Tercek, involved in mobile games since the industry’s early days, criticised developers for copying successful games like Supercell's Clash of Clans, as well as for including in-app purchases of up to £69.99 in children's games.
Instead, he encouraged mobile games developers to cast their nets wider and think about some of the big trends around smartphones and personal technology
“I think a lot of people who are focused on imitating and chasing or following the market are thinking too small. They need to think bigger: there are some amazing challenges happening if you begin to think outside the phone,” said Tercek.
He cited the buzz in the digital marketing world around reuniting the digital world with the real world, suggesting that in the hands of many marketing agencies, this will result in “hamfisted and cumbersome” campaigns.
“I think this presents a gigantic opportunity in the future for mobile games developers, who are uniquely positioned to make that appealing, interesting and fun for consumers,” he said. “Game developers lure people in with fun, and know how to turn them from passive to active.”
Examples of the real and digital worlds coming together that might be interesting for mobile gaming? Tercek talked about the trend for “second-screen” projects, where an app or site running on a smartphone or tablet synchronises with what’s happening on a bigger screen nearby – usually the TV.
“In TV, I happen to think the concept of the second screen is a fad, it’s not necessarily a long-term trend. Most second-screen apps are trying to shore up television, which is a distinctly retrograde experience compared to all the experiences you can get in digital media,” he said.
From wearables to smart cities
Instead, Tercek suggested that mobile games developers could do much more interesting things around real-world events such as sports – “all the big arenas are gearing up to have synchronised gameplay on top of their events” – as well as mobile apps that interact with console games.
He also said games developers should be thinking harder about what the buzz around the Internet of Things might mean for gaming, noting the proliferation of computers inside other devices – from cars to thermostats to cities to…
“Wearable computers: they’re terrible today, I know, but this is a very early stage. We’ve been there before with mobile: in the next two generations, these will get far better,” he said, citing fitness-trackers like Fitbit and FuelBand as just as relevant as Google Glass and smart watches.
“Even entire cities, with the smart city initiatives that have turned more than 100 cities around the world into kind of networked computers,” he said. “These are all going to expand greatly the field we have for designing games, and having games experiences in the real world. And this is how we’re going to interface with them: the smartphone. The smartphone will become the link, the ignition key, that opens up the internet of things.”
Tercek didn’t shy away from some of the privacy concerns around a world where everything is connected and capable of tracking the people around it.
In fact, he warned the audience to think beyond the familiar notions of the social graph – people’s network of friends and activities on social networks like Facebook – and the interest graph of topics you talk about online (“Twitter introduced us to the interest graph and Facebook promptly ripped them off!”).
But he noted that marketers are now just as interested in the “physical graph”, breaking that down into the geolocation graph, which is where you go in the real world, and the proximity graph, which is the access points and devices around you that you may interact with – knowingly or not.
“There is a gigantic pattern of behaviour that to most of us has been invisible until now, and it will be no surprise to you that marketers are keenly interested in this information,” said Tercek, pointing to Disney’s launch of RFID bands for visitors to wear around its theme parks, as well as Google’s acquisition of smart-home device maker Nest.
“Google bought Nest, and that is a very important threshold. Nest devices are some of the earliest internet-of-things devices that consumers have purchased themselves, consciously. Nest has a long-term roadmap – they’re brilliant visionaries from Apple – and Google acquired them,” said Tercek.
“The reason? Google desperately wants to get into the home to track user behaviour, and these devices do track user behaviour in the home: who’s there, when you go out, when you come back and more. That’s very valuable information for Google… now Google is inside of your nest, which is a little bit troubling as a concept.”
Shopping and tracking
That’s not all. Tercek talked about developments in retail technology, where (some) shops are tracking movement around their stores by analysing CCTV footage, but also sniffing for the data being transmitted by smartphones as they search for Wi-Fi networks.
“As shoppers move through the stores, retailers are capturing all those SSIDs and tracking where you go in the store to build a map of behaviour, and create heat maps to find which areas of the store are which active, where traffic bunches up. They can A/B test different displays in stores to see which capture interest more,” said Tercek.
“But they can take all that behavioural and SSID data, and they can correlate that to credit-card numbers. With two credit-card transactions, they can do an SSID match, and you lose all anonymity in the shop. Most people are unaware that this is occurring.”
Tercek is involved with an initiative called The Wireless Registry that is aiming to give some of the control back to people, in terms of how their data allows them to be tracked (or not). The idea, people can opt in or opt out, which he described as being like a do-not-call list for mobile identity, as people travel around.
“Why opt-in? Sometimes we do want to get the free coupon or find out the free offer, and sometimes we don’t. We’re going to give people the ability to set permissions,” he said.
“But there is an opportunity in the future for mobile developers to invite people to participate in game-like experiences that overlay the shopping activity and all the other activities. There’ll be an opportunity to opt in to game-like experiences.”
The message of Tercek’s speech was for more games developers to be thinking about these kinds of concepts, rather than simply looking at the games making most money on the app stores now, and following in their footsteps. Or, indeed, simply ripping them off.
“I see copycats: iteration on the same concept over and over again instead of genuine innovation. If you look on the App Store, there are hundreds of games there that are lookalikes,” said Tercek, showing a slide of games all with the same clear inspiration.
“Those are all variants on Clash of Clans. I call it the Clash of Clones. I don’t think these add much value for people at home, and candidly it defines a category of competition, which is this unimaginative, imitative approach, because people are desperate to find a way to break through.”
Tercek was equally dismissive of games based on children’s brands that are including heavy in-app purchase options, showing a couple of slides from The Guardian’s article last June revealing that brands including Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants had done this.
“That’s the very ugly part,” he said. “It’s one of the most pernicious aspects of mobile games today… The child could be inadvertently lured into making a purchase, which is hard to explain to your parents if you’re pre-literate… Many of the kids playing these games don’t read, or don’t read particularly well.”
However, Tercek also praised some of the innovation happening around user interface and user experience in mobile gaming, citing Badlands, Hundreds, Device 6 and Strata as just four examples.
He also had warm words for a startup called Imagimod, which has its own spin on reuniting the digital and physical worlds, based on 3D mobile games: “A system to enable developers to allow people to capture their favourite moments and print them out on 3D printers.”
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