Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Academic Network Conference 07 (5)

Pushing location based games further

In recent years, mobile gaming has been believed to be the next hype after the great success of the short messaging service in Europe. Especially location based games (LBGs) were said to be the next breakthrough for mobile gaming, as those games exploit the location of the players during the game flow. Although those kinds of mobile games are able to offer a new and exciting experience, not many LBGs have yet entered the market. (Illustration from mobile game site Can you See Me Now www.canyouseemenow.co.uk)

Stephan A. Drab, Christoph GrĂ¼n, Jens Kroesche and Andreas Jakl of Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences Hagenberg and Vienna University of Technology Institute of Software Technology and Interactive Systems researched the subject of the lukewarm acceptance of LBGs by users. The authors believe that revenues created from this type of mobile applications only make up a minor part of the whole mobile games market, which is assumed to hit 7 billion euro or 10 billion USD dollar in 2009. The reason for the small market share of LBGs is that several additional aspects that have to be considered, adding to the large amount of restrictions already present for conventional mobile games. This makes it even more challenging to successfully market LBGs. Conventional mobile games suffer from diverse constraints that cushion their success, comprising high device fragmentation, compatibility issues difficulties of targeted advertising as well as distribution over the network operators' portals and channels. LBGs have the additional requirements for location-sensing or other context-acquisition technology. This might either be provided as a feature by the mobile device itself and/or by the infrastructure, which has to be set up and operated by a service provider. The end user, on the other hand, is often required to use special hardware in order to play those kinds of games, e.g. GPS-equipped mobile phones. Since wireless handsets, which are equipped in this manner, currently are not even close to be widespread, their impact on the entertainment business is negligible compared to the conventional mobile game market. As a result, LBGs have yet failed to reach the expectations of market analysts generating high revenues. Recent research in this area has been mainly focused on the development of prototypes.

We think that location based gaming can go much further than its current state. This paper addresses the need for identifying the challenges in the development of LBGs and presents concepts that can run on ordinary mobile phones. In particular, the paper sheds light on location based gaming concepts that are based on different positioning technologies:
a) approaches that make use of existing location sensing technology such as Cell ID;
b) self-reported positioning;
c) proximity sensing, e. g. measuring the distance between two gamers over Bluetooth.

In light of these points, this paper therefore seeks to:
a) Identify positioning technologies.
b) Evaluate LBGs including our approaches SpaceRace and The Journey with respect to the previously identified positioning technologies.
c) Highlight those interesting features and design elements that have to be taken into account when designing LBGs for the mass market.

Summarized, the goal of the paper is to determine the best practice of how to utilize location context on mobile phones targeted for the mass market. LBGs do indeed have a very high potential, but this has not yet been either fully realized or utilized by today's game creators. By lowering the technical-, design- and social barriers for playing LBGs using the identified design elements, they have the potential to be more successful in the future.

The most interesting question for an end user is not whether the game he wants to play fits the criteria, but if he can play the game right away, instantly so to say. In our terms this means that the game is end user suitable and therefore fit for the mass market. Thus, we defined an overall end user suitability criterion, based on our previous evaluation model. This is based on three different classes:

- The first class of LBGs, that are not suitable for the end user at all, is based on the criteria if the platform is proprietary; the positioning technology is not GPS or Cell ID; the game is bound to run on a proprietary phone device; some form of play field has to be set up on a per-game basis; the game is only available at special events or even not at all.

The second class, which may be suitable for the end user, but has several drawbacks, has been defines as games run on Symbian OS or Windows Mobile phone devices; requiring some form of external hardware like a GPS receiver or W-LAN capability; generating any form of data traffic costs; requiring an initial setup of a play field; generating consecutive game costs; supporting only multiplayer modes where the players have to play simultaneously; limiting the availability to certain countries or in association with special network operators.

The most interesting class consists of games suiting the following criteria: the
game does not run on a proprietary platform, i. e. runs on SMS/MMS or Java ME; the positioning technology is Cell ID or GPS; the phone device is Java ME capable; no special
or additional hardware is required; no traffic costs accumulate while playing; no application setup has to be performed; the game is available for free or only requires a single
purchase; the game comprises a singleplayer or multiplayer mode where the players don't
have to play simultaneously; the game is available publicly.

According to the definition of the above classification we evaluated the LBGs on their feature with the lowest score. The number of evaluated games out of all evaluated LBGs that can in fact be played instantly as defined above is zero! The LBGs having potential, but still drawbacks make up 43% and the games not being suitable for the end user at all, is no less than 57%.

The above analysis shows that current location based games only have a limited potential or are not end user suitable at all. Similar to our intuition and in contrast to numerous statements, which predicted LBGs to be the next hype in mobile gaming, the analysis shows the expected results. There are promising approaches in current LBG developments, however, none of the LBGs are ready to be deployed into the mass market. This shows that most of the current LBGs are only in the prototype or research phase and a lot more work needs to be done. We predict that it will take at least two more years until companies will start to pick up and utilize the LBG concept. During this time, the general conditions will most likely improve as well, with more GPS receivers being built into mobile phones, data tariffs getting cheaper and more developed concepts of LBGs evolving. When those games are finally deployed, they will gain the potential to have an enormous impact on the mobile gaming market.

The full text of the article will be published in s book; details will be published later.

Blog Posting Number: 934

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