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MGF 2010: Do social networks and mobile games play well together?

The reason Facebook games don’t work on iPhone
MGF 2010: Do social networks and mobile games play well together?
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The first panel talk of the second day of the Mobile Games Forum tackled the subject of The role of social networks in mobile games.

Chairman Tim Harrison kicked off with the question: Is the rise of mobile social networking having a negative effect on mobile games?

Neil Holroyd, head of games, Orange UK

We adapted and put our games within the social network channel. You have to move to where the customers are.

Aaron Johnston, principal product manager, Vodafone

I don't think games and social networks are competitors for the operator. With Vodafone 360, we're bringing everything together in one place so people can do social networking and gaming together on mobile and web.

Robert Unsworth, veep, sales, EMEA, Digital Chocolate

The stalling of the J2ME mobile games has been due to device sales, not social gaming. A lot of mobile digital consumption is around new mobile devices so it's all about people getting new phones. Also the environment has changed in terms of how people consume media in a bite-sized manner across different devices - Facebook, DS, iPhone, Flash - and it's a challenge for developers to meet those needs. Although with J2ME, we address 1500 devices in 5 to 9 languages, so I don't think the new environment is that difficult to deal with and it's definitely more lucrative.

Joe Wee, MD, Chillingo

For us social networks are an enabler for mobile gaming, so the issue is how do you convert a social network into people who will buy your games, and how does that affect the pricing structure? As a publisher, we work with independent developers and we experimented with social networks but we found there's no correlation between community size and sales, which is a reason we built our own social network, Crystal, so we can get our own data to analyse.

Aaron Johnston: The operator has an important role in terms of gaining data on consumers and to be able to provide them with other services, so we can help in a technical aspects and once we understand what the business case for games, we're happy to invest in this area. The operator can provide that high level view.

Neil Holroyd: We have some cross-platform technology, but we have an open community service. We don't want to create our own community but make sure we can link into Facebook and like. We've always had that open concept.

Q: N-Gage Arena was a community, so what's Nokia's view now?

Mark Ollila, director, X-Media Solutions, Media & Games, Nokia

We're looking at working with thirdparty partners. We're looking at having enablers in the device so users can easily access their communities with things like Skype calls direct onto your handset. But what is the social network? Is is Facebook or is it the friends you have external to the web. This can be based around location-based communities which could be used for gaming. An example is Ovi Maps Racing, where you're using local groups for gaming.

Q: How do smaller companies building communities compete with the likes Facebook and Twitter?

Cornelius Rost, CEO, Blue Lion Mobile

Things look different in India and Indonesia, where people are discovering the internet for the first time through their mobile phones. This creates an opportunity for services like us. We can also market through Facebook, although we haven't done that successfully yet, so there's work to be done there.

Q: We will have multiple social gaming networks or would it be better for Apple to be the standard?

Joe Wee: We want to know our customers. Crystal gives us that direct relationship with them and enables us to develop better games. There's also a viral aspect to Crystal, and the platform will enable us to influence gamers to be more viral. Also I think all iPhone games need to be social now. People expect it.

Aaron Johnston: We also must think about privacy of the customer and how easy it is for them to control the levels of information they provide us. I wouldn't be surprised if within the EU this aspect will be tightened up in 2010. A mobile operator has a legal requirement. I don't think we'll be able to mine personal data with impunity forever.

Mark Ollila: For me, much more interesting data is feedback that X percent of users can't complete level one.

Robert Unsworth: In terms of games as service, we need to know what the customer wants. It's Do they like this product? What don't they like? Was this too difficult to understand? This is where we need to shift from the old mobile model. Getting real-time feedback for customers is key. In terms of J2ME, we end up working on sales data that's over three months old. It's like driving a car in the rear view mirror. So moving into a social network empowers the player and establish a relationship with them, provides data and that improves the product.

Jamie Conyngham, CEO, Dojo Media: The carriers don't have the same information as the game developer does in terms of multiplayer online games so the carriers come to us to find out information such as how often people are playing, when they're playing?

Also we get a global perspective from our games, which is much more useful than trying to get all the data from all operators in all countries, which is an admin nightmare. Social network companies offer much better information than operator can.

Joe Wee: On iPhone, we are working with Apple in terms of what privacy restrictions we have to deal with so that's very different to the carrier world. The deal companies have with Apple is an agent agreement. Apple works as an agent so it's legally there's relationship between the publisher and the consumer.

Robert Unsworth: The lack of visibility in the Java world is more technical than operators not wanting to give us data though. I think this will be fixed in the coming years but the Apple paradigm is the exception rather than the rule. Not everyone wants an iPhone. Social networks work on the lack of walled gardens so if we can't impose solutions. Open standards won't work. We need market-led standards such as Facebook Connect. Gaming's been so successful on Facebook because companies were fluid and didn't try to impose an end-to-end solution.

Aaron Johnston: iPhone is important to Vodafone and we will sell a lot of them. The challenge is how do we pull services together? We're not putting walls around social networking. Vodafone 360 is an aggregation service.

Mark Ollila: How does a great browser on the device such as the N900, with a full Flash, change the situation? Web runtimes could be disruptive and I think we need to consider that.

Aaron Johnston: But aren't mobile experience different to PC web ones? Flash isn't going to solve the different ways people use their devices. And browsers won't let you go have native experiences.

Mark Ollila: Web technologies are enabling such features though in terms of camera, location...

Q: Will social gaming companies such as Zynga and Playfish be important for mobile in 2010?

Neil Holroyd: They just want to work on Facebook at the moment. If they want to work on mobile, certainly we'll work with them.

Q: Does anyone else have experience of how the size of communities corresponds to the sales you can generate from them?

Robert Unsworth: Digital Chocolate is a cross-platform player and what encourages us is the success of original games on Facebook but while this works with 350 million Facebook users, with iPhone, the numbers are much smaller and you only need one break - a friend without an iPhone - then you break the viral chain. That's why mobile is different to social networks. It's very difficult to hit all devices and enable consumers to be inter operable with their friends.

Cornelius Rost: The other issue with social networks is that while the number of users is huge but that doesn't mean that developers can get access to them all. The opposite probably the case because of the amount of competition. You'll probably better off talking to a smaller niche group. Large networks provide an opportunity, but the larger and more social, the harder it is for each application.

Jayne Conyngham: Mobile very good for the global distribution for free content. We launched our game on Mobango and GetJar and it spread through Russia to the Middle East to 120 countries in days. We didn't have to do very much.