorcery looked surprisingly good despite its monochrome images being limited to less than 3,000 pixels.

(Keeping things in the family, it eventually merged with Ubisoft's online games portal Gameloft.com, becoming Gameloft in 2002.)

There was also plenty of activity when it came to setting up mobile developers. Handy Games started up in Germany (and still going strong), IOMO opened its doors in the UK, while Scandinavia saw the launch of one of the most innovative early developers in the shape of Swedish company Picofun, and one of the most over-hyped, Finnish outfit Riot-E.

But this is a history of mobile games and so far there's been a severe lack of them. Here's a taste of a couple of the best released in 2000.

Turning the pages

One of the greats of the British games industry, Steve Jackson co-created the Fighting Fantasy books with Ian Livingstone. Both also co-founded Games Workshop.

Years later, he got involved in computer games with Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios, and it was at the next door office in Guildford that he bumped into Digital Bridges' founder Kevin Bradshaw.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery published by Digital Bridges

Kevin managed to convince Steve that mobile games were going to be the next big thing. The result was Steve Jackson's Sorcery.

It was an inspired choice as this type of branching fantasy adventure when you make a choice between various options (turning over the required page to progress the plot forward in the book versions), was ideal for the server-based WAP technology; which worked best with slow paced, turn-based adventures.

For the time, Sorcery was a beautifully designed game, which looked surprisingly good despite its monochrome images being limited to less than 3,000 pixels.

It also boasted a solid fighting mechanic and a complex spell system. Sadly though, despite being based on a trilogy of books, no further games in the series were ever released.

Fishing for success

At heart, Alien Fish Exchange was a connected version of Tamagotchi. Originally designed for interactive TV (UK developer nGame had a deal with cable company NTL), it was very simple: pick an alien fish and breed it.

Alien Fish Exchange from nGame

You started off with a couple of species to look after - feeding and playing with them in your virtual fish tank - with the aim of keeping them happy so they would breed and their offspring mutate into new types. Then, by going online using WAP, you could buy and swap new species. For example, you could sell your fish to restaurants to gain cash, while breeding ever more exotic creations saw you working your way up the global leaderboard.

Incidentally, one of the strangest aspects of Alien Fish Exchange is the fact it's cited in a US patent (#7179171) from Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories.

This patent is for virtual fish breeding on mobile phones, and unlike Alien Fish Exchange you breed real (well virtually real) fish species. Some people will patent anything.

A Brief History of Mobile Games: Intro
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 1990s - Snake and WAP
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2001 - Vivazzi, Picofun and Riot-E
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2002 - Java, BREW and Space Invaders
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2003 - Colour phones and N-Gage
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2004 - JAMDAT, IOMO and EA Mobile
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2005 - Gizmondo, Tetris and Glu
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2006 - 3D, iFone and Gizmondo
A Brief History of Mobile Games: 2007/8 - New N-Gage and iPhone


After 12 years in the games industry, the last eight as head of production at I-play, Chris Wright finally escaped. He now runs his own consultancy focusing on casual games. He can be contacted at chris [at] gamesconsultancy.com. All opinions expressed are the author's own.

After 12 years in the games industry, the last eight as head of production at I-play, Chris Wright finally has escaped. He now runs his own consultancy focusing on casual games. He thinks his greatest achievement is being called a 'veteran of the mobile games industry'. His greatest regret is not completing Gears of War, even on the easiest setting.

Comments

No comments
View options
  • Order by latest to oldest
  • Order by oldest to latest
  • Show all replies