Cell Phones: A New MMO Market?

Cell Phone MMOs this year? Not for a while I don’t think…and yet we’re seeing articles and analysts saying that in 2008, the “trend” will be cell phone MMOs. One word…bullshit. In 2008, we will not see any cellphone MMOs come out. Not one….in North America that is. In Japan, more than likely because people over there never look up. The biggest technical issue that people will be hit with for a cell phone MMOs is the platform. There are many, many, many platforms out there on cell phones. Some use Java (Blackberry), some use a Windows Mobile platform, some use Linux (Motorola), some may even use their own proprietary platform. Now, from what I’ve seen so far, gaming companies have quite a fun time just with the whole console vs PC vs Mac issue….can you imagine the fun they’ll have with this? Sure, I’m willing to concede that they’ll find “tricks” to get around these things and why not, that’s what game devs are paid for…but this will not be solved this year (…unless they’ve had a head start that I don’t know about….). And take a look at all of the brands and models of cell phones out there. Mix that with the various platform versions and releases companies have?.oy. How will messaging be done? SMS? Over email (…likely…)? Will it be it’s own data service? How will billing work? What’s the carrier’s cut? How will this effect battery life? Will it be a push or pull service? How will it interact with calls? 911 interference (…I hope not…)?? How will security work?

Another issue that makes this all bullshit is performance expectations. Take a look again at the article I linked above from Massively. See the picture of the cell phone with WoW in it? That is what people are going to expect when it comes to an MMO on a cell phone platform. Ummmm, no…and shame on Massively for starting this off on the wrong foot. Sure, most readers aren’t dumb and understand, but some are quite dumb and those are usually the ones that will go onto your forums screaming about how your product sucks. What we will get at first is nothing like the picture. We’ll probably get a simple application that allows us to communicate details to our account. Eve Online is a perfect example of this….skill training maybe. Perhaps an MMO will come out that you have on your cell that gives you alerts about crafting, or gives you a mini game that you can do for more gold. Or maybe it’ll be a simple application a la Webkinz that allows you to play in a semi-persistent world with your character. Maybe there will be a cell phone tie-in to an MMO that sits on your desktop (…more likely…). It will not be big, it will not be flashy, but it will be functional in a limited sense and hey, it may be fun as hell.

Another thing we’ve got to be real about is that cell phone performance varies from location to location. Sure, you’ve got Wi-fi and Bluetooth, but those have limited range and have other disadvantages that don’t cater to a “user on the move”. If you’re not in a hotspot, then forget about checking on your Eve skills or feeding your cute little anime kitty cat. Let’s face it, MMO gamers are sticklers for connectivity. When their game goes down, they are not happy. Something just tells me that a cell phone MMO would just be an exercise in frustration for most. Now, manage those expectations and the problem is greatly reduced.

Now the good thing is that John Carmack is on the case, which is a very good sign because he doesn’t make games. Don’t look at me like that….he doesn’t. John is a technology guy, not a game guy. He makes tech demos…not games. He’s is a (…if not THE…)pioneer on gaming engines for the PC. If anyone can come up with a solution that will work, it’s John. John will come up with an engine that will work and that will kick some ass. He’ll probably be the one that overcomes the platform issue. He probably won’t be able to deal with the roaming issues that come with cell phone networks. Look for John’s first solution to be of the Wi-fi/hotspot variety with on a single cell phone carrier network (?Verizon maybe?. Hell?it might even be an MMO on a stand alone device a la the PSP.

So…to summarize:
- cell phone MMO in 2008: Bullshit (…for North America…)
- manage expectations (…shame on Massively…)
- first cell phone MMO via Wi-fi?single carrier or device.
- John Carmack is our hero.

D out.

EDIT: Cameron was kind enough to post a link to an existing cell MMO called Tibia. So, maybe I was incorrect on calling bullshit for this one, however note what they say in their FAQ, which is the point I?m getting to :
?All Java enabled mobile devices with a color display of at least 128?128 pixels, 130kbytes of memory and MIDP 2.0 support. Unfortunately we cannot test TibiaME on every existing mobile device. If you have problems playing TibiaME on your mobile device please send us some feedback. ?

And also from a review:
?Because of latency or lag, the movement rate in TibiaME is extremely slow, characters crawl along at a steady, smooth but low speed in order to cope with the massive numbers of people and monsters online. Obviously there?s not much that can be done about this on 2G and 2.5G phone networks, and even 3G networks may suffer from latency despite their much higher data speeds. However, many of the latest S60 3rd Edition phones have 3.5G (HSDPA) connections and/or Wi-fi connections, both of which have much less latency, and so could cope with faster in-game movement. Perhaps the TibiaME team should construct a separate, faster game world for players who have access to low-latency connections?

Also note that this seems to be only supported on Nokia phones, who use the Symbian platform. They claim Java support, so Blackberry is a possibility as well, although some seem to have issues with The Perl. So again, support is limited to certain platforms and perfomance is questionable depending on your network.

…thanks Cam.

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