Nokia N-Gage?

In the last few days the N-Gage has come back into the news.

Surely the N-Gage is an interesting platform, if only because it allows for multiplayer gaming while on the move. What better transport if not GSM and UMTS? PSP and the DS are no where near that, so Nokia should be ahead of the competition, unfortunately the platform is not as good and the games are lacking. Not a small problem if Nokia wants the N-Gage to be successful.

According to M:Metrics, in February:
+ 48.4 million people played a mobile game
+ 20.2 million played a game they previously downloaded
+ 7.6 million downloaded a new game

These numbers are all up from the same period last year (February 2007), when:
+ 45.2 million played a mobile game
+ 18.5 million played a game they had previously downloaded
+ 6.8 million downloaded a new game.

Among Nokia owners, in February, 20.1 percent (5.9 million people) played a mobile game, against a market average of 21.4 percent. Other Nokia stats:

+6.2 percent of Nokia owners played a game they had previously downloaded (versus 8.9 percent market average)
+2.7 percent downloaded a new game (versus 3.4 percent market average)

“Nokia is currently underperforming in the games market today primarily due to the fact that the US market is flooded with low-end, free Nokia phones that came with carrier contracts,” said Mark Donovan, senior analyst, M:Metrics. “Today, N-Series devices are still quite expensive and are not widely distributed in carrier channels, resulting in low market adoption. However, among those toting high-end Nokia devices on the Symbian operating system, 30.8 percent played a mobile game, indicating that mobile gaming is a popular activity on these phones.”

iPhysics for the iPhone

Christmas holidays were long enough to spend some reasonable time with the family, short traveling (Tuscany is always beautiful) and even resting and playing with the iPhone.

I tried quite a few iPhone “native” applications, many seem to me to be mostly useless, but some are quite nice. iSMS is the extension to the Apple SMS client that we all wanted (the UI is OK and takes advantage of the UIKit, of course you don’t get the iChat-like layout). iPhysics is a great game, inspired by Crayon Physics, it takes advantage of the touch screen perfectly, it uses the accelerometer when needed and is also a fun game. Reminds me a lot of The Incredible Machine, but with a spin. If you have an iPhone, I strongly suggest it, there are already plenty of custom levels.

Get yourself a present

I have purchased a new game in the last few days. It is right for me because it does not require that you play it two hours a day, you can play 10 minutes or an hour and you will still make progress.
I bought its first incarnation about one year ago and now here I am with the second version. If you want to buy something that can entertain you and also make all those little gears in your brain to start rolling, I think that you should buy More Brain Training.

It is easy to pick up, but very entertaining. It is fun. You can play it with friends, brothers, sisters, wives and so on. I think the competition between two or more individuals makes the game much more fun (my girlfriend and I play it every day, of course!).
Last but not least, you get to remember how to count using your mind and not the calculator.

20+ years and still on top of game sales

I am talking about Tetris, of course! Created around 1984-1985 has been a best seller for more than 20 years.

Every time a new console comes out one of the first games to be released is Tetris (plus some variants) and what is amazing is that it just keeps selling!

In the mobile space it’s not different. If you check out the monthly chart published by ELSPA, for example, you will see that the February 2007 UK mobile chart lists Tetris in third position and was second last month.

How is this possible? Well, I think that Tetris shows how all the most important rules of Casual Games should be applied and demonstrates that if they are well balanced will generate an endless interest from gamers in all times.
Here’s a blog post by Tom Hume written after “Casualty Europe” 2006, it’s from a presentation by Jason Kapalka of PopCap called “10 ways to make a bad casual game“. I remembered Tom’s post, but while searching on the web I also found another post from a Microsoft person, Kim Pallister, Casuality Session: Designing casual games.

My favorite rules (deduced from the worst mistakes according to Jason) are number 1, 8 and 9. I really think that the winning combination of a casual game is to make it easy to pick up (so no need to read or really just 1 minute to know the basic rules) and hard to master. Easy to pick up means that users will start playing quickly and see how the game works and get sucked into the game world, hard to master will make sure that users don’t get bored too quickly. Hard to master does not mean it is complicated, but that with many little things you can achieve a higher level, more points, better rewards.
Games like racing or war with too many power-ups, for example, are fun for a few hours or days, but then become boring. It must be something that you get little by little.

I think that Tetris matches the most important rules, SUPER easy to pick up, years to master. Simple graphics, you don’t need a modern computer with 4 processors to run it (it was designed in the Eighties!).

If you checked out the ELSPA chart you will have seen Puzzle Bubble in that list. The game is younger (1994), but same rules apply. Needless to say these are among my favorite games (and also the only ones I still play).

It comes as no surprise that in the mobile space these are the games that still sell the most, even if sometimes the phone keypad is not the best joystick even for these games (think of when it starts running fast!).