The Nature of Gaming In A Smartphone Society

Why mobile games are becoming about community rather than narrative

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As smartphones find their way into the pockets of more than a billion people across countries from Brazil to South Africa, Kabam--a San Francisco-based mobile-gaming company--has noticed a curious development for the gaming industry.

"These are places where console gaming and PC gaming have never really taken off before," said Kevin Chou, Kabam's CEO. "But people in all these countries are buying smartphones ... We think of games as one way that we can connect all of these people together and give them shared experiences."

The combination of that smartphone explosion with the relentless advance in mobile-device capabilities has changed the way people interact with gaming, Chou said. With a constant high-speed internet connection and graphics that rival and even exceed those on a console, smartphones offer a uniquely social and dynamic gaming experience.

Meanwhile, those factors also have transformed the way mobile games are developed into a nimble, iterative process that responds almost immediately to how users want to play them.

"Our games at Kabam always evolve," said Peter Glover, a senior director of project management at Kabam. "We could look at something on a Monday ... and add to the value that the players are getting out of the experience on a Friday."

That process underpins the philosophy behind Kabam's games. Rather than explicitly craft a narrative for players to experience, the company builds environments for players to navigate where their interactions with other players organically develop the gameplay.

"We're story enablers," Chou said. "It's much more interesting for a consumer to feel like they're a part of the narrative and that they're shaping the way that the gameplay turns out almost in real time."

Kingdoms of Camelot, for example, has been Kabam's strongest franchise with more than six million monthly users at its peak. In the game, players build their own kingdoms, train armies, form alliances and go to war with other kingdoms in an ongoing quest to become the most powerful. Since the game launched in 2009, Kabam has employed a team of 30 that's exclusively dedicated to monitoring gameplay, adding new features, and adapting the experience to the needs of its players, according to Chou.

For Kabam, that iterative development of games allows them to quickly launch new games, shut down unsuccessful ones and adapt games across their life cycle. At least in part, that method has contributed to more than $180 million in gross revenue in 2012.

With the adoption of mobile platforms and their rapid technological advances, Kabam's approach to mobile-game design boils down to fostering engagement between players and creating immersive environments for them to interact, leaving explicit storytelling to other media.

"When (people) want a great story and a great narrative told to them, I think movies or television or long form editorial is a much better way for consumers to get that type of content," Chou said. "The power of games today is much more about connecting big communities together and letting them shape the narrative themselves."
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