KDDI rolls down EZ Street with an engaging new mobile gaming platform due to go live today. Designed for KDDI by Square Enix –- the gaming powerhouse behind the massively popular Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises — EZ Game Street invites gamers to stroll rather than scroll down a cellular landscape of 350 games from 43 of the world’s top game makers, including Capcom, Disney, Koei, Hudson and Namco.
Text-based searches give it up for interactive icons in the new BREW-powered platform created for KDDI/au CDMA 1X WIN 3G phones. Users click on the icons for more info plus a sample of the game’s theme song. Admittedly, there is some initial text-bar crawling: users first click on “games” in the KDDI WIN menu to reach Game Street. There, the menu is divided into six choices: title, genre, new games, producer, randomizer and recommended. Click on any line and a colorful screen pops up decorated with familiar characters from each game -– up to nine per screen. Pick a character and click through the payment/subscription screen to play. Options include one-time game play, monthly subscription plus game information sites, online communities and game software sales.
Speaking at the Game Street press launch in Tokyo this week on Wednesday, Square Enix President Yoichi Wada characterized the new screens as a “game lobby” rather than an old-fashioned laddered menu. “Users’ boredom threshold is very low on mobile,” admitted Wada. Their team felt it was essential to engage customers as quickly as possible with an eye-candy platform of images and music. “We had to make the search itself more fun,” he said.
Don’t discount the importance of game music in this sticky menu mix. Japanese music stores invariably have a Game Music section right next to the anime music titles. The Black Mages, whose most famous member created themes for most of the Final Fantasy games, go on tour here playing game music to sell-out crowds. Being able to click on a character and hear a sample of the game’s theme song is very beguiling.
Increasingly Japanese are turning to their cell phones for entertaining content.
Makoto Takahashi, Content and Media Division Manager at KDDI, pointed out that though demand for ring-tone melodies has flattened out, numbers for mobile music are way up. The company’s new Chaku Uta Full music download service hit its 2 millionth download on 5 February with a million of those in just the last month. Mobile gaming is showing strong growth as well, “We saw an increase of 15 percent in mobile game numbers,” noted Takahashi, “and we expect that too grow much more now (with Game Street).”
Square Enix, of course, also works closely with NTT DoCoMo on i-mode content development. Together last fall they launched a Final Fantasy VII spin-off mobile game, Before Crisis, featured exclusively on DoCoMo’s 900i-and-above 3G phones. Ah Japan, the land that knows no conflict of interest! Realistically though, how could Square Enix refuse? KDDI has over 15 million subscribers to their EZ web services making it the country’s No. 1 3G mobile Internet service. With the logo “Powered by Square Enix” all over EZ Game Street, the advertising/PR synergy for the company is enormous.
Up until now DoCoMo has had a comfortable relationship with game producers happy to develop content for DoCoMo’s low cost (lower than BREW licensing, at least) i-mode platform. KDDI seems more than willing to dig into its deep pockets to compensate developers for extra expenses incurred in migrating to their BREW-based applications.
KDDI, however, was not paying enough for exclusivity. Many of the games can be found on DoCoMo i-mode 3G cell phones as well; DoCoMo have their own arsenal of games, many already pre-loaded on the new 901i-series 3G phones but they will have to work hard to compete with KDDI’s new sound-and-light show on EZ Game Street for mind (and wallet) share of savvy Japanese mobile consumers.
– Gail Nakada
KDDI PR release (Japanese): http://www.kddi.com/corporate/news_release/2005/0209