Some of the folks from Nokia SNAP (Scalable Network Application Package) stopped by Mobile Monday this month to talk about the work they’re doing to support connected mobile gaming. Ever since I saw the way Live works on the XBox 360 I’ve been interested in the community aspects of gaming. Lots of developers talk about getting their users engaged and excited about their applications, but the games folks are the only ones who do it on a regular basis. Imagine if whatever you were working on ended up resulting in hundreds of thousands of people spending hours using your app at a time just because it was interesting. Definitely cool.
People engaged in play are much different beasties. They view the world around them and the tasks in front of them in a much different way than when they’re goal directed. If we want to find those compelling applications that get people to keep taking their phone out of their pocket over and over again throughout the day it seems like encouraging them to play and interact would be a great way to do so. That seems to be what SNAP is aimed at, encouraging people to interact on their mobile both through and around gaming.
So what is it actually? At a very high level it’s an SDK with associated Nokia-hosted servers that allow mobile devices to communicate. The interaction is focused on providing communication from within a game as well as realtime collaborative and interactive gameplay. Home consoles and titles for PCs have been doing this kind of thing for a while, and increasingly games for handheld systems provide some sort of functionality like this (such as SOCOM for the PSP or Mario Kart for the Nintendo DS). The SDK is currently available for Java (both on Nokia devices and on other hardware) but other platforms are probably coming in the future. And the business model is based around a revenue share instead of up front fees. The project seems to be really new still, and a lot of the details are still being ironed out.
For me, the out of game community stuff actually seems really interesting. One of the most popular games in mobile currently is online poker. I’m sure rankings and interpersonal competition over time have a lot to do with that. Sure, people get pretty obsessive about their poker game across the board sometimes. But I doubt the same success would be enjoyed if the game was played simply against an AI opponent offline. I’ve been looking around recently for interesting instances of online play and community (yes, Second Life is on the “research list”) and it seems like this would lower the activation energy for someone working in that direction.