Ludicrous Software

GDC Mobile Recap

GDC Mobile has come and gone for another year, so I thought I’d post some thoughts about the event, both in general and from the perspective of a Flash Lite developer.

Generally, it was a pretty downbeat conference this year. The overarching theme was basically that the mobile operators are making it really, really difficult to work in, let alone innovate, in the mobile games space. Almost all of the presentations I saw to some degree touched on the notion that the mobile games industry won’t significantly grow or evolve unless something is done to break the operator’s strangehold on distribution of mobile games.

The advent of the iPhone and other Wi-Fi-capable devices was seen as an important first step toward that goal - in one session, a poll was taken of iPhone owners in the audience, of which there were many, and not one had visited their mobile operator’s deck. Of course, in the case of the iPhone there’s the very real concern that distribution through iTunes is basically just substituting one tightly controlled deck for another. But, the general notion that mobile users are growing more comfortable with the idea of accessing content off-deck was greeted quite positively.

The other major general theme was the growth of SNS (Social Networking Systems) in mobile. David Collier (DC) of Pikkle demonstrated some of the most popular Japanese mobile SNS during his talk, and another session was all about the SNS elements of Playyoo, and various other presenters mentioned social networking as an important component of any mobile app.

In terms of Flash Lite specifically, it had some representation in the presentations that I attended. Most notable was DC’s presentation about SNS in Japan, in which all of the games and, in some instances, the entire interface is developed in Flash Lite. (Disclaimer: I do some work with DC - and had the pleasure of seeing one some of my stuff demonstrated during his talk. So while I think it’s all pretty darn cool, I may be biased. :)

Although the presentation about Playoo was not about the games, per se, all of the games on Playyoo are also done in Flash Lite, so this was another notable mention.

Outside of that, Flash Lite received passing attention in some of the other sessions, for two main reasons:

  1. Rich visual experience. Much easier with Flash Lite than other technologies.
  2. Reduced/non-existent porting costs. In the Monday keynote, the CEO of Gameloft said that they have to maintain 50,000 SKUs for five games, given the number of handsets they target and the languages the game will be translated into. Consider that Gameloft releases about five games per month, and you quickly get an idea of how much time, money, and effort is spent in porting. By comparison, DC mentioned during his talk that in developing a site that targetted about 200 handsets, he only tested on 20 of them. Tested, not ported. And since it’s next to impossible to actually get a Japanese device outside of Japan, I can’t even test on them at all. Obviously, Flash Lite won’t help with the need for localization, but it’s great saver of time and money to be able to drastically reduce the number of versions you need to maintain because you know your swf will scale nicely.

Overall, in comparison to last year’s event, I think that the general reception/perception of Flash Lite is much improved. At last year’s GDC Mobile, there were a number of sessions devoted specifically to Flash Lite. However, the general buzz amongst the people in attendance seemed rather dismissive - there was a lot of focus on the limitations of Flash Lite compared to J2ME or other mobile development environments. This year, however, it struck me that Flash Lite is starting to find its niche in the larger mobile game development world, and was generally recognized as being an important part of the ecosystem.