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Location-specific features heralded in mobile gaming

04 июня 2009

Eventually, getting to the next level on that cellphone game may depend less on the flexibility of your thumbs, and more on where you're standing.

With interest rising in location-based services such as navigation, it's only natural that others are looking to use the cellphone's global positioning system capabilities to enhance mobile gameplay. Developers, including heavy hitter Nokia Corp., see an opportunity in creating games that can run scavenger hunts or create virtual racetracks from local streets. Skeptics, however, say the games may take a while to catch the mass market's eye.

"This is a topic that literally has been around in mobile circles for the six years I've been in the business," said Greg Ballard, chief executive of cellphone game maker Glu Mobile Inc."Finally, in the next year, you'll start to see some games that incorporate a rudimentary form [of location services]."

Mobile gaming is still in its infancy, but it is starting to take hold with consumers. The games tap into the same kind of casual interest that have made the Nintendo Co. Wii a huge seller.

Location is seen as the next logical step for mobile gaming, which is already taking advantage of the features available on cellphones. Games currently use the iPhone's touchscreen and motion sensor, also known as an accelerometer, to simulate driving a race car or rolling dice. The use of GPS isn't that far behind.

Nokia's participation is important. While the cellphone giant has had a mixed history with games, including a lukewarm response to its N-Gage platform, the company's research muscle has helped set the tone for future developers.

"We have a role in teaching the industry," said Niklas Savander, general manager of services and software for Nokia."The next wave is location-sensitive games."

Nokia has opened up the core programming code for its mapping application to developers, which is likely to spur new uses.

"It's a huge move for Nokia in opening up the development potential," Gartner Inc. analyst Tuong Nguyen said about location-based games.

Internally, the company has already played around with a program that marries local road data with satellite imaging to create virtual racetracks. Mark Ollila, director of media and games for Nokia, created one such track throughout the company's Espoo, Finland, headquarters and shared it with co-workers.

"They recognize the location when racing around where they work, and they go,'Wow,'" Mr. Ollila said.

Another project Nokia is working on involves a role-playing game requiring cooperation between players around the world. In order to cast a "magic spell," one person in the group needs to be standing under a sun, while another has to be looking at the moon.

Even on a more rudimentary level, location can augment a game. High scores posted for the fighting game "One" can be organized depending on location. For example, a person ranked 1,000th overall could be the 100th best player in the U.S. and maybe the top fighter in their city.

The trick is to tie the features into casual games that have been successful with the mass market, Mr. Ollila said. He expects games from either Nokia or third-party developers to arrive later this year or early 2010.

Likewise, Glu is developing location-based games, but the company was mum on the details.

"It is something we have in the works," Mr. Ballard said."I'm sure we're not alone."

Games such as a scavenger hunt or some sort of road rally are things the company is considering, he added.

Electronic Arts Inc., the other major player in the mobile gaming arena, said it wasn't working on any location-based games.

There's reason to be cautious. Other cellphone features, such as the camera, haven't proven to be popular with the gaming crowd, despite numerous attempts. The overall market remains nascent.

"Left to itself without any breakthrough games, I don't expect it to be on the top of any wish lists for another two to three years," Mr. Nguyen said.

He noted that GPS-based treasure hunt games -- known as geocaching -- have been around for years but remain a niche interest.


Источник: Total Telecom

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