Fun & games on Kindle

<img class=”alignright size-full wp-image-1185″ title=”landing_page_center_graphic_v208591535_” src=”http://www.icopartners.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/landing_page_center_graphic_v208591535_.png” alt=”landing_page_center_graphic_v208591535_” width=”291″ height=”276″ />Here is a blog post that has been waiting to happen for a while but it seems it is hasn’t lost its relevance in the mean time. I have seen very few comments in the gaming industry about the Kindle and its application to Games. At GDC, the only reference to it was from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/djedery/david-edery-gdc-2010-lecture”>David Edery’s presentation</a> (check slide 8’s notes) which is not that surprising as he is working on Kindle games.

For the full disclaimer, I should state that I own a Kindle and I have been using it a lot. It replaced books in my day-to-day life and perfectly fulfilled its role. So, you can definitely colour me as a Kindle-enthusiast. This being said, I am trying to look at the opportunities for Kindle applications and especially Kindle games with an eye towards business and business viability.<!–more–>

The first question would be, does it make sense from a  business point of view? Well, there are more than <a href=”http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives/2010/01/amazon_ceo_mill.html”>2 Millions Kindle users,</a> Amazon sales of digital books are soaring by all accounts, meaning those users are payers. In 2009, the ebook market was estimated at  <a href=”http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-02-16/amazon-e-book-market-share-to-fall-as-industry-grows-update1-.html”>135 Millions USD, 90% of it owned by Amazon</a>. That tells me there is a viable business to build there. It won’t have the size of the iPhone or the Android business, but considering the lack of interest of the game industry so far, I don’t think the competition will be that fierce and there is a definitive opportunity to take. The launch of the iPad is likely to hurt Amazon’s growth, but the Kindle, by having a more focused role in your day to day life can be seen as a more “niche” product, with the upside of being an easier position to defend.

Ok – so what kind of games can we imagine on the Kindle?

The Kindle could be seen as a very limited device, and in many ways it is true. More than the pure Processing power (it boasts a 530Mhz CPU), the way <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_Ink”>E Ink</a> works limits the way you can use the device. Not a lot of very twitchy, real-time games for you. No colour. But I actually think it plays in favour of the device.

But first, as I mention technology, a word on the parameters you have to take into account for your app:
<ul>
<li>Storage. Even if the Kindle has lots of storage capacity (2Go for the Kindle 2), having your app smaller than 1Mo can make it free to distribute. Otherwise, Amazon will charge you the download fee at 0.15$ per Mo. Not outrageously expensive, but the barrier between Free and Not free as we know is quite important. Also note that any app bigger than 10Mo won’t be delivered wireless-ly, you will have to download on  your computer and install on the Kindle via USB. That will create 3 categories of app: below 1Mo (potentially free, Whispernet distribution), between 1 and 10Mo (not free or at your cost, Whispernet distribution) and between 10 et 100Mo (potentially free, no Whispernet distribution).</li>
<li>Whispernet. The Kindle is a connected device. And it works everywhere. no need to worry about which country you are going to fly to, and the cost of the 3G connection. If you can connect, you won’t pay. And that’s a definite advantage to the smart phones. It means you can deliver content on a regular basis – you have a limit of 100Ko per month though.</li>
<li>Input. The Kindle has a full keyboard and a 5-ways controller button. You can’t have that analogic stick feeling, but it is still pretty nice. Considering the existing constraints from the E Ink anyway, this limitation is not that difficult to work with. Combine it with Whispernet, you may be able to actually use Facebook connect.</li>
<li>Payment. Amazon handles all the payments. a similar situation to Apple’s when the apps appearezd in iTunes, where a lot of people already had their payment information stored and where they could purchase in one-click (or almost). If you have a Kindle, it is very very likely that you have all in place to buy on Amazon with the push of a button. And, more interesting, Amazon handles subscriptions…</li>
</ul>
I think every single one of those points, the good ones as well as the bad ones, plays for the Kindle. Hear me out.

First, if you never had the opportunity, go buy and read Erik Bethke’s book <a href=”Game Development and Production”>Game Development and Production</a> (ironically, I just checked and it is not available on the Kindle store). Among the many good principles layed out in the book, Bethke is making an excellent case on the need for a studio to know the limits for its project and stay true to them, whether those limits are technology, budget or time (or was it quality? I can’t remember, but that’s beside the point). The Kindle, by setting the technological limitations for you already stricly define what kind of game you can do, allowing a team to actually focus on building a good experience.

Imagine it. You don’t ask yourself much about the rendering engine. No 3D, not much real-time, no huge client… While it could be argued that it means making games on Kindle uninteresting, I actually think that there will be fewer games than on the iPhone, but they will probably better games on average.

So, what kind of games can we expect on the Kindle? Here are a few I can come up with:
<ul>
<li>Newspaper games. Sudoku, Crosswords and the like. Well suited for the control scheme and the E Ink display, the <a href=”https://kindlepublishing.amazon.com/gp/vendor/”>Kindle SDK page</a> clearly points in that direction anyway. You can even make them subscription-based with monthly content delivered to you.</li>
<li>Gamebooks. I can totally see a new generation of Choose your own adventure books emerging on the kindle. Ones that are tailored for the device and using its processing capacities to make up for the limitations of the paper version (come on! who didn’t hold those pages with his fingers? who used dices to resolve the combats?). And the business model would be very easy for users to accept as it is just transposing a real-world model to its digital equivalent.</li>
<li><a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_by_mail”>Play-by-Mail</a>. A studio going that way would need to be very clever about this and managed the download limitation very well (does it apply to upload as well, it doesn’t seem to be clear on this from what I read), but combined with a low-subscription model, a mostly text-based game, some of the old-school PBM games could come back. there is a definitive retro feeling to them – why do I need so long between my orders when my online games equivalent allow turns every tens minutes? – but I am convinced that given the opportunity to play them on the Kindle, a device that is ubiquitous, with a screen pleasant to read on, could be an incentive enough to develop an audience for this kind of game.</li>
<li>Turn-based strategy. It goes in the same vein as the PBM, without the need to have multiplayer element.</li>
<li>ARG. Publish your own newspaper on Alternate Reality, use it to distribute information and if you made it as application, you can use it to collect data or just surprise the users.</li>
</ul>
If you have more ideas, I would be very interested to hear them of course…

I am obviously biased on the medium and its potential games. The fact that the device is connected and allows for subscription (shame there is no incremental payment or micro transaction possible at the moment), my mind will always try to go and build a game that has a service component to it and I am sure there are ideas to have to develop self-contained, unconnected great gaming experience.

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