Mobile Gaming

Mobile Gaming

Mobile gaming is definitely more than a fad. In recent times, mobile games have grown increasingly popular as a means of providing personal entertainment on the go. According to a 2006 eMarketer report (, worldwide revenues for mobile gaming reached US$2.5 billion in 2005 and are projected to top US$11 billion by 2010. eMarketer also cites recent IDC ( numbers that show U.S. revenues from mobile games rising to US$1.5 billion in 2008, from US$600 million in 2005. The study further finds that nearly half of all free mobile game downloads are for puzzle and card games, producing over 25% of all mobile gaming revenues. Part of the reason for the popularity of these simple games comes from the impact of the limited screen size and navigation options of the mobile handsets, but as the devices become more sophisticated, so will the type of games users engage in.

With the number of mobile gamers around the world growing, with some estimates predicting 220 million global users by 2009, the mobile gaming business is projected to expand and be a bigger portion of the profit pie for the cellular carriers and handset makers. However, aside from the value of the revenues earned from games sales, there is additional potential: Users who engage in mobile gaming spend more money on wireless phone services in general; they can be high sources of revenue because of their propensity to remain online for extended periods. Also, advertisers and marketers find that mobile games provide a strategically important tool via the branding power of games and in-game ads. Mobile gaming also plays a pivotal role in generating revenues and numerous opportunities for game publishers, game developers, and associated professionals.

Two factors have elevated mobile gaming to a new high. First, with mobile penetration in developed countries reaching saturation, service providers have had to consider and plan on new nonvoice services. Second, the emergence of downloadable technologies and enabled handsets has offered a simple and billable platform for the delivery of games. The following sections discuss the various mobile game categories and platforms.

Mobile Game Categories

There are several techniques for playing games on a mobile phone, with each platform affecting the game-playing experience. There are three main categories of mobile games:

  • Embedded games This was the first approach, with the games being hard-coded into the mobile handset's system and shipped with the device. These games are likely to soon be considered outdated and obsolete and are often deleted by those who enjoy hacking handsets.

  • SMS games This category involves games that are played by sending text messages and generally are in the form of live contests and polls. The popularity of this approach is decreasing as the cost of playing the game increases each time an SMS is sent to the game server. Most importantly, these games are void of the exciting sensory aspects that multimedia introduces; they are not colorful, graphical, or highly interactive.

  • Downloadable, or browser, games Using a mobile device's built-in microbrowser (an Internet browser specifically designed for mobile devices), games can be played in both online and offline modes. These games are played through either the service provider's or a third-party game provider's Web site. For offline gaming, the games can be downloaded. This category encompasses the widest range of games, including individual and multiplayer games, network games, offline games, and arcade games.

Of the three categories, downloadable games are the most popular approach today, largely due to the creative and rich multimedia content, appealing presentation, and lower cost compared with SMS games. Very importantly, these games play like conventional handheld games.

Downloadable games are very attractive in their format, permitting animation and the ability to be played offline. They can also be played similar to the traditional retail model: The user pays once and can play offline as long as he or she likes. But in order to support downloadable games, new technologies are required that allow a game program to be transmitted over a wireless network and to be understood and run on a mobile device. In addition, the devices need to be able to handle a greater range of features, such as graphics, sound, larger screen sizes, improved user interfaces, security, and, of course, digital rights management (i.e., content security).

Mobile Game Platforms

Various technologies are now available to develop downloadable games, including Java ME (formerly Java 2 Micro Edition [J2ME]), BREW (Binary Runtime for Wireless), ExEn (Execution Environment), and Mophun. The most widely adopted technology is Java ME, which is used worldwide. However, competing technologies are increasingly being used, with varying degrees of market penetration. BREW is used in the United States, China, Taiwan, and Korea; ExEn is found in France and Germany; and Mophun is popular in parts of Scandinavia.

Java ME

Sun's ( Java ME runs on top of a virtual machine, an extra layer of software that serves as a barrier of protection from malicious or erroneous software. A key advantage is that the virtual machine allows the Java software to operate between a wide variety of different types of mobile phones and other devices without modification, even though the devices may contain very different electronic components. However, although it provides added flexibity, the virtual machine decreases the potential speed of the game and reduces the ability to use the full functionality of a mobile phone (due to the fact that Java software can only do what this middle layer will support). On the other hand, due to the extra security and increased compatibility, the process of writing and distributing Java mobile applications (including games) to a wide variety of mobile devices is greatly simplified. This results in free and easy tools that are made available by Sun, including the Java Development Kit (JDK) used to create the Java software, the Java Wireless Toolkit (Java ME tools) required for packaging and testing the mobile software, and room on a Web server to host the application.

The main advantages of Java ME are that is has such widespread adoption worldwide, free and easy access to tools, and a fast-growing handset base. The disadvantages include the fact that it runs slowly and has technical drawbacks associated with the Java ME MIDP1 (Mobile Information Device Profile version 1) specification, including the fact that it cannot query key status, has no active rendering APIs, has no support for audio, requires only HTTP support, and has a lack of clarity in the specifications that often leads to differences in implementations.


Qualcomm's ( BREW is perhaps the most powerful mobile gaming technology because it provides complete access to its functionality and control of the mobile device. However, for this reason, Qualcomm and a handful of mobile content providers are the only ones allowed to issue the necessary tools to build BREW applications. Although the BREW software development kit (SDK) is free, BREW applications require a digital signature that can be generated only by Qualcomm and its sanctioned associates. In addition, the game will work only on test-enabled devices, meaning that Qualcomm must give its approval after it checks and tests the software. The main advantages of BREW include its robustness, its acknowledged success in the United States, and its favorable terms for developers. Its disadvantages are the tight control that Qualcomm exerts and the fact that it runs only on CDMA phones.


IN-FUSIO's ( ExEn is best known for its business model, which supports a variety of revenue models, including pay-per-level and SMS high scores. Its disadvantages lie in the fact that it is a single-vendor system and has been deployed in only a small number of networks.


In the Synergenix Interactive Mophun ( development environment, games are developed in C/C++, using an open and free SDK that is available upon request from Mophun. A complier is used to make the translation to a system-independent application. Because the application is required to be certified to run on a mobile phone, there are no freeware Mophun games. Mophun's main advantage is its technical performance, and its key disadvantage is that it can be preinstalled only on Sony-Ericsson devices.

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