Interview: 3 UK talks mobile games

Outsourcing, personalisation, and the long tail

Interview: 3 UK talks mobile games
When 3 UK recently outsourced the management of its mobile games service to Buongiorno, it was just the latest UK operator to go out-of-house in this way, following the likes of T-Mobile (Qpass) and Vodafone (End2End).

We talked to Xavier Louis, games product manager at 3, to find out more about the rationale behind the move, and on the operator's games strategy more generally.

Buongiorno has actually been running the service since October, and Louis says early results have been good. "It's going very well," he says. "We've seen a huge increase in terms of sales and downloads."

So what's improved? Louis says that content on 3's portal is displayed more effectively, with more screenshots for each game, a new search engine, and the inclusion of game reviews via a syndication deal with our sister site Pocket Gamer.

"We also have personalisation and recommendations," he says. "We'll be recommending to people things that relate to what they bought already, whether that's puzzle games, sports games, or games for girls. It's much more like the online companies like Amazon."

Interestingly, Louis says 3 is also focused on "providing the greatest catalogue possible" on its portal - and that's greatest as in biggest. He even mentions the long tail - an idea that's often been anathema to mobile operators.

"If I'm a customer and I want to buy a cricket game, I don't want a choice of just one, but the possibility to see a selection," says Louis. "That's naturally what customers want, and it drives more usage."

3 was one of the first mobile operators to try flexible pricing on its portal, with games being offered as rental or cheap titles alongside full-priced games. However, this strategy has now been expanded, as Louis explains.

"In the past, a game was the same price across all handsets, regardless of whether they were prepay or post-pay," he says.

"Today, we can provide the same game at a different price. If it's a prepay handset, the game will be priced lower, but if the game is high-quality on a high-end handset, it might be higher. Even Tetris might be a different price on different handsets."

Buongiorno has also launched something called the 3 Games Club for the operator, offering exclusive titles, pricing discounts and competitions for 3's keener customers. Plus, there's a web version of the store, so people can buy games online as well as on their phones.

Besides that sales increase, is there more proof that the changes are for the better? "The conversion rate has improved a lot compared to the previous service, and we are seeing a greater number of repeat customers coming back to the store," says Louis.

"It's not a revolution though - we're really just improving and filling in the gaps that we have identified.

Other interesting initiatives from 3 including launching an application store with GetJar, while connected mobile games are also on Louis's horizons.

"If customers want to have gaming online, this is something we will be driving," he says. Although 3 had previously launched a suite of mobile multiplayer games using Terraplay's platform, it seems that the operator will be renewing its commitment to connected games in 2009.

"We don't have a huge selection of online or connected games, but it's something we are growing step-by-step," he says. "Last year, we were the first European operator to provide multiplayer poker with World Poker Tour multiplayer, for example."

He goes further, though, and says 3 actively wants more publishers to bring it connected mobile games. "We can't find enough connected and online games to promote to our customers," he says. "We need more content."

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)