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All the Wireless Buzz from Europe

All the Wireless Buzz from Europe

Nokia Game 2001: Gaming Experience or Marketing Effort?
by Tom Dibble

Wireless games are expected to generate revenues of $4.4 billion by 2006, a revised prediction after Ovum had questioned Datamonitor's initial prediction of a mobile games market worth over $16 billion. Datamonitor's earlier prediction, first revealed at ECTS 2000, was one of the catalysts of the hype surrounding the wireless gaming market. Ovum claimed that the predictions made by Datamonitor are overrated and that consumers will be willing to pay for wireless games only when they perceive value.

Availability of leisure time is seen as one of the most important factors in the growth of the market. Although wireless games are popular with the under-25 group (in Europe, defined as ages 11-25), it's more the affluent middle youth market (ages 18-26) that needs to be targeted. The inherent problem is that this segment's limited leisure time means that analysts are predicting that 68-85% of this sector won't be playing wireless games.

Also imperative for wireless gaming to sustain profitability is the introduction of price benchmarking by carriers. Understanding the market and a clear idea of who users are and what they expect to pay should reduce the level of experimentation. Wireless games revenue is now less than $124 million, with the majority of this coming from the APAC (Asia-Pacific) regions. Analysts are predicting that Western Europe will match this activity by 2006, and that the U.S. should represent 14-15% of the world market by then.

With this in mind, let's take a cloudy look into the future. Let's face it, traditional rules of product life cycle don't reign at the moment and I haven't yet met anyone who has been enthralled by current standards of innovation in the entertainment arena. Some players are hoping to rewrite the rule book though. Nokia Game is a real-time all-media adventure that kicked off at the beginning of November. It ran for three weeks and is the second year it's been held. Nokia has claimed 600,000 players from 28 countries for this year's event.

Over a total of 20 gaming days, players were required to collect and act on a series of clues delivered via a host of media. This media spread over the Internet, press, radio, e-mail, voice telephony, SMS, and TV. Players who successfully put all the pieces of the puzzle together were challenged with a chance to participate in the grand finale. Players needed to "stay connected" for the entire gaming period in order to obtain clues and information from all the media sources and to progress to the next stage.

So, could this game really be worth that much attention and effort? Nokia Game isn't the first of its kind. However, it is the highest-profiled multiplatform game out there. Before we continue though, let's put something into perspective. It is a promotional play for Nokia mobile phones and their spin-off consulting business. With that in mind, do we label it a gaming experience or an intelligent marketing effort? The answer depends on who you ask, and it's a tricky question.

As a mobile strategist and one who registered to play the game, here's my two cents. I registered in anticipation that I was about to get sucked into three weeks of rich gaming, stunning online visuals, intrigue, and deception. Did I get any of this? In short, no. I found the online elements flimsy and weak even while bearing in mind that the Internet participation still had to be designed for narrowband users. The most novel aspects were having to tune into a radio station, look for newspaper ads pertaining to the game, and spot TV ads that both kicked off the game and ran mid-game.

I "switched off" as of November 17. I didn't have the patience anymore. I think the whole Nokia Game experience for me, personally, was a novelty. Maybe I'm too old, or maybe I didn't get involved as much as I could have, but at the end of the day, at no stage of the game did I feel compelled to keep visiting sites and taking time out to listen to the radio. I feel it omitted some compelling factors. Overall, understanding the amount of planning and expenditure that went into the whole episode, I still take my hat off to Nokia for pulling it off.

I'm sure in the future this concept will be enhanced and integrated into games you buy off the shelf from major gaming software houses; until then it seems unfortunate, but it remains a concept and a novelty. Aside from gaming, this concept can also be a powerful marketing tool, as ironically, we have seen work for Nokia. Higher bandwidth wireless connections may still turn out to be an advertiser's dream.

2001 Version Increases Brand Awareness, but Not Enjoyment
by Jay Gooby

Nokia Game 2001 was the second time that this multimedia adventure has been run. This year, players from 28 countries in Europe and the Middle East played simultaneously, with the best players in each country vying for the grand prize - a new Nokia 5510.

As per last year, the basic format of Nokia Game consisted of solving Web-based flash puzzles, with a story line supported by clues in adverts on television, radio, and in press, plus a player's diary on the Nokia Game Web site that reviewed the action so far.

In addition to the games, Nokia created a number of "in-character" Web sites, where further information and clues could be found. For instance the news page on the Tragamin site (www.tragamin.com/news) carried the following item just after Nokia Game started:

"…an unknown force is seeking to destroy all gaming pleasure. This force, our sources believe, goes by the name of Geneva…. If you are approached by someone or something calling themselves Geneva and asking for your help, please contact Tragamin immediately"

A voice mail on my mobile informed me about the start of NG 2001, but the effect of the message from the mysterious Geneva was rather spoiled by the advert for Channel 4 television at the end of it.

Last year, not playing the Web games by the appointed deadline often meant you were simply knocked out of the competition. This year, not playing them meant you wouldn't accrue points that could be "spent" to help discover further clues later in the game, and to rank players and decide who stayed and who got knocked out in the final stages.

Perhaps this was done in response to complaints from players who felt they were knocked out too early last year (at times, it did mean you had to remember to play every day - a weekend away or a day not visiting the Web site often meant you were out of the game), but I feel it reduced the tension.

Nokia also seems to have reduced the involvement of people's mobile phones; last year we were informed of new rounds and places to visit through text messages and received a number of voice mails. This year most of the in-game communication from Nokia came via e-mail. This is a real shame because the most recent game felt much more Web-based and seemed to underutilize the promised "media landscape."

That said, clues appeared on TV, radio, and in the newspapers. An unfortunate hiccup meant that in the UK, the final clue for the penultimate day was printed over a week early, a fact that many of the fan sites picked up on, scanning the advert in and making it available for players in other countries.

To have any chance of winning, it was really worth browsing these fan sites; given the sheer number of people playing, news and speculation was rife, but helpful hints and tips were often to be found along with clues you may have missed or not solved yourself. One clue in this year's game was a mysterious coded alphabet. Due to cooperation on the fan sites this was almost entirely decoded and was even available as a font download!

Two of my favorite sites were the Nokia Game Reference, www.nokia-game.com and the NG Forum, www.ngforum.net/. Some fan sites went one step further than just sharing information, with closed membership policies designed to create an "elite" group of knowledgeable and dedicated players. Keith Szlamp's excellent NokiaGameClues.com helped some of its members claim 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions in the U.K. competition last year.

Given the pan-European focus of the game (with individual winners per country) and the effort required to produce press, radio, and television adverts for every country to tie in with the game, it's a shame that the game background was so blatantly connected with mobile phones (with one game even requiring you to listen to a seemingly endless set of bleeps in order to match pairs of Nokia ringtones), Nokia products, and the tired stereotypical aspirational youth life style of the skate- or snowboarder.

Nokia Game was a huge success last year, with some half-million people playing in 18 countries. The addition of another 10 countries this year surely increased Nokia's brand-awareness even further abroad. Let's hope that next year's game includes more of those multimedia elements that made the 2000 game so enjoyable.

More Stories By Tom Dibble

Tom Dibble , a wireless entrepreneur, is a cofounder of
Global Wireless Forum, a forum dedicated to dealing with commercial, strategic,
technical issues on the evaluation of the wireless age in Europe and
the U.S.

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