There’s a panel on mobile gaming in Palo Alto next week. Mike Nelson, the moderator, spoke at the games focused Mobile Monday in March. Him and I met up before the event and talked some about mobile games as a whole and the tendency to port existing titles to mobile platforms. Him and I both agree that simply viewing the mobile device as a scaled down version of a standard console leaves a lot of value on the table with respect to mobile games. Not that there’s no room for a good port, there’s some great stuff out there. But I expect the real explosion in usage will come when games begin to recognize more that the mobile device is more than just a small computer, and the situated nature of the game experience and available network connection (and short range wireless) begin to have greater impact on game design. Fooling around with the PSP a bunch has made me realize the way that multiplayer portable gaming works out. It’s not really about having the game with me all the time so that I can fill up bits of time (I do that reading news), but the ability to bring the game to where my friends are. Unfortunately, the PSP is too big to carry around all the time. My phone is always in my pocket, and it’s in my hand when I’m wearing something without pockets. If that were the way I played games when I bump into my friends I don’t have to ask the “You have your PSP with you?” question.
Christian Lindholm tells a story about a presentation he gave where he asked how many people had iPods. It was at a tech conference, so almost everyone raised their hand. Then he asked how many people had it with them, and very few people raised their hands. He says that’s why he doesn’t consider the iPod a mobile platform. That’s a fantastic point: “portable” does not mean “mobile”. Even if it does fit in your pocket and you can operate it with one hand. Just because you CAN bring it with you, that’s not impressive. The impressive part is that you DO bring it with you, all the time and everywhere. When people like Russ and Christian and Anita and Jason and I talk about mobility we’re thinking about a device that’s with you all the time. It’s your connection to your friends and family. It’s your lifeline for work. It’s your calendar and your contact list. It’s a mindset that’s removed from the physical and technical specs of the device itself, and centers around the way that device fits into your life. For a lot of people games and play are the natural points of contact with their friends, and I think some well designed games and game-like services could go a long way toward making people understand the role that the technology can be serving in their lives.