GDC Mobile – The Future of Mobile Games Will be Social

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by: Karl Long

I’m currently at GDC (Game Developer Conference) and have just listened to Trip Hawkins, CEO of Digital Chocolate a mobile game development company, and considering he founded EA (Electronic Arts) he’s probably worth listening to. His keynote speech was titled “Making Mobile Phones the Ultimate Game Platform”.

Couple of points worth highlighting are:

  1. Mobile game industry is not going anywhere if if continues to focus on creating smaller crappier versions of console games, or hollywood brands
  2. Mobile games up until recently have been marketed as “time killers” as opposed to something worth participating with
  3. The value derived from playing mobile games will be social

(As an aside, the next session from Shuffle Brain who i’ve written about before, started their session with this statement: Game mechanics + Social Media = the future of networked entertainment – check out their blog)

As I was sitting in the audience and Trip started talking about Social Media and Web2.0 I had a couple of colleagues in the audience giving me some knowing glances and nudges, as it’s pretty well known where I think things are going. In fact even my friend Paul who writes tagged me in his more comprehensive write up of Trip’s keynote.

I actually think it’s a very natural progression for mobile games to move toward social games, much more natural if you think about it than the move of console games toward social games. For me, Halo 2 on the xbox was more of a social game than it was a video game, I owned it for 2+ years and played for hundreds of hours, and most of it was against other people, it was a conduit through which I connected with people that I knew. Game consoles were game devices first, and social tool second, the mobile phone is a social device first and a game device second.

One of the best recent example of a mobile social game is Avapeeps from Digital Chocolate, that is essentially a dating game. An Avapeep is a charicter which you create, resides on your mobile phone, and can be sent on dates with other peoples Avapeeps, how the date goes depends upon certain traits or instructions that you can give your Avapeep – should you give flowers, move in for a kiss etc. Beyond even the gameplay which is inherently social, they have also got several social features as a way for you to share your Avapeep creation by embedding it on your myspace page or blog, here’s my avapeep:

Get your own at!

Social can mean so many things here it’s really mind boggling, whether it’s sharing a game, playing against other people, playing with other people, playing within a community, co-creative games, building social equity. World Of Warcraft is a social game, the Wii is a social game, my xbox badge is an aspect of a social game, playing brain age with my Mum and a friend of hers was a social game experience. Surely games have always been a way that people connected, learned, and built social connections.

In the end the rise of social media has been the rise of people making meaning in their lives through creating and connecting rather than just consuming. That can mean a lot for games, when games move away from being time wasters to actually helping create meaning and giving people creative outlets. One of the points that Trip makes here is that the money spent by the public on “time filling media” is going pale in comparison to the money spent on social media or (my words) “meaning making media”.

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