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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Uphill struggle for mobile gaming
The recent Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival brought together publishers and developers to discuss all things gaming. In the third of a series based on the EIEF sessions, Radio Five Live's Phil Elliott looks at the problems faced by the mobile phone games industry.

People playing mobile games
Mobile gaming is seen as the next big thing
The vast majority of people in the UK now own a mobile phone. Whether it is for use in an emergency, chatting to your friends or keeping in touch with the office, few can deny the benefits.

But whilst voice and text services are the main uses for the handsets, comparatively few people are downloading and playing games with them.

Given that recent reports from analysts Informa claim the mobile entertainment industry will be worth more than $40bn (23bn) by 2010, clearly a good deal of growth in these areas are expected.

The problem is that not many people are paying to download them at the moment.

"Mobile games as a genre isn't being marketed enough by the people in the food chain," said Paul Munford, who publishes a weekly e-mail newsletter about the mobile phone industry, Monty's Gaming and Wireless Outlook.

"Last year in the US I was watching the World's Series [baseball] and I saw an advert on the TV during the innings advertising mobile game titles."

There is nothing much like that happening in the UK.

Games as a genre are advertised as a benefit of various mobile services but nobody seems willing to spend money on high profile campaigns to raise awareness of specific titles. The result of the lack of mainstream advertising.

"The guy with the phone isn't aware that he can download such content," said Mr Munford.

"According to a report from a Scottish games company, only 5% of consumers have ever downloaded a mobile phone game and more than a third of total users were unsure whether they could do that or not."

Getting more gamers

It could be the case that current gamers - those who would be more interested in games in the first place - are happier with higher quality home or handheld console games, and the current non-gamers think the download process too costly or complicated.

At least some sort of innovation is needed to get this frankly exciting genre into the public consciousness
Paul Munford, Monty's Gaming and Wireless Outlook
Mr Munford puts forward a different view, however.

"We're really talking about two different markets here. The handheld console market is where traditional gamers will find the quality they need, but the mobile games market is different.

"There are so many more phones out there, and a higher percentage of women gamers for instance, so the snobbish attitude of traditional gamers is something that doesn't really bother the industry."

Maybe the bigger problem is actually how to get the games?

"If you go to something like Vodafone Live or Orangeworld you get a small screen, it tells you the game of the week and the top 10 games.

"But you've got to go through each page each time, to get to game 61, to get to game 91. And people don't do that."

Flat fee

For the last couple of years there has been a drive for more co-operation between the two factions.

I-play Maria Sharapova Tennis
Specific games are being made for mobile phones
On the one hand, the developers and publishers that create the games, and on the other the mobile phone service providers who run the infrastructure that allows for the sale and download of the games.

"There should be more co-operation between operators, handset manufacturers and publishers that turn the handset itself into something like a laptop or a PC where you have shortcuts on the handset.

"At least some sort of innovation is needed to get this frankly exciting genre into the public consciousness."

Maybe a flat fee for game downloads, broadband-style, would take some of the nervousness out of the procedure.

For people who have been stung in the past by incurring high charges for browsing and downloads, a greater sense of confidence needs to be generated.

"I think that is absolutely crucial, and key to the future of the industry. And I think you'll see things bundled up together, for 4 or 5, where you can download as many games as you want - that will unlock the market."

Whatever does happen in the future, it is clear that with a market that is 95% untapped, there is massive opportunity for growth.

It is not happening just yet, but next time when you are on the train with a book you do not fancy reading, perhaps you will think about playing a game on your mobile instead.

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18 Apr 05 |  Technology
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02 May 05 |  Technology

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