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10 years of Pocket Gamer: Mobile Mavens discuss where we've all come from

Remembering a decade of mobile gaming
10 years of Pocket Gamer: Mobile Mavens discuss where we've all come from
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Pocket Gamer turns 10 this month.

Established as a site to cover the burgeoning world of pre-smartphone mobile games - the halcyon days of number keys, Java, and WAP - PG has stuck around long enough to see the rise of touchscreen gaming ad free-to-play utterly transform the gaming industry.

Taking the milestone as a well-deserved opportunity for self-indulgence, we asked our Mobile Mavens - many of whom have been in the industry as long as us - the following:

  • What were some of your earliest mobile gaming experiences, and what impact did they have on you?
  • And do you have any favourite Pocket Gamer memories?
Wilhelm Taht

Wilhelm Taht

Executive Vice President, Games at Rovio

I guess the first time I saw someone fill up the whole screen with Snake, effectively completing the game. Never managed to get that far myself, so my first long-lasting experiences were feelings of envy. 

When it comes to Pocket Gamer, many of the memories are in person with the PG Crew. An awesome bunch to call industry friends!

As for editorial, it must be the 10/10 review we got during the Mr. Goodliving times for Playman Summer Games 3 from Stuart Dredge at the end of the dumphone era. Still warm fuzzy feelings about that one.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

My earliest memory of Pocket Gamer was Chris James (and I think Jon Jordan was there too) in a bar at some show (Develop or ECTS, I can't recall) getting drunk and telling me that they were setting up on their own and going to do something specific to mobile games.

At that time, the idea that there would ever be any money to be made in mobile games was a ridiculous concept and of course it still is (well, apart from those which make billions).

In terms of my earliest mobile games memories Snake has to feature quite highly.

The idea that there would ever be any money to be made in mobile games was ridiculous.

I vaguely remember playing that in 2001 when a call came in on my mobile, it was a recruitment agent asking if I'd like to interview for a position at a new, unnamed mobile operator for a role in their games team.

It took a further 2 years to learn that the name of the company was going to be Three.

As for Mr. Goodliving, I most remember when those guys first showed us Playman WInter Games... I was expecting skiing and iceskating, and got Sauna towel whipping and jumping into an ice lake. Gotta love it!

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

For me, it was seeing the NTT DoCoMo stuff in the early 2000s.

The idea that you had location-based games - the fishing one comes to mind, with people trying to find the best “fishing spots” in Tokyo - on these (at the time) advanced colour display mobile phones was amazing.

It so motivated me that I tried to launch a multiplayer mobile game in 2003 (SpellStrike), and then DID launch a two-player card game with viral invites in 2004/5 (Bonus Mobile, The Dozens). Jumped the gun a bit there.

When we were cranking out HTML based games for the iPhone in the pre-appstore era (2007/8), it was seeing casual games like Bejeweled that convinced me that mobile games were going to be huge.

Paul Farley

Paul Farley

CEO / Founder at Firestoke Games

This makes me feel super old!

One of my first mobile gaming experiences was FishU - a SMS fishing game where you’d send a text message with your desired fishing location, rod type and bait and then wait for a few hours to find out what you’d caught.

It was a major distraction in meetings as your catch came in and you set up your next fishing session.

I seem to remember it had a nice web portal that allowed you to view all of your fish collection in glorious 2D technicolour sprites, which was quite compelling - but at 50p a message, it makes today’s F2P games look positively charitable in comparison!

<em>Angry Birds</em> - a landmark moment for mobile gaming
Angry Birds - a landmark moment for mobile gaming

The biggest impact was probably Angry Birds. At last we had a huge, global gaming and entertainment phenomenon that was birthed and grown entirely on mobile.

Those of us in the industry from the WAP/SMS days had to endure many years of snooty comments from our console peers, until Angry Birds finally showed that mobile gaming would ultimately become the dominant gaming platform on the planet - as we always hoped it would!

My favourite Pocket Gamer moment was the review of Tag’s first game Dead Water.

Humble beginnings, but a major milestone and a huge thanks must go to the Pocket Gamer team over the years, not just for supporting us as an independent studio trying to find our way in this crazy industry, but for supporting the entire mobile games industry with such passion and professionalism.

