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Future Of Mobile Gaming Is Convergence

Developers need to integrate social networks, location, and music in order to reach the burgeoning market of mobile gamers, one Nokia executive suggests.

The future of mobile gaming isn't just about better graphics or sounds, it's about the convergence of gaming, music, location, and social networking, according to Nokia executive VP Tero Ojanpera.

During a keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference on Tuesday, Ojanpera said about 40% of the mobile gaming industry will come from emerging markets. This represents a tremendous opportunity, as Ojanpera estimates there are more than 1 billion people worldwide who will first see the Web though a mobile phone. While many of these new customers will not be as tech-savvy as a typical smartphone user, that doesn't mean developers can skimp on features or functionality. "Make no mistake, they want all of those exciting things that we have here and we need to provide that," Ojanpera said of the customers in emerging market.

This means integrating games with other features like location information and the consumer's music library, and he showed off a few upcoming Nokia games that do this. One game turns user-generated photos of streets into racecourses for a driving game, while another uses the customer's unique music library for rhythm-based gaming.

Social networking also will be a key aspect of mobile gaming, as Ojanpera said venture capitalists invested more than $1 billion in social gaming for 2008. He said interest in places like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter is only going to grow, and Nokia devices already are the most-used mobile devices for accessing Facebook in Europe and Asia.

He said developers need to step up to incorporate more social networking features to create a "mirror world" that will boost interest in mobile games and ultimately increase revenue for publishers, carriers, and handset makers. Ojanpera said Nokia will open up more aspects of its phones for developers to take advantage of. He said the camera API could be an especially intriguing opportunity for software makers to create compelling gaming experiences.

Some of these convergence elements will be evident in the upcoming Ovi Store, which is a virtual catalog for Nokia users to purchase games, ring tones, and other mobile content over the air. Rivals like Android, Apple, Research In Motion, and Windows Mobile also will have similar stores, but Nokia is trying to differentiate itself with location-based services and social features.

For example, if a customer is traveling and lands in San Francisco, the Ovi Store would know where he or she is based on GPS or cell tower and Wi-Fi triangulation, and it would recommend apps that would have location-relevant content. Additionally, the store could recommend apps that a user's friends and contacts have downloaded. Ojanpera said this system will evolve with customer feedback, and the recommendation engine is opt in because of possible privacy concerns.

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