Small Teams and Mobile Massive Multiplayer


While checking out my referrers, I noticed Aitor Garcia's post about a mobile Java game called Samurai Romanesque from a company called Dwango. I've known about this game and company for over a year or so now as the game was first launch for Japan's iMode service in 2001. Now that the Western world has caught up to where Japan has been for several years now, it might be a good time to take another look at the game because it's got some interesting points.

For a full review, check out this article at Wireless Gaming Review which goes into detail about the game and how it is played (there are three different arcade-like games in addition to RPG game):

In graphics reminiscent of 8-bit Nintendo or GameBoy titles, your diminutive samurai character wanders through villages in feudal Japan. There are more than 1,000 villages in the game, and in each of them there might be some local event, a festival or some special food you can taste. It's sight-seeing through a small window - the events are rendered using small pictures and text in Japanese. According to Kurokawa at Dwango it should take six real-world months of game playing to see all the sights in Samurai Romanesque.

In each village, you might find a shop, a teacher, and a drunken belligerent looking for a fight. Fights are handled through a combination of statistics matching, button mashing (how fast can you hit indiscriminate buttons?) and memory (a sequence of numbers flashes on the screen -- how fast can you remember and type it in?).

It seems like a very cool application, though I doubt I'll be able to try it any time soon. Though Dwango is launching some apps for AT&T's mMode service, Samurai isn't one of them, and maybe will never be. It's a shame because it seems like there's some keys to success here.

First, the cool thing about this application which Aitor points out, is that it was written only by 10 people! (And four of those were story development):

El juego lo han desarrollado ****10 personas**** (y 4 se han dedicado solo a la trama). �Habremos vuelto a la epoca en que un juego se podia hacer entre 4 amigos y despertar una autentica fiebre?. �A alguien le interesa probar suerte y hacer un juego J2ME?. Mi correo esta disponible para todos los interesados. Personalmente me moriria por ver "Monkey Island 6, Le Chuck la monta en el caribe" en mi proximo movil/pda/miniatura con chip que me compre.

Aitor asks, "Have we returned to the time when a game can be made by four friends and become an authentic success?". I'd say yes, actually. But only for now, and the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Now that Microsoft and Nokia have mobile developer programs and more and more people are getting both smartphones and Java enabled phones, there's going to be a land-rush to mobile development. It's happening now. If you're just starting, you're not at the super-bleeding edge, but you're definitely an early-adopter, and that's not a bad place to be. Others have already shed the blood and worked out the standards and now you get to concentrate on making cool apps.

Aitor also drops a link to a recent article in the IEEE Computer Society website. You can download the PDF here. It's a good overview of what the deal is in mobile development and has some intersting information about DoCoMo's i-Appli platform (an appli is like a J2ME midlet) and both the technical and business side of Samurai. A snippet:

The intricate structure of Samurai Romanesque. The character's aims and desires determine game play.

Data revenue windfall

The new i-Appli service was an overnight success. On the day of its launch, NTT DoCoMo sold 70,000 i-Appli phones. By the end of that year, the .gure had reached 10 million. The i-Appli handsets, equipped with a color screen the size of a business card, have many of the capabilities of a stand-alone computer. Subscribers can download software and applications and use them without connecting their handsets to the NTT DoCoMo server. Using a scroll-andclick menu, they can program the phones to retrieve real-time stock quotes, .ight schedule updates, and other dynamic information. The latest i-Appli phones can store up to 200 Java applications of 30 Kbytes each.

Subscribers to i-Appli can access about 500 Web sites. Content providers� charges range from $1.00 to $2.50 for a monthly subscription, which users pay on their phone bill. NTT DoCoMo retains 9 percent of the proceeds; the content provider keeps the remainder. Apart from subscription fees, i-Appli users also pay 2 cents per data packet (of 128 bytes each). The billing system, and NTT DoCoMo�s generous revenue sharing scheme, played a key role in making the company one of the largest Internet providers in the world. Its subscriber numbers rival AOL. In the year following introduction of the i-Appli service, the company�s data revenue jumped by 102.5 percent.


Games drive the wireless Web

Samurai Romanesque, played on a miniscreen, has proven to be an immersive experience for thousands of Japanese youngsters. The game illustrates that always on, packet-switched networks and a billing system that collects micropayments can kick start the wireless Web. More than 50 million Japanese currently use wireless data services, a large part of them youngsters. They download screen savers, ring tones, and other mobile content. The wireless Internet has dramatically altered the spending patterns in Japan. Japanese youngsters commonly spend $40 per month on mobile content.

Apart from boosting revenue, the growing popularity of wireless games has another important benefit for network carriers. Consumers become familiar with programmable handsets and advanced wireless Internet services, much as they did and continue to do on desktop PCs. They learn how to download applications, navigate through multilayered menu structures, and con.gure their devices to set personal preferences. All this could lower the acceptance barrier to mobile banking, locationbased m-commerce, and other wireless services.

European and North American carriers hope to replicate the success of the Japanese carriers. They are rolling out 2.5G packet-switched networks and launching Java-enabled content, including a plethora of games. Estimates vary widely, but most analysts predict a billion- dollar market for wireless gaming in the next few years. According to Datamonitor (http://www.datamonitor. com), the European wireless gaming market will grow from $105 million in 2001 to $4.2 billion in 2006, when analysts predict that 150 million Europeans will play wireless games on a regular basis. Datamonitor predicts that the global market for wireless games will be $17.5 billion in 2006, with the US market generating $3 billion. The Yankee Group (http://www.yankeegroup. com) is more cautious, predicting that gaming in the US will generate $1.2 billion by 2006.

Lots to learn from what the Japanese have been doing and lots of optimism for the future for the West... This is the cool stuff right now.


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