Scott Foe

Scott Foe

Chief Product Officer at Ignited Artists

Having received one of the only "perfect 10" editorial ratings in Pocket Gamer's history of publication - for the game Reset Generation, which Pocket Gamer also named as one of the most-important handheld games - and having been inducted into Pocket Gamer's Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame, not to mention being named to the advisory board of PG Connects conferences and being given this platform for pontification as a Pocket Gamer Mobile Maven, I must say that some of the finest moments of my entire career as a professional game developer are Pocket Gamer-related.

“Some of the finest moments of my entire career are Pocket Gamer-related.”
Scott Foe

All of that said, my favourite Pocket Gamer memory is one of, on the final day of Game Developer's Conference, retiring to the lobby of the San Francisco W Hotel, where editor Jon Jordan sat down beside me to hold court with a line of eager game developers waiting to speak to him.

The conference was over, and once the crowd had cleared, Jon, obviously exhausted, turned to me to ask what game I was working on and to ask if he could see it.

That is the magic of Pocket Gamer: the people truly care about the mobile gaming industry and its inhabitants.

That true caring, exhibited by Chris James, Jon Jordan, and others at the top of the Pocket Gamer tree can be felt in every leaf and branch of the organisation.

Happy birthday, Pocket Gamer, and here's looking to another ten years of being there to bring us deep insight into the enthusiasm and business of mobile gaming!

Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke

CEO at HandyGames

My first mobile game experience was Snake on my old Nokia device in 1998.

The impact was huge - we started a company called HandyGames a year later, as we believed mobile games could be way better and bigger on phones.

And we were damn right. We developed some of the first mobile games worldwide for companies like Siemens. With games like Stack Attack, Balloon Shooter, Racer and others, we reached over 55 million installs in those early days.

We believed strongly in the mobile games market in 2000, as it was so similar to the PC. It was developed for something else (calls) but playing games just added fun to the device.

The simplicity in the games was great, so different to what existed in the PC and console market.

Nokia Belle, one of the last Symbian-powered phones
Nokia Belle, one of the last Symbian-powered phones

We developed games for embedded systems / preinstalled games, IN-FUSIO's ExEn, SMS, MMS, WAP, i-Mode, Doja, JavaME/J2ME, Brew, Symbian, iOS, Android, Blackberry - so yes we checked out every possibility of mobile games from the beginning.

Call us the living history book of the industry. We also released the first free ad-funded games in 2006.

What we learnt was that you need to be first in the markets, and to innovate - otherwise you'll need a lot of money to conquer the market later on.

If you stay still you will go out of business fast. I saw so many companies coming and going. So I guess we are the oldest private and self-funded company out there in the market in our wonderful industry.

After over 16 years in the industry, I can tell you the market changes fast so keep on rocking, my friends.

Thomas Nielsen

Thomas Nielsen

Osao Games

Wow. 10 years.

I remember sitting down at one of my earliest London mobile games events, and the guy next to me was also just getting started with his thing.

That was Chris James, who went on to become the one person I consistently saw at every event I went to from then on!

“Pocket Gamer has been the only publication that has remained relevant throughout all of these years.”
Thomas Nielsen

And that work paid off - Pocket Gamer has been the only publication that, for me, has remained relevant throughout all of these years. So a big congrats to everyone on the team!

I have many first memories for mobile, but what had the biggest impact on me was probably seeing the Synergenix Mophun games run on the early Sony Ericsson devices.

Finally, mobile games were in colour, and had a very decent framerate. In 2004, it inspired myself and a few good friends to quit our daytime jobs to venture into the mobile games goldrush.

Like many of you have already mentioned, recognition from the Pocket Gamer review team has meant a great deal.

In October 2007, when just one mobile game (Tetris) had ever before been awarded the impossible 10/10, we came out with SolaRola which went on to earn the second Platinum Award and also PG's Game Of The Year 2007.

Again, in 2010, we were fortunate enough to win PG's Mobile Game of The Year with Mystery Mania. So, needless to say, we saw no reason to follow any other publication since then.

John Ozimek

John Ozimek

Co-founder at Big Games Machine

It was the Game Boy Advance that was the catalyst for my move into mobile games. I was working as a junior PR person, and our team's biggest and best account was ARM (we were the tech geeks of the agency).

