The GameCreator: Self-Created Mobile Games on the Internet

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Mobile Gaming; Motivations, Community; Toolkits
Marketing; Game Design; Game Programming

Mobile gaming in general is gaining popularity among youth. This year, world wide sales exceeded the one billion dollar limit. Currently, mobile games are either designed by professional game firms like Elkware, Davilex, and Gameloft, or by highly skilled java programmers, often organized in sponsored developers communities such as Forum Nokia Pro, and Siemens Developers Village. In contrast, in this paper we introduce the GameCreator (see Figure 1), an Internet portal that enables consumers to create and download their own mobile java games on the Internet without any programming skills totally from scratch or by adjusting a preconfigured ready made top game. The GameCreator provides users with the opportunity to customize and develop game components via a graphical user interface, which requires no programming expertise. Every consumer gets its personal game according to its individual needs. Hence, not only playing but also the construction of characters and storylines even new game logics may be a rewarding experience. As shown in innovation research, even if consumers are motivated and know what they want, often, they are not capable to express their ideas and requirements for their individual product (e.g. von Hippel 1998). What is missing is a toolkit that allows consumers to transfer their knowledge into real products in an easy and fast way. According to von Hippel and Katz (2002), such a toolkit must allow user friendly operation, offer module libraries, provide "trial and error" functionality, and define a possible solution space. The introduced GameCreator concept adopted the toolkit approach in the field of mobile phone games. The basic principles and functionalities of toolkits were translated into a technical software concept that facilitates the creation of mobile games on the Internet. In line with the open source concept (e.g. Butler et al. 2002; Lerner and Tirole 2000; von Krogh 2003), but as an extending feature to the toolkit approach, the GameCreator is embedded in an own online community. Thus, contributions by innovative gamers can be stored in a library leading to a continuously growing pool of available components. Games and components can be passed on easily between users, facilitating the adoption of other users’ contributions as well as collaborative development between users, organized in clans. The community feature of the toolkit does not only provide the common toolset of online communities allowing for user-to-user communication, e.g. chats and bulletin boards, or text based contributions, e.g. recommendations, product evaluations and voting tools, but it also enables users to exchange and jointly develop actual product prototypes. The phenomenon that consumers are motivated to create and proud of their own products can be observed in several areas of youth culture. For example, teenagers customize their shoes or paint their bags. They modify their skateboards or bikes. In addition, computer games like "The Sims" are successful because they offer heavy customization tools and allow users to share their created components with others (Jeppesen and Molin 2003; Koivisto 2003; Prügl et al. 2004; Sicart 2003). In this paper we show that self-created mobile games add value to gamers through the creation experience it-self (e.g. fun of creation, build up and dive in a fantasy world, being in control, challenge), the game tailored to individual needs (personalization, being different, pride of authorship), and the interaction with other peer-group-members (e.g. recognition, publicity, game sharing , intensive collaboration and interaction). According to the flow concept (Csikszentmihalyi 2002; Csikszentmihalyi 1997; Ghani and Desphande 1994), a compelling experience may be neither too easy nor too difficult, but must exactly correspond to the skills of the participants. As the GameCreator addresses different user groups with different levels of skills and expectations, it is impossible to design one single toolkit that fits all. For one group it may be too complex - leading to confusion and frustration, while too easy for the other – leading to boredom and apathy. To satisfy the needs of the heterogeneous user structure, the GameCreator offers three different modes – easy, advanced, and master mode. The definition of these modes results from a first user test run at the Klagenfurt university, Austria. The easy mode is tailored to mobile-internet-crossover (M-I-X) users, which so far did not download mobile games. These users may occasionally play pre-configured games like snake, are open-minded towards new technologies, curious about new offerings and looking for entertainment. M-I-X users want their game within 5 clicks, and are not willing to spend time on learning how to navigate the GameCreator. Nevertheless, they are interested in customized games, using them as personal gift or message. The advanced mode addresses regular mobile gamers (e.g. approximately 15-19% of the 10 million teenagers in Germany(BWCS 2002).) They identify themselves with mobile gaming and possess the newest handhelds and games. For them, creating their own game means being different but at the same time belonging to a strong community. They derive fun from determining the game logic (e.g. shoot-’em-up, jump and run, or puzzle), choosing and designing different characters (e.g. race cars, heroes, villains or fantasy creatures, integrating a digital-photo of themselves or their friends), and adjusting the number of lives, difficulty and screens according to the individual gusto. These gamers are enabled to create their own games without any programming expertise. The master mode intends to attract real freaks. They possess java-programming skills and are interested in game design. For them, the GameCreator offers an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use scripting language, so freaks encounter challenging tasks and can demonstrate their know-how, without being a real java-expert. This by far smallest group of enthusiasts is able to contribute top games. Similar to open-source projects, such freaks have the possibility to become famous within their community, and receive recognition and admiration for their creations. In this paper we introduce the GameCreator concept, shed light on the motivational aspects of self-creation, and discuss the challenge of toolkit design for heterogeneous consumer groups. As first user-acceptance-tests confirmed the market appeal of self-created mobile games, we discuss some possible business models. Critical issues that might come up when running GameCreator are: how to deal with property rights, as well as with copyright and protection of minor for user generated games (Chung and Grimes 2005). Self-created games are very special and an expression of oneself, therefore, they will be sent and shown to friends and relatives, and may be used as personal gift, invitation, or personal message. Hence, an extended group of mobile phone users may become attracted to gaming. Maybe, a new genre of games - "Game Messaging" - will arise (cf. Smedstad et al. 2003). By the time of the conference we will be able to present the results of a large friendly-user test, providing more information about who will use the GameCreator platform and why. Proposed Track: Under Development References Butler, Brian, Lee Sproull, and Sara Kiesler (2002), "Community Effort in Online Groups: Who Does The Work and Why?," in Forthcomming in: Leadership at a Distance, S. Weisband and L. Atwater, Eds. Chung, Grace and Sara M. Grimes (2005), "Cool Hunting the Kids' Digital Playground: Datamining and the Privacy Debates in Children's Online Entertainment Sites," in Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, HICSS-38. Big Island, Hawaii: IEEE. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2002), Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (1 ed.). New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1997), Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life (1 ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books. 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Contact: Johann Füller, University of Innsbruck,
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