Today, the Wall Street Journal reoported another first – CBS Corp. is getting ready to unveil a new, interactive game for mobile phones – based on (wait for it) “America’s Next Top Model.” The game will feature avatars (discussed in yesterday’s blog) based upon the latest line-up of real-life contestants from the show.
Eberhard Schoeneburg, CEO of Artificial Life, Inc., the company responsible for developing the game said:
We are very excited about this product launch and the opportunity of working with one of the world’s leading media companies to produce leading edge mobile games based on such a well known and globally popular TV shows as ‘America’s Next Top Model’ on the CW. After the initial launch in the US we will also launch the game in many other countries around the globe.
On the surface, an interactive mobile game doesn’t seem like such a bad idea… A recent Telephia study finds:
Nearly 13.5 million mobile subscribers downloaded a game in Q2 2006, representing average monthly revenues of $46.9 million for the quarter. Since Q3 2005, the number of subscribers who downloaded mobile games from the operator portal has increased by 15 percent. During that same time period revenues jumped 63 percent.
Under close examination, I’m asking myself, “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?!!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as big a fan of mobile games as the next person, and I think there is a huge potential in both mobile games and corporate sponsorship/advertising in games, but I’m skeptical about this particular game concept. I can’t imagine that the season (and interest in any show) would last long enough to financially justify developing a mobile game that revolves entirely around one series of a specific TV show.
I come from a mobile background and have worked with hundreds of mobile developers globally, as a Business Development/ Developer Relations Consultant at Palm, Inc. Mobile game development, when done well, is an expensive and (often slow) endeavor. The mobile marketplace is a lot more fragmented than the PC and console gaming markets, and there are a lot more scenarios to develop for, which contributes to the cost and development time. There are thousands of different types of handsets out there – each with their own keyboard layout. There are also a wide variety of Mobile operating systems and screen resolutions. Screen resolution is a HUGE issue for mobile games developers because artwork doesn’t always scale well. Realistically, how many mobile devices will they be able to program this game for? My guess is – not many.
In my opinion, if media companies like CBS are going to use interactive/ social gaming for advertising purposes, there is a more effective way to do it… As an example, they can develop more general games, which have components/short scenes that can be dropped into/ taken out of a game quickly. Developing mobile games that based entirely around avatars from one season of a show is too limiting. How about building a mobile “platform” game where the characters have nothing to do with a particular TV show, but where users have to answer questions from last night’s episode of a particular TV show in order to get extra points or get to the next level? That would be easy enough to do technically. Better yet, why not engage multiple viewers of a particular show in a mobile gaming competition (any game will do), and the winner gets to meet the stars of a show? All of these scenarios seem more sensible from a business perspective than the one CBS announced. I bet the implementation of their announced strategy will struggle with device compatibility issues and heavy development costs.
The Wall Street Journal article also highlights something that I mentioned in my blog about Second Life yesterday… Marketers are increasingly using avatars to engage new customers and audiences. NBC Universal apparently announced that it has signed a deal with Cyworld (who I plan to talk about in future blogs), a major social networking site, which started off in South Korea and is growing internationally. Apparently, NBC Universal will be releasing an Avatar into Cyworld later this month, which is based upon “Fancy,” a character from “Passions,” which is a leading daytime show aimed at teens. According to the article:
Cyworld members and NBC.com visitors will be able to buy avatar clothing and furniture and decorate a virtual bedroom for Fancy, who lives with her very rich grandmother. Cyworld launched its U.S. site last summer.
Ah, and to think, I remember when the coolest thing you could buy as a teenage soap fan was a Luke and Laura t-shirt (which, you had to write away for). Yep, the world is changing at lightning speed. I’ll have to save that article from the Onion and read it again in 10 years… At this rate, I’m sure it will get even better with age.