Ludicrous Software

GDC Mobile Recap

It’s been almost a week since GDC Mobile wrapped up, and just about as long since we got back to Winnipeg. Leaving San Francisco for the blizzard-like conditions we encountered when we landed was a bit of a bitter pill, let me tell you. Although we’re just glad that we could actually land - we’d been warned in Denver that the plane might have to land in Fargo, North Dakota if the conditions in Winnipeg wouldn’t permit a landing. Hmm, blizzard or flood zone? Anyway, it’s been a mad rush since we got back, which explains the lag between the end of the conference and this post. But my adoring public has been waiting for this, so here we go!

In the past couple of years, the main vibe at GDC Mobile has been a sense of frustration and disappointment with the state of mobile. If you’ve been in mobile for any length of time you’ll have a sense of the cause: mobile operators’ virtual stranglehold on access to consumers, porting, discoverability of games on the deck, etc. Of course, this year the shadow of the iPhone was cast over many of the sessions at GDC Mobile, and there was a greater sense of optimism because of how the App Store allows developers to go straight to the consumer and not have to worry about the mobile operators. However, I think the most striking thing for me was a sort of disconnect between developers who were new to mobile and targeting the iPhone exclusively, and people who have been around for a while and have perhaps a different perspective.

The opening keynote was from Neil Young, who left Electronic Arts to found ngmoco:), which is dedicated to developing iPhone games. He was obviously quite enthusiastic about the potential of the iPhone. It was kind of weird though: he announced during the keynote that the company closed its second round of funding ($10 million), and also relayed an anecdote about how “when we were in Apple headquarters to discuss our game”. As Jon Szeder from Mofactor pointed out in his talk later that day, they’re meeting with Apple; just how level is that playing field?

Other interesting moments:

  • In one session, one of the presenters said that their game is available through the App Store, and also on Verizon’s deck, and that they get as many sales in a week through Verizon as they get in a month on the App Store. He did note that they have been getting pretty good placement on Verizon’s deck.
  • In the session on social gaming, the presenter made reference to the idea of including some means of letting players recommend your game to their friends. He then pointed out the obvious problem of what to do if their friends don’t have a phone on which your game can be played. I swear this generated a few blank stares.
  • Jon Szeder’s presentation, entitled “Am I Dead Yet?”, was easily the most amusing session of the conference. As you might guess from the title, his perspective was not quite as sunny as Neil Young’s.

Flash Lite was pretty much non-existent at the conference. I caught one passing reference to Flash in one of the Nokia-sponsored presentations (about Ovi, I think; I came in near the end). Also, in the social gaming session, the presenter noted the success of DeNA’s Mobage-town and its use of Flash Lite for its games. DeNA recently launched a mobile portal in, um, not-Japan called MobaMingle, but it doesn’t leverage Flash Lite, due to low penetration of the player outside of Japan (which is what the DeNA guys said at last year’s GDC when I met them - not sure at what point they might revisit that decision). Anyway, this was taken as an indication, accurate or not, that Flash Lite isn’t particularly viable as a platform for social gaming.

The other bit of weirdness was that the little ‘mobile pavilion’ was somehow even smaller this year. In past years, there have been about 8 to 10 companies - Adobe among them - set up on folding tables right outside the trade show floor (which isn’t open on Monday or Tuesday), talking up their products. This year, there were only two companies set up on a couple of tables, tucked away down one hallway (Adobe was absent, but I think they had a booth on the trade show floor to push the latest release of Director). It was pretty depressing. Granted, companies like Nokia have very swishy booths on the main trade show floor, which I missed because we left on Wednesday morning, but it would have been nice to have something a little bigger and more integrated with the actual conference.

Otherwise, had some good meetings with some definite potential! And finally, for those who know Evan, his and Mary’s wedding was lovely, and went off without a hitch (from our perspective, at least). Be sure to congratulate him the next time you see him!