I was chatting to one of the engineers when he told me that the processor in the GBA was in fact really old, and Nintendo had literally kept the GBA design on a shelf for a few years as the Game Boy Color was selling so well.

Nintendo's Game Boy Advance - no more powerful than the phones of the day
Nintendo's Game Boy Advance - no more powerful than the phones of the day

So, for all the excitement around the GBA, in fact its innards were no better than the most basic Nokia phone. That piqued my interest!

Not too long after that, ARM came up with a demo of some incredible 3D graphics that they claimed would be in mobile phones within just a few years.

The first time I met Jon was when I persuaded him to visit ARM's offices in Maidenhead to see the demo, back when he was mainly writing for Develop. Ever since that first meeting, I have detected no outward signs that he ages like normal humans.

“You can keep your highly monetising F2P juggernauts - give me some 2D pixel art and a Nokia 6600 any time.”
John Ozimek

Not long after this, a colleague who had been spending his evenings creating a version of Repton for s60 Nokia told me he'd met a company called Macrospace who were looking for a marketing guy - and a month later I was in my dream job of helping develop games.

The first time I saw Chris, it was at MGF in 2005, where he was pitching his forthcoming games review website - to be called Pocket Gamer. Since then, he's developed his skill of blagging his way into other people's events so he can pitch PG into a fine art.

It's been great to call him a friend (well to be honest, I normally call him worse things than that) ever since. On the occasions he's stayed on the sofa (awareness of the last train home is not his strong point) I can attest to the fact he's fully housetrained.

Having gone back into the PR agency world after leaving Glu in 2006, I still miss the creativity and fun of working with artists and developers every day, and I'm always glad to see so many other people from that era (probably half the Mavens at least) still doing the thing that they love - the PG crew included.

You can keep your highly monetising F2P juggernauts - give me some 2D pixel art and a Nokia 6600 any time.

Harry Holmwood

Harry Holmwood

CEO at Marvelous Europe

I think, for me, the first glimpse of the shape of things to come came with my Palm Pilot in the late nineties.

The fact that I was downloading (via a PC) content to it, including games, to enjoy on my commute made it seem a very different prospect to, say, a Nintendo DS where I had to go out and buy a cartridge.

Palm Pilot - an early glimpse at downloadable mobile games
Palm Pilot - an early glimpse at downloadable mobile games

A couple of years later on, I remember being a BAFTA judge on an early 'mobile games' panel, finding ourselves in the ridiculous situation of judging an SMS-based Who Wants to be a Millionaire? quiz against Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on Game Boy Advance (both awesome, actually, although I forget who won).

The idea of judging a phone game against a 'proper' one was clearly so unfair.

My favourite Pocket Gamer Memories are all very hazy and followed by headaches.

Ben Vu

Ben Vu

CEO at SkyVu Entertainment

“Energy and enthusiasm is what makes Pocket Gamer stand above the rest.”
Ben Vu

The moment I caught the mobile gaming bug was while I was animating on the movie Coraline and my co-worker Shannon Tindle kept playing LocoRoco on his Sony PSP.

The game’s tilt mechanic simply blew my mind, and made me wish I could experience that on my iPod. I soon left the production to make my first Battle Bears game.

My favorite Pocket Gamer memory was spending a whole day at GDC chasing down a young PG reporter named Jon Jordan for our first games interview ever.

His energy and enthusiasm for mobile games was intense then and remains so today. To me, that endless energy is what makes Pocket Gamer stand above the rest.

Shintaro Kanaoya

Shintaro Kanaoya

CEO at Chorus Worldwide

In the early 2000s, I was still working in console-land at EA so I wasn’t really paying much attention to mobile, but I remember a floor of the office suddenly becoming all mobile and thinking “hmm, there might be something here.”

When the iPhone was announced, there was an article in Edge where a developer was talking about being able to achieve console-quality gaming, but the issue would be of how to get the interface to work with things like FPSs.

I did think at the time that that seemed like the wrong approach, and that truly mobile hits would be different from console hits.

That’s been one of the most exciting things about mobile gaming - seeing new game paradigms come to life through the interface.

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the world of PG and PGC, but the events have been really exciting and always a great showcase for talent.

The VBIP panel I was on in Helsinki was an exhausting blast! As for fondest/most lasting memory, it involves a member of the PGC team and a faulty (?) toilet door on the plane, but I’ll leave it at that...

