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The Mobile Gaming Mavens get excited about hitting the big screen with the rise of smart TVs

Boxing clever
The Mobile Gaming Mavens get excited about hitting the big screen with the rise of smart TVs

The Mobile Mavens are our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

This week, with CES 2012 still fresh in our minds, the question was:

With OS companies such as Google and Apple, as well as OEMs like Samsung, LG and Sony, heavily focused on smart TVs, do you think this will be the next big opportunity for mobile game developers?

On a technical level, the Mavens had no doubt mobile game developers were perfectly placed for the new opportunity.

Indeed, Michael Schade of Fishlabs thought the necessary flexibility of design needed to create for multiple devices translated well to TVs.

"Ultimately, the mobile device is becoming your personal, connected hub for any kind of media and the level of fidelity depends just on the hardware that is in your palm and/or around you," he reckoned.

"Mobile devs in particular have already figured out mobile controls, technology, digital distribution, business models, speed of innovation and last but not least the right games all the way from casual to hardcore in Full HD.

"On top of that, mobile is the largest install base anyway and if you have a real hit on mobile it already has a larger player community than any console or PC game can ever have. Hard to beat that!"

Changing the channel

Thomas Nielsen of Progressive Media agreed; "It is very much in the nature of a 'true' mobile developer to accept and embrace the opportunities - and challenges - in delivering great experiences across different platforms. It's been forced upon us, so we learn to navigate those challenges."

Machineworks' Andreas Vahsen was of like mind.

"It's going to be a huge sales channel for mobile gaming. It could be big even faster if Samsung & co don't subscribe to the Java/Flash nonsense and just offer a straight C++ solution. The chips are there, the software interfaces - not yet."

"A decade of unfulfilled promises before someone comes and does it right," warned Will Luton of Mobile Pie.

"It's all about user interaction and I don't think the mobile is the right interface, it needs to be more ubiquitous. My eyes are on Apple, motion tracking and voice control." 

HandyGames' Christopher Kassulke summed the prevailing feeling up nicely; "The mobile games market is killing the portable gaming consoles. Perhaps it's time to fight against the real game consoles?"

Different way to play

By contrast, Sandy Duncan, of middleware company YoYo Games, thought that the new medium would require new types of games.

"What kind of games will capture the imagination on a TV where the players typically sit several feet away from the device, with a 'remote' as the input device in a communal or family setting is anybody's guess," he said.

"Who amongst us would have predicted that a company like Zynga would have a $10 billion valuation based largely on Facebook?"

"Maybe this is the moment that the 'old' media companies like CBS, NBC, the Beeb, Warners etc, finally carpe diem and prove their value in the new, digital world."

Socially speaking

Duncan also suggested TV games would need to be both social and family-oriented to succeed.

"I can't see the family TV being turned over to games without some obvious connection to the current function of the TV in most homes."

Certain mobile games and streaming tech would definitely transition and create an appetite - he just wasn't sure it would be the main smart TV audience.

Strategy Analytics' David MacQueen was perfectly placed to join in the debate, having conducted research into smart TVs.

"People don't like using connected TV in the living room for things like social networking, because they don't necessarily want their Facebook activity shared with the entire family," he deduced.

Despite that, he did agree that the games had to be more social - "not in the sense of social networks, but social where people are in the same room at the same time", as Nintendo had attempted with the Wii.

You decide

So if the mobile developers are mostly confident about developing for smart TVs, is the public ready to buy them? Thomas Nielsen wasn't sure.

"For our company, it all comes down to monetisation. Will we be able to charge for our products, somehow? Will end-users be able to - and comfortable with - spending money, or will other stakeholders invest into games?" he said. 

"Unfortunately I don't see many really great offerings on that front yet - similar challenge with HTML5 - so as a commercially viable platform, it will take time to establish itself."

Dave Castelnuovo, of Bolt Creative, was skeptical - contrary to his New Year's resolution to be relentlessly positive.

"TV buying habits are way different than mobile, console or other TV hardware ... I can guarantee that Sony, Google, Samsung, etc won't be able to change the market where everyone suddenly buys the hot new TV every couple of years."

Up the AirPlay

Focusing on Apple's TVs in particular, Castelnuovo raised doubts about its strategy.

"I think a new Apple TV box that is a big evolutionary leap above what they have now would sell better than a big screen. And let's face it, if Apple does come out with a screen, the software does need to be a big evolutionary leap over the existing Apple TV anyway.

"Hopefully it goes with both options, the high end screen, but if you really like your existing TV, you can get the same thing in a box."

Technically, given the state of AirPlay, he thought that Apple was more likely to focus on pushing content from the increasingly-powerful mobile devices to the TV, given the length of the TV upgrade cycle.

"Users will still buy their mobile apps on their iPhone and iPad and have a mode where the iPhone is the controller and the game is broadcast to any Apple TV.

"There will probably be a market for native Apple TV apps but I think it has to be much smaller than the existing iPad app market." 

Porting perfect?

Tracy Erickson of Unity's Union program is already working with developers on making games for the forthcoming LG smart TVs.

"Hardware is less important here than the software that powers the experience - both games and the operating system," he argued.

Despite that, he was skeptical of AirPlay being the sole medium for gameplay, as it wouldn't capture the imagination of the mass market.

"The focus ought to be on quality game design and delivering phenomenal experiences for all users, not just the early adopters who crave obscure features and can tinker with complicated settings," he said. 

"Nobody buys a Nintendo 3DS to gawk at the two screens or purely for the 3D, they buy it to play Super Mario Land 3D. It's content that will make or break smart TVs, which is precisely why Unity is driving top-notch games onto these platforms through Union."

Furywing's Jared Steffes pointed out that there were plenty of known unknowns to be dealt with.

"The casual audience is going to be the key for smart TV and they will expect the same treatment they get on mobile; low price/free and quality entertainment," he said.

"The big questions are how is freemium going to translate to the TV? Will there be a simple way to develop for each TV platform (like Union), and what types of new advertising are going to be accepted by players?

"I believe most of us are excited for Apple's offering because we can expect to be able to easily port our titles."

At home with phone

Erickson did agree with Sandy Duncan's argument about there being a new gaming paradigm on smart TVs, though.

"I believe that it will be focused on simple features (i.e. remote and/or gesture control rather than cross-device connectivity), rich production values, and gameplay that has value (not grinding social games or throwaway party games, but competitive multiplayer titles played on a single TV, puzzle games, streamlined, highly polished action and adventure games)."

Mills™ of ustwo concluded that the control interface will be key.

"I don't want a TV with a remote that also tries to be a game controller," he said.

"It would (and is already) far too Chegwin," he said, making reference to a notoriously cheesy UK TV presenter.

"Nothing is hornier than the prospect of my phone, my personal power stick, being second screen when it comes to TV - just feels right - I love my mini man so much and want it to be my magic wand."

We're assuming he was talking about his iPhone, but with mills, you never can tell.