By Jared Newman | Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm
Blackberry’s incoherent approach to video games never seemed like a problem before, but with Blackberry Torch and the new consumer focus of Blackberry 6, Research in Motion could soon find itself behind in the one area it overlooked.
The new trend in mobile gaming, and games in general, is social glue — the idea that a random smattering of games in an app store is no longer enough. People want to be involved in their games on another level, whether it’s the persistent beckoning of Farmville or the overarching achievement system of Xbox Live.
That glue is starting to ooze into mobile gaming. Apple sees the importance and is building Game Center, a layer of achievements, friends lists, matchmaking and leaderboards that developers can append to their games. When Microsoft launches Windows Phone 7 later this year, games will fall under the banner of Xbox Live, presumably with the same social features as its console counterpart. Google’s plans are a little murkier, but some kind of social gaming service is expected, and I’d be surprised if Android wasn’t involved.
Video games are not a trivial part of the smartphone experience. The number of smartphone owners who played games at least once a month increased 60 percent from February 2009 to February 2010, according to comScore. Games are the second-largest category in Blackberry App World, behind themes, and Compete says 54 percent of Blackberry owners have at least one game on their devices. Admittedly, that pales in comparison to iPhone owners, 51 percent of whom have five or more games installed, but maybe Apple’s extensive games catalog is one reason so many Blackberry owners are looking to jump ship.
Gaming will become a more important part of owning a smartphone, and social glue will be the factor that draws people to a platform and keeps them coming back. With Blackberry Torch and Blackberry 6 OS, RIM was so busy playing catch-up on key features, such as the browser and universal search, that it failed to see what the other major smartphone makers are working on next.