RealGames Mobilizes, Rolls Out Program for Mobile Game Developers

The world of traditional mobile games can be tough for small studios and publishers to navigate. Having to work around all the different wireless carriers, handsets, and operating systems can severely limit the distribution of their games. Which is why the iPhone and other app stores attract so many developers. Now, Seattle-based RealNetworks is trying to make the process of mobile game publishing faster, cheaper, and more efficient on a much broader range of mobile devices—all while advancing its own business in the sector.

RealGames, the gaming division of RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK), is announcing today a new mobile publishing program, called Federation of Studios, that lets game developers quickly and cheaply port their games across 1,700 mobile handsets, 130 carriers, and eight different operating systems (J2ME, BREW, iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Android, Nintendo DSi, and Flash) worldwide. Real is offering game studios a development platform—plus distribution, marketing, and customer service, with no upfront cost—in exchange for a split of the game revenues. The first studio partner Real has announced is New York-based Sonic Boom, maker of games like Puzzlings and Kill All Bugs for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

“We’ll give you the emerging technology to develop in, we will train you in it, support you in the development process, and once the game is finished, we’ll take it and run it through the handset creation process,” says Charles Harper, general manager of business development for RealGames. “The ideal partner is someone currently creating great, innovative, and compelling content without a direct route to get onto traditional mobile.”

The technology originates from Real’s 2005 acquisition of Mr. Goodliving, a mobile game studio in Helsinki, Finland. It makes the process of developing, porting, and testing mobile games for different platforms and handsets more efficient, by automatically adjusting for technical issues like the screen size and user input scheme. Real says it will also handle the localization of mobile games for other countries, as it has expertise in 10 languages (primarily European).

RealGames employs roughly 400 people, and is known for developing and publishing games in-house (including popular games for the iPhone, Facebook, and personal computers). This is Real’s first dedicated program for working with outside game developers. The program is non-exclusive, so developers can use Real to reach a broader range of handsets and carriers while still submitting an iPhone version, say, on their own.

But, as Harper puts it, the iPhone has 30 to 40 million users, while the size of the overall mobile market is something like 2 billion people. “If you look at iTunes now, there are amazing games that are not making it onto mobile, [except for] a limited number of handsets,” he says. “We’re trying to kick the doors open and throw it out to everybody.”

Today’s news fits into RealNetworks’ broader strategy of investing in mobile as an increasing focus of its business. “We are obviously trying to expand into marketplaces as best we can,” says Harper, a two-time Real employee who has also worked at Seattle-area gaming firms WildTangent and Screenlife. “Mobile is an extremely fast-growing area for us. Because we have this unique technology, this is the best methodology we can bring in to publish out to carriers. It is the next big step for our mobile strategy.”

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