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Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Mobile games poised for take-off

Games on mobile phones are about to take off, just like console gaming did, says industry veteran Greg Ballard.

The boss of mobile games firm Sorrent/Macrospace and former head of games firm Capcom US, he launched Street Fighter and Resident Evil.

"We're seeing results that are reminiscent to me of the early console days in the 1990s," said Mr Ballard.

"There are titles now in mobile that will do between $6-10m," he told the BBC News website.

"That's half as big as the console business was in early 1990s yet it's only in the second or third year of business," he added.

Growth curve
Knowing that some games will do well was hugely important, said Mr Ballard.

"If we can say we believe that this title will do $10m it allows us to spend more money developing and marketing that game," he said.

"This is the first year I can look the marketing people in the eyes and say they may have a budget."

Those extra resources will help games reach a wider audience, said Mr Ballard, which will feed into more development for future games.

Success will also help mobile game makers persuade shops and stores to stock games. For all these reasons, said Mr Ballard, 2005/6 were going to be big years for mobile games.

Mr Ballard oversaw the release of titles such as Resident Evil And, he added, no-one really knows how big an audience they will gather.

"What's exciting about this is that lately everybody has a cellphone - even 10-13 year olds have them."

Research by Sorrent/Macrospace shows that younger people are by far the biggest users of mobile content such as games, ringtones and screen savers.

Sorrent found that 64% of the general phone-owning population play a game on their handset once a day or more. But 84% of those aged 10 to13 play daily.

But, said Mr Ballard, although numbers of players are rising and some titles are making millions, it was by no means clear which game makers would prosper.

"The assumption is that console companies are the natural heirs to this business," he said.

Time travel
But although some gamers did want more of what they got on consoles, many others wanted something less demanding that they could pick up and put down as necessary.

Gambling games are popular with many mobile players "You tend to see games that are not big sellers in other worlds are successful on this platform," he said.

One of Sorrent/Macrospace's top titles was its daily puzzle which gives people three problems to solve within a time limit, he said. When a player has completed the puzzles they get feedback on how their time compared to others.

Poker games and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? were also big hits.

Although Murdoch's News International have declared intentions to get into mobile gaming, it was by no means clear that they would prosper either, he said.

"They cannot get into the business without buying one of the players because its so complex and the technology has gone so far," he said. "For someone to think they can jump in straight from scratch is na?ve and one thing these companies are not it is na?ve."

And if these larger companies were going to make a move they would have to hurry up, he said because the frenetic pace of the mobile games industry is like no other sector.

"Internet time seems like a luxury," he said, "it's nothing compared to the pace of change we have seen in this space."

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