Reply To: Sierra Quests on the Mobiles Link

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In the UK, mobile cellular phones are the standard form of communication, preferred over landline telephone services for reasons of price and convenience. As such, video games for mobile phones are commonplace, and phones have been evolving toward a PDA type of package (e.g., widespread vidphone capability). Furthermore, as laptops, notebooks, and Tablets evolve, we see the merging of these two industries. This is already the case with the XDA and a similar project by Sony that merges a PDA — and full video and sound support — with completely wireless communication technology and Internet, resulting in handheld computer-vidphones reminiscent of Star Trek or Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict. Even standard phones now, at least in the UK, have the ability to download games so there is no need to remain connected to any wireless service.

We already know of the success of mindless arcade, card, board, and memory games on mobile phones and PDAs. These are especially popular among the commuters, who make up the vast majority of the city populations (particularly London) in the UK. The same can be said of other major cities, like New York, Paris, Tokyo. There is also the large long-distance commuter market, such as those who fly on a regular basis. As aforementioned, the technology already exists for all these people to enjoy these games at low cost, and that industry is rising.

Can adventure games become a viable source of entertainment on mobile phones and PDAs? I think the answer to this depends on the type of adventure games, specifically their length and interface. The average daily city commute is most likely less than two hours, and, since that market greatly outnumbers the long-distance commuter market, I will only consider them in my analysis. Based on an average gaming session of, say, an hour, is it possible to provide the commuter with something entertaining enough to be fulfilling and yet leave them with the desire to continue it the next day? The current games provide a quick break in monotony and do not require any investment of time or energy, while adventure games require patience and dedication (hence the savegame function). A major factor that distinguishes an adventure game from any other type of aforementioned game is its length and, by inference, replayability: all other aforementioned games have infinite (or infinitely looping) length allowing for limitless replayability, while an adventure game has a set storyline that, once completed, limits replayability due to the lack of surprises. The other types of games do not build such expectations and so can be replayed with greater entertainment than adventure games. Conversely, a storyline’s entertainment value decreases with length, so if we were to create an hour-long adventure, it would not be as enjoyable as a 12-hour one.

Likewise, the conventional adventure game interface is not conducive to short gaming sessions. The point-and-click interface can be frustrating unless pixel-hunting — arguably a major component of adventure gaming — is eliminated, and, even then, the interface does not cater to bumpy rides (e.g., those commuting by car, bus, or train). A text interface is even more frustrating, requiring too much time and effort to input a single command.

With that said, is it possible to provide a meaningful storyline that can be played in an hour? Not by current (or past, meaning Sierra) standards. Any “port” of past games to this medium would be popular only among the die-hard fans, which is too small an audience to net any profit. (In fact, the cost to make, package, and advertise it would probably be significantly more than any expected returns.) So, old games are out, but there is still the possibility of creating entirely new games for this medium. It is definitely possible to create a game that randomly generates a new adventure — designed to be completed within an hour — each session, perhaps with the added bonus of a savegame or two, akin to LucasArts’ Desktop Adventures (but substituting storyline and adventure-style puzzles for arcade and maze elements). A further help would be to remove the need for savegames, making dying completely impossible (i.e., like Leisure Suit Larry 7, and LucasArts’ Monkey Island series).

But even in this case, it still caters to a limited audience that prefers puzzle-solving amidst storyline backdrop, and this also assumes that such an audience would enjoy playing their favourite type of game — usually requiring the amount of patience and dedication that can be found in the comforts of their own home — while on the move during a hectic business day. Thus, the audience for this type of game would probably be a small minority of the already small adventure game audience. In short, exporting past adventure games to mobile phones and PDAs is a wasted business venture, but it is, as you have proven, still a viable fan effort, albeit for very few fans. Creating new adventure games designed for short timespans, on the other hand, is definitely a potentially profitable venture, but only if the mainstream adventure game industry (i.e., for PCs) is revived.

In conclusion, it’s no surprise that Vivendi rejected your proposal at the present time. If adventure games ever re-emerged as a leading contender in the game industry, however, your idea — if modified in the aforementioned ways — could succeed.