Michael Quin Heavener


Game Development for Next-Generation Devices

Keeping a Moving Target in Sight

As mobile devices are brought to market, product diversity and continual evolution of device technology complicate the process of game development. Millions of customers are accessing and enjoying games, news, content, and blogs from anywhere and everywhere.

The game creator's primary dilemma lies with a balancing act -- targeting the newest devices while also maintaining the broadest possible user base where no pervasive standard exists.

This is especially noticeable in the United States, where more than 20 device platforms compete for market space on more than 200 handsets. Even the leading platforms aren't individually broad enough to secure significant market share for the game creation community.

Always connected

As new consumer devices and networks are introduced to the market, the problem deepens. Consumers expect an always-connected, richer experience where the boundaries of technology are continually stretched.

Developers today focus on creating a handful of games and applications for each platform, but see missed opportunities in not being able to reach all devices. Porting across devices becomes a steadily increasing expense, reducing revenue and adding frustration. While consumers are increasingly connected, the technologies used on all of their devices are not.

Game developers and content providers desperately want a way to reach their audience in a true device-independent manner. If developers were offered a truly cost-effective, cross-platform solution, tapping into a company's multimedia content could easily be turned into a profitable service. Content could be delivered to users whether they surf the Internet from their PC or their mobile phone.

A Different approach

A realistic look at the mobile gaming market suggests there are ways to reduce the cost of delivering an application or game to reach the widest spectrum of users. Developers must think differently about mobile content. Instead of seeing the game as a single standalone application for a platform, the game becomes an extension where the device is one of many targets. Then, delivered content is merely scaled to match the device.

This approach enables device specifics, such as screen size, bit depth, menu structure, handset controls, and type of platform, to be completely scriptable. With this approach, one base code can talk to hundreds of devices.

Once the application is developed, a device-specific player is used for each mobile platform and device. These players are already tested and optimized for various platforms, making the chore of porting content transparent to the developer.

Mobile lifestyle

This application approach allows developers to focus on visual and content-rich experiences for consumers. Developers can deploy fundamental application changes in days rather than months, harnessing the power of an evolving mobile lifestyle.

When developers do not need to concern themselves with porting and device-specific limitations, they can instead focus on staying current with the interests of their intended audiences and the global market. Developers working on game titles can focus on the creative process and providing a pervasive experience for their players.

In today's mobile world, time to market can be one of the biggest factors in achieving profitability. However, if application players can be created quickly and just as rapidly deployed across multiple networks, the lifespan of the content becomes less of a motivating factor for success.

Community of users

Building community among wireless device users is unlike the mature personal computing market, where millions of computers run Windows, Macintosh OS, or even Unix/Linux. For any given wireless platform or device, there is no common user interface, and therefore no common experience among the millions of device users..

Among the heterogeneous carriers, networks, devices, device types -- cell phones, PDAs, portable game consoles -- some counting only in the thousands, the potential for community becomes fragmented.

Device manufacturers and network providers are looking to create differentiated services that are optimized for specific market niches and sometimes narrow vertical segments. Unlike the PC market, users can choose whatever device or network works best for them.

This product/service segmentation works against developers of consumer-oriented games and other content. They must target development to specific segments using specific devices. To cross over to another segment of the social community, another entire development cycle is required.

Using a one-application/many devices approach however, a game can be spread across the entire social network, with no artificial limitations or barriers. As new devices enter the market, games can quickly be created using simple, easily editable scripts.

Problem porting

Often, content developers spend more money porting their applications to multiple devices than they spend creating the applications themselves. Solving this is easy using a cross-platform development strategy. With a server-based development environment, applications can be created on PC or Macintosh. The resulting applications and the device-specific players are platform agnostic -- they can be accessed from anywhere at anytime. Nothing is left to port, eliminating the problem.

Such development environments dramatically improve the speed of content creation and deployment. Suddenly, exploiting content is the key to successful development. The distinction between application developers and content providers blurs as the development process is simplified and deployment is accelerated.

Consumers come out winners when game developers are able to match the pace of human thought. The pace of releasing and marketing new games, indeed any type of content, can keep up with the immediacy of blogs and mass media. "That next new thing," the game that everyone wants, can be rapidly developed and deployed in just two steps rather than many

Instead of tediously creating an application for every device, a process that can take months -- if it's possible to ever stay ahead of the device curve -- one application is able to address players on all devices. The players themselves take only minutes to create and deploy.


Ghostwritten for company president. Published by FierceWireless/FierceDeveloper, FierceMarkets, Washington, DC 20004


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