Jani Kahrama

Jani Kahrama

Founder at Secret Exit

Nostalgia, my favourite subject!

Back in 2003, I was a young freelance 3D artist, and I bumped into a friend at a Christmas party.

“Secret Exit also turns 10 this year. The nice thing in life is that we all grow old together.”
Jani Kahrama

We started talking about video games, and he pulled out a Symbian S60 phone, showed me a game that looked impressively close to Wipeout on PS1, and told me he worked at a company that was bringing 3D games to mobile devices.

I got a job interview, told them I was lazy, incompetent, and always late, so they hired me as a game designer.

Here I am, still in the industry, with roughly similar qualifications, but applying them to a broader set of challenges.

If anything has stuck to mind over the years, it’s waiting for the review of Zen Bound to come out. So much effort had been poured into that game, so much was depending on its success, and we had no clue on how it would be received.

I can’t remember another moment in my life when such stress and nervous anticipation suddenly flips into disbelief and euphoria. 10/10 and a Platinum Award. It was unbelievable.

Incidentally, Secret Exit also turns 10 years old come December. The nice thing in life is that we all grow old together.

Three cheers to PG.

Kadri Harma

Kadri Harma

CEO at GameFounders

In transition from the Soviet Union, everything reached us a bit late - and so did mobile phones. They were so expensive, that my first mobile phone was bought together with a friend.

This means we needed to agree who had it for which day of the week to even play in the first place! The only game that was on there was Snake, of course. That experience taught me to not share phones.

My favourite memories have been discussing new event concepts and world domination plans with Chris. The cool thing about both Chris and Jon is that they are very open to everything new and different, which also makes the essence of Pocket Gamer.

Looking forward to the next 10!

Jared Steffes

Jared Steffes

Co-founder at Muxy

Congrats, Steel Media pals!

I'm very proud to see Pocket Gamer make it to 10 years and to have become friends with so many people through PG.

My first true mobile gaming experience came from the handheld led light games. I even still have electronic American Football.

The first experience I had with Pocket Gamer, besides reading the website, was at GDC 2009. I was working on a new type of mobile ad unit that was the first unit to go beyond a banner ad.

Jon's hand - sometime in 2009
Jon's hand - sometime in 2009

It was at one of their parties at GDC where I met Jon Jordan, black nail polish that GDC, and Chris James.

Thanks for all the great memories and insightful articles!

Richard Hazenberg

Richard Hazenberg

CEO at Lunagames

Great achievement - congrats!

As a pre-smartphone company playing Snake on my black and white Nokia was my first experience with mobile gaming, and with the first colored displays hitting the market I decided to pursue my dream of starting gaming company.

<em>Snake</em> - once the pinnacle of mobile gaming
Snake - once the pinnacle of mobile gaming

Thus, Lunagames was born.

Instead of a particular moment, I'd say the whole journey and staying in touch with the market through Pocket Gamer from the earlier feature phone days to the big smartphone market today has been an amazing ride.

Great job!

[people id="11" name="Brian Baglow"]

Earliest memory of mobile gaming has to be joining Digital Bridges back in 2000 (I think) and getting an Ericsson R320 as my first WAP-enabled phone.

“The games sector didn't believe in mobile, and the mobile sector preferred stocks and share prices”
Brian Baglow

I called Vodafone to find out how to get it online and they faxed me 9 pages of detailed instructions. I knew then that mobile gaming was the future...

Despite the restrictions and limited graphics, ideas like the massively multiplayer Star Trek game we were developing for Viacom/Paramount and Steve Jackson's Sorcery choose-your-own-adventure (world's first colour mobile game I think) showed that mobile gaming could be a serious games platform.

It just so happened that the games sector didn't believe mobile phones were a viable platform, and the mobile sector believed that stocks and share prices were sort of content that people really wanted.

As for Pocket Gamer, I vaguely remember meeting Mr. James at the networking party for some mobile event in Earl's Court in 2003-4(ish) and drunkenly bending his ear for several hours about why mobile gaming was the future and that a dedicated website would be an awesome idea (since it mean there would be someone who'd cover our games...)

I'm sure I also suggested to him that flowery shirts were a crucial part of any gentleman's wardrobe.