Stuart's Wednesday Rant: beached mobile game brands

Gaming, Mobile phones

The coolest new mobile phone game this week? It features a bunch of strangers washed up on a desert island, who have to survive long enough to escape. There’s mysterious doings afoot though, some dangerous wildlife, and at least one person in the group aren’t what they seem…

Great! Someone’s done a mobile game based on Lost! But they haven’t. Instead, this is a game called Stranded (left), which is heavily inspired by the Channel 4 series, even if its creators Glu Mobile reckon they were thinking more of Robinson Crusoe when they made it.

But here’s the confusing thing: rival publisher Gameloft has just signed up the rights to make an official Lost mobile game, which’ll be out early next year. So shouldn’t mobile gamers wait for the real deal rather than play the imitation? I’m not so sure.

You can’t compare the two on quality yet. Stranded is ace: a truly immersive adventure with a healthy dash of Animal Crossing-style fishing’n’farming. You should buy it. But Gameloft hasn’t even announced what its Lost game will be like, let alone released any screenshots. So it’s too early to tell which is best.

But it’s in situations like this where I wonder if the branded game – Lost in this instance – isn’t at a disadvantage when faced by unofficial competition. Glu was effectively free to make up its own storyline for Stranded, creating characters, a plot and throwing in jokes without having to get them approved by a brand-owner.

Will the same be true of Lost? Possibly not. Gameloft make marvellous mobile games, but creatively speaking, titles based on TV shows and films can be constrained by the need to follow a plot that viewers will already be familiar with.

It can be done: Gameloft just released a mobile game based on The O.C. which uses the same characters, but doesn’t follow any episode (right). Meanwhile another publisher, I-play, did an official 24 game which used the basic concept behind the series to string together a series of spy-themed mini-games.

From an industry point of view, signing up these TV and film brands makes sense, as the mobile operators – who still sell the lion’s share of  mobile games – prefer to take brands.

But from a gamer’s point of view, I’d rather see games publishers ploughing their money into graphics, gameplay and storyline, rather than into licensing deals.

That’s not to suggest that Gameloft won’t do both with Lost, of course, but having run down my phone battery several times playing Stranded on the train recently just to find out what happened next, I’d hope fans of the show don’t think they have to wait until 2007 to get some decent desert-island action on their mobiles.

Stuart Dredge
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