Mobile games gaining market foothold?

Yes, says industry player, who adds that the US$3.5 billion industry is expanding into niche games segments.

SINGAPORE--Now that they can be developed more easily and quickly, mobile games are etching into niche market segments, says the head of Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) Asia.

The US$3.5 billion mobile games sector is "moving to different spheres", Stefan Rust, chairman of Mobile Entertainment Forum Asia and head of Web services at Sun Microsystems, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, during the Mobile Entertainment Market (MeM) Asia 2006 held early this month.

According to Rust, this market is expanding into niche games segments that include "casual", "hardcore", 3D, role-playing and network-connected games.

He noted that the mobile games are getting more sophisticated and are starting to penetrate niche market segments. He added such games are attracting a new audience--the female segment, where gamers are starting to play casual games such as solitaire, Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

According to Rust, emerging new technologies have contributed to the growth of mobile games. Developing casual games, for instance, was very costly especially if they were built in a specific programming language, he said.

Rust said that new technologies have spawned simple programming languages that are less complex and shortened the development timeframe of casual games, such as the crossword puzzle, which is easy to develop and transfer to the mobile phone.

Flash--the next Java?
Meanwhile, the success of the mobile entertainment market has also attracted a multitude of players fighting for a piece of the lucrative pie.

Adobe Systems is one such player. The desktop publishing specialist gained footing in the mobile market with animation software Flash when it acquired rival software developer Macromedia for US$3.4 billion in December last year.

"One of the primary tactical reasons why Adobe acquired Macromedia was solely to get into the mobile space," said Daniel Brongiel, managing director of the mobile and devices business unit for Asia-Pacific (APAC), in an interview with ZDNet Asia last week. Macromedia offers Flash Lite, a scaled-down version of its popular Flash technology for small devices.

According to Brongiel, Flash Lite has been adopted by the top six handset makers worldwide including Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and BenQ, which have committed to putting Flash into half a billion phones over the next few years.

Nokia's line of Series 60 phones, for instance, come preloaded with the Flash technology and the acrobat reader, said Raymond Lee, Adobe's regional director for Southeast Asia.

Brongiel noted that the success of Flash in the online environment is also being replicated in the mobile space. He said that the animation software has since become the "second most dominant video format, with over 25 percent market share" in the online environment.

He added that since Macromedia launched the first Flash-enabled phone in Japan three and half years ago, 70 percent of the country's population now has a Flash-enabled phone. "[Flash] has displaced J2ME (Java Micro Edition), the Java specification in mobile phones, as the primary multimedia playback engine", he said.

According to Brongiel, one of the benefits the Flash technology offers includes the ability to take complex information and visually put it in a simplistic manner for users to understand.

"[Flash] makes complex information visually intuitive," he said, adding that operators, handset manufacturers and consumers want applications and the services that are "visually intuitive, easy to discover and easy to navigate".

Flash is filling the gap where Java could not, by allowing developers to "create once and deploy the content everywhere", he said.

According to Brongiel, with Java, developers have to take their Java application and develop it from scratch for almost every single device. This "does not lead to a scalable environment for [developers], for the handset manufacturers, for the operators", he said.

"That's a big role that Flash is playing and why it's been so successful on the Web, and certainly, we're seeing a huge rapid uptake in the mobile space," Brongiel added.