Tokyo Game Show 2003: Mobile Gaming BREW's Up
By December HelloNet Co. Ltd. of Busan, Korea, will launch a Massive Multi-Player (interactive) BREW based game in Japan making use of KDDI’s CDMA 1X speed, Chief Executive Officer Lee Hwan Joon told WWJ at last week’s Tokyo Game Show. He also put us straight on a few pertinent questions floating around the event. Namely: Is BREW difficult to write? Will MMPGs be too expensive for users? There just won’t be a market for such apps, right? The answer we got from Lee was NO-NO and thrice NO. With a grin and a game that supports 8,000 players acting out on his phone, he was of the opinion that BREW’s a better way to go for the next generation of interactive, keitai-based games. Lee was the most upbeat developer we met at TGS, which itself was an upbeat show. With the mobile games industry set to explode, the evidence is that new JAVA games continue to rock and developers need to be brave if they are to take advantage of 3G’s potential. Oh, and by the way, in our upcoming video program you’ll be some of the first to see Final Fantasy played on a ‘coming soon’ FOMA handset.
Perhaps they, as in the game industry, were just trying harder, but check out the metrics for Tokyo Game Show, held September 26-28 at the Nippon Convention Center, Makuhari Messe, round the bay from Tokyo. More exhibitors: 111 compared to 85 last year and 53 in 2001. More booths: 1,426 compared to 1,407 last year and 1,373 the year before. More titles: 508:393:339 and more visitors: 150,000+: 134,000: 129,000.
In the keitai space, well we counted 75 new games for mobile phones. What initially stood out here was the fact that NTT DoCoMo had aggregated favored developers into its own booth and claimed 38 new game titles for JAVA across its handset spread. SUCCESS Corporation on the other hand was the only company to name a carrier application, with three of its new games exclusive to J-SKY.
On the other hand, Japanese TV is full of KDDI AU commercials showing happy Japanese families enjoying packet discounts, including the 30 percent price reduction announced at the Mobidec conference by KDDI’s contents general manager Makoto Takahashi. CDMA 2000 1X data revenue per subscriber over the year to March 2003 dropped from 3,470 yen to 2,290 yen while voice ARPU had declined from 6,950 yen to 6,530 yen, even as KDDI increased its number of subscribers to 9.1 million. Takahashi, after the usual special pleading about how great Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) is for impatient click and burn users with itchy fingers, practically screamed out for developers to take the plunge.
And we know why. We talked to a number of new and established Japanese companies and they were pessimistic about developing BREW. The general consensus from most developers was that BREW is a bind: without a market, they won’t invest the three or four months it takes to develop a BREW games app. But without the app, where’s the market.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this Viewpoint, HelloNet happily begs to differ. With something like 5 million downloads, Lee – again, to put it bluntly – said any company with a decent C language programmer and KDDI’s telephone number has the keys to the house. As he said this, an emulator was busy running Virtual Soccer Manager, Dark Horse (HelloNet’s uberself in the Japanese space?), Snow Pang, My Angel, All In One Dialog, and other games.
We asked Lee if Qualcomm is actively helping. He smiled. We asked if KDDI-sans were amendable. He smiled again. He’s all smiles, in fact. With Korean carriers ready willing and able to boost apps (KTF, for example, already has more than 50 BREW-enabled handsets) perhaps the Japanese should be heading north to unlock BREW’s potential. SK Telecom, for example, is forging ahead with EVDO and, according to the company, has raised its ARPU to $22 per sub on the faster network from about $7 per month on IXRTT.
If this sounds like an advertisement for HelloNet, well, we were impressed by Lee’s gung-ho attitude. While he was throwing brickbats at hesitant Japanese BREW developers, his downloaders were chucking snowballs at each other in the middle of the Korean summer. With Virtual Soccer Manager, you get to be a national hero if you make it to the semifinals of the World Cup. Well, you do in reality, anyway. With redneck Tokyo Mayor Shintaro Ishihara preaching gambling legislation relaxation, we’d say that HelloNet’s Hello Casino might at some point spell Hello to Big Yen for massive multi-player mobile gambling.
That’s speculation of course, but we love it!
The reality is that games developers such as Macrospace are already in hot pursuit of BREW-based games with titles in tow; for example Dragon Isand, Detonate! and Crash N Burn. These should prove popular with gamers on Verizon in the US, and perhaps in certain sections of the Bush Administration.. 😉
The other thing we noted was that if a carrier takes 200 out of every 300 yen for a game download after hitting the game developer with a manual and regulations enough to satiate the most ardent Stalinist bureaucrat, it’s not surprising that the poor book-beaten, risk-taking developers are hesitant about taking the plunge into BREW.
On the other hand, JAVA is still fresh. We discovered two newcomers who have gone from zero to success, in one case from nothing to 600,000 downloads in four months flat, do the math. And, as you will see in our video program later this month, for those who can cut costs with JAVA and not corners, there’s still a treasure trove in them there phones.
Play Station isn’t flying off the shelves. JAVA games are. One market research outfit predicts that the global market for wireless gaming services will swell to $41 billion by 2007 compared to $561 million last year. One of the developers we interviewed asked us to introduce him to U.S. games developers!
With the hot fire of kimchi burning in the nether regions of game developer’s creative cubicles, it’s quite possible that BREW is the new frontier, not another problem.
— Paul Kallender