Gaming is Blackberry Torch's Missing Piece

By  |  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.



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Cerm Says:

    As someone who regularly writes about games, this article seems like something that you would write. However, let me just speak up for the silent majority and say that I don't care if Blackberry ever gets any games. Or any other smartphone platform, for that matter.

    I had a Gameboy as a kid, but, these days, there's nothing that I want to do less than play games on a portable device – especially one with a touch-screen and no dedicated gaming controls. If I have a few moments in line somewhere that I need to kill, I'd rather check my email or catch up on Google Reader.

    I used to have an iPhone, and I have an iPod Touch now. There's not a single game in the App Store that I would actually want to play. If I wanted to play games, I would probably have a PSP or a DS, but I don't, because I don't really find any games on those systems all that compelling either.

    And it's not like I hate games. I play PC and Xbox 360 games regularly. I just don't find the idea of playing incredibly shallow games in a drop-in-drop-out fashion all that interesting. I'd rather that my smartphone be dedicated to doing smartphone-type things really well. When I want to play a game, I'll pick up something that's designed for that purpose, and capable of delivering a worthwhile experience.

  2. JaredNewman Says:

    Hey Mike,

    I'm not sure you're in the silent majority anymore. The data cited on mobile gaming shows how popular it is becoming. Also, the Nintendo DS is routinely the best-selling game console on the market. It may not be loaded with first-person shooters, but it sells.

    In any case, the issue here is not whether Blackberry has games (it already does), but whether it has a gaming platform. RIM's competitors have recognized the need and are building them.

  3. Mike Cerm Says:

    The DS is a special case, because it's purchased almost exclusively for kids by their parents to shut them up on long car rides. There is very little overlap between the groups of people who buy smartphones and the people who typically play DS. Best-selling console though it may be, there are still a lot more people who do not own a DS than people who do, i.e. most people do not play handheld games.

    In very unscientific terms, I do not know a single adult who owns a DS, or even plays around with their children's DS. However, nearly everyone I know has a smartphone of some sort, and uses it mostly if not entirely for non-gaming purposes. If Blackberry wants to sell phones to these people, they should figure out how to make a great smartphone. The Torch looks decent, but I don't think a slow processor and their still-outdated OS is really going to win many people over from iPhone or Android. Its ability to play games is not what's missing.

  4. JaredNewman Says:

    I think we're at the point of agreeing to disagree, but I would be careful about making assumptions based on what you've seen in your social circle. As an example, here's a graph of Nintendo DS demographics:

    While it's true that a lot of DS users are kids, to say the handheld is "purchased almost exclusively for kids by their parents" is just not accurate. Sure, those stats are from Japan, but when you also consider that Brain Age (targeted at older folks) is the third-best-selling DS game of all time, I think there's plenty of evidence that the DS is popular with more than just children.

    We're on a tangent, but the point is that just because you personally don't know anyone who plays a lot of smartphone games doesn't mean there isn't a huge demographic of people who do. Apple and Microsoft obviously think it's big enough to go after with full-blown mobile gaming platforms. If no one played a lot of games on their smartphones, why bother?

  5. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    This is a legitimate question, but BlackBerry is well ahead of Android when it comes to games because RIM makes integrated devices. They can create a single game platform with a single API, OpenGL implementation, and app store that presents itself as "another console" in the same way that iOS has. Enabling communication between BlackBerry users is the easy part since they already have central servers that all the BlackBerry messaging goes through. So Apple and RIM are in a position that is similar to Sony and Nintendo in game consoles. Whether RIM picks up that ball and runs with it is another question, but it is sitting right there in front of them.

    Android gaming is a disaster. Never mind a gaming network, they do not have a gaming platform. All the same problems from their app platform exist — fragmentation, various hardware, Java, piracy — plus you add the complexity of each different device having its own unique bugs in the OpenGL implementation. So Android is not like console gaming, it's like PC gaming a long time ago. That is why there are so few 3D games, it takes the developer a ton of work to rewrite in Java, work around OpenGL bugs and varying hardware features and OS versions to support all of those devices and in the end they are very unlikely to make any money. It's possible to deploy a game on Android, but not practical. And as for a gaming network, just plugging the word "Google" in there and assuming it will go right is also not practical, especially when it is really the carriers who would have this responsibility.

    Microsoft is using DirectX in Windows Phone 7 and limiting the hardware very strictly, and obviously they are prioritizing games since they are a console maker, so we'll see what happens.

    But certainly, when it comes to games it is Android that is missing the most pieces.

  6. @freeblackberry Says:

    RIM has been thinking a lot on the "Fuidity" of using their devices. Android has not gotten it yet comparing it to the iPhone. I hope OS6 will solve this.