April 2, 2006

Music acts eager to get some game

By Antony Bruno

SAN FRANCISCO (Billboard) - Kanye West, U2 or Faith Hill
may soon be coming to a mobile game near you.

Artists, record labels and mobile developers are in the
early stages of discussing ways to create mobile games based on
the likeness -- and, potentially, music -- of today's hottest

"This year, we'll see games based on musical acts that will
be successful," says Greg Ballard, CEO of mobile game publisher
Glu Mobile.

It is a concept that until recently has been noticeably
missing from the broader videogame and wireless entertainment
landscape, two platforms the music industry has bullishly

To date, the bulk of mobile-game licensing activity has
come from the movie industry. It is almost standard practice
these days to release a mobile game based on a movie release,
either simultaneously or weeks before the film's opening.
Mobile game developers already have licensed rights to such
summer flicks as "Ice Age 2," "Mission Impossible III," "The
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and "Transformers." Past
blockbusters like "War of the Worlds," "Peter Jackson's King
Kong" and "Fantastic Four" all have spawned mobile games as

Wireless operators and mobile game developers enjoy these
deals because the millions that movie studios spend on
advertising ultimately promote and drive sales for the
accompanying mobile game.

Movie studios like games because they generate incremental
revenue to offset increasingly larger movie budgets and serve
as supplementary promotional tools.

So where is the music industry? Surely a mobile game
featuring acts with a pending record release could be used in
much the same way.


Slowly, mobile game developers are forging relationships
with record labels to expand the music element. Gameloft, a
mobile game studio run by the owners of console-game publisher
Ubisoft, has started licensing music to include in several of
its mobile game soundtracks, including hits from Lynyrd
Skynyrd, Sum 41, Phantom Planet and Beyonce.

According to Karin Kaiser, the company's deputy director of
licensing, this has led to preliminary discussions with labels
for artist-branded games.

Zingy, known as a pioneer of the ringtone industry, is
skipping the labels and striking licensing deals with artists
and managers directly. It has already published a game titled
"Free Yayo" based on Tony Yayo and featuring members of the
G-Unit label, including 50 Cent.

It will release the U.S. version of the mobile game based
on the 50 Cent biopic "Get Rich or Die Tryin"' March 28 in
conjunction with the film's DVD release. Later this summer,
Zingy plans to unveil a series of mobile games based on the
Notorious B.I.G.

But such activity remains very much on a case-by-case
basis. Mobile game developers have not yet wrapped their heads
around the concept of creating games based on musical acts.

"From our perspective, it's not very easy to create a game
around an artist," Gameloft's Kaiser says. "With a movie, you
have a lot to exploit to develop a game -- characters and a
story line. For an artist, it doesn't apply as well."


That is why the early entrants to the format have focused
on hip-hop stars, where guns, violence and compelling story
lines are not uncommon.

"The urban angle certainly has more of a story to it," says
Zingy's Scott Debson, vice president of licensing and
publishing. "When you're looking at shoot-'em-up games, you're
not really going to have Kelly Clarkson in it."

Although the vast majority of available mobile games fall
into the action/adventure category, the best sellers are in
fact "casual" games, such as poker, puzzles, bowling or darts.
These types of games are much easier to brand with a particular
act or album that otherwise lacks a story line.

Additionally, 58 percent of mobile gamers are women, who do
not normally go for the shoot-'em-up style and may want that
Kelly Clarkson-themed game after all.

Both points suggest there is room for creative development
that does not try to copy those made for the bigger consoles.
Actually creating a good game, however, is the more difficult

"One thing that the mobile-games business has learned in
the past year is that brands without good games behind them
don't do the industry very good and they don't do very well
commercially," Glu Mobile's Ballard says. "There's a lot of
risk around doing those sorts of games. For a music label it
might be worth the risk. For a game company, it might be a
little scary."

But risk is exactly what visionaries feel is necessary if
mobile gaming is to realize its full potential. The average
mobile game costs only $200,000 to make. That is far less than
the budgets of most console-based games, which can run more
than $10 million.

"At some point we have to take a risk," said John Szeder,
CEO of mobile game developer Mofactor, at the close of the
recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. "Otherwise,
people get really sick of the same old stuff."