Mobile gaming will need a serious boost to put it on track to be the success analysts have predicted it will be. Declining revenues internationally and a stuttering start locally are the products of a lack of knowledge and investment in a sector that is without doubt a sleeping giant, says Riaan Groenewald, operation director of Multimedia Solutions.

A recent report by the iSupplisays the mobile-gaming market suffered a reversal of fortune in the second quarter of 2007 as revenues for title publishers declined by 9% sequentially, compared with 11% growth in the first quarter. This despite the fact that revenues for the sector are expected to nearly triple in the next four years, growing from $2,3-billion in 2006 to around $6,6-billion in 2011.
iSuppli attributes the drop in revenue to small number of gaming subscribers globally (compared to the number of people who actually own a mobile phone), a lack of understanding on issues like connectivity, how to download the games and the lack of the competition/multiplayer option aspect in most mobile games.
Groenewald says locally mobile gaming got a big boost early on when a national mobile gaming competition was run in 2005 and four players were sent to the World Cyber Games.
“The team did very well with a 15 year old girl from Paarl in the Western Cape taking home a gold medal. However, after that mobile gaming was dropped from the World Cyber Games due to technology issues and the 2005 team, who received their National colours, remain the only players in South Africa to have competed internationally and been awarded colours,” he says.
The difficulty for mobile gaming is that it is relatively new compared to its PC and Console counterparts and the lack of a major push by game publishers and developers to promote mobile gaming means it still has poor visibility within the market.
Mobile marketing may hold the key.
“However, mobile gaming could now receive a major boost from corporates looking to use mobile gaming as part of their mobile marketing strategy,” Groenewald says.
The latest mobile games are not only equipped with a multiplayer function but also facilitate the placement of advertising during game play. So for example, a racing game has billboards down the side of the track and signs placed over the track. Each of these billboards can now be independently controlled, with different advertisements placed on each banner, Groenewald says.
Advertisements for the company, partners or even clients can be placed in the game and detailed reporting provides cumulative viewing times for each banner. Furthermore, high scores are uploaded to a server by GPRS and the top gamers can be awarded with prizes for their efforts.
Groenewald says mobile games are therefore being used by companies as a value-ad. Games are offered free to customers and prizes put on offer for those who score highest in the game.
“The corporate extends its brand through the game and the advertising displayed when the game is played. Consumers in turn get a free game to play and the chance to win prizes,” he says.
Johann Von Backström, founder of the Amateur Gaming Association of South Africa, says that to break open the value that mobile gaming could provide, someone is going to have to put a stake in the ground and throw their weight behind it.
“If you consider there are 40,7-million active SIM cards in South Africa and close to 2,5-billion active cellphones worldwide, the mobile market is more dominant than any other communication medium.
“If a corporate were to take the jump and offer say 100 000 games free to its customers, promote the campaign and offer prizes to the best players, it would go a long way to creating awareness of mobile gaming. This would result in more people playing mobile gaming and the country would be able to build on the success if the World Cyber Games in 2005,” he says.