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Producing Animation and Games for Mobile Devices
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As the fastest growing media segment, mobile devices rely heavily on games and animation. In fact, Disney reports that games have the biggest appeal on users within mobile. Earlier this year, a panel of key players (hosted by PGA Mobile Co-Chair John Heinsen) at the CTIA Wireless conference discussed the producer’s role in developing mobile games and animation for wireless devices. 

The producer is key

Panel experts agreed producers are an integral part in all aspects of game and animation development. "The producer is really the glue in designing, developing, and producing the game itself,” stated David Postal, Senior Producer of the Domestic Wireless Disney Interactive Media Group. To develop the "best user experience” producers must be aware of all devices on the market, as content should be equally engaging for high-end as well as lower-end devices. To stay on top of the mobile network, Postal adds, "Producers recognize audience insight is equally important, as the user experience should be constantly improved by advancing tools such as touch screens, favorites menus, and the introduction of additional games that consumers would enjoy.”

Saving time and money are a priority at mobile, so producers utilize existing content several times over to focus on the above priorities. For example, when developing a game Disney will utilize and repurpose different pieces of pre-existing content—for instance, releasing one version of a game with a Hannah Montana-themed "skin,” and a second version with a Justin Bieber theme.

In the beginning

As mobile pioneers, Animax has been producing mobile animation for six years. Through trial and error they have mastered mobile games and animation by developing projects such as How to Cook Like a Soprano , ESPN mobile, Hot Shot Photo DARTS, PopZilla.TV, Little Pim’s Word Bag, and Fun For a smooth project run, at the beginning of any assignment Animax producers ask the following questions: Who is the end user? What are audience expectations? How will users experience this animation piece? The answers to these questions – arrived at with as much clarity and specificity as possible – will impact developing decisions and increase work efficiency.

A journey like no other

Lin Tam, co-founder of Digital Munch, shared her four-month journey developing DJ Music, an iPhone game that is played in sync with music. As expected, there were challenges; most fell into three categories: technical, design, and production. Technical challenges included coding the algorithm in the game (the music component made the algorithm extremely complex), the installation of a cocos2d engine (after Digital Munch invested substantial man-hours building their own game engine), and finally the optimization, framework, and performance testing, which took longer than expected, particularly the prototyping and play testing to determine the final look and feel of the game. Design challenges consisted of redesigning the game’s appearance several times to fit the iPhone. Producing challenges included staying within budget parameters, scheduling , managing overseas teams, training new staff, advising current staff, communicating between technical/design/and business departments and finally translating those conversations into reports to upper management in a language management could comprehend.

After all is said and done, Tam’s best piece of advice to mobile producers is to have a plan for the unplanned.

What does the future hold?

The next evolution of gaming will be focus on Flash and HTML5, social gaming, free primary game offeringswhichinclude fees as one progresses to higher levels, virtual currency, and game advertising specifically targeted to the end user.

While the iPad is the most widely-adopted new mobile device of the past six months, technology continues to advance rapidly. Meanwhile, the relationship between development and execution bring hurdles such as the need to publishing numerous times for diverse devices, and unfamiliarity with a game’s target audience. Future mobile developers should tackle these stumbling blocks through a focus on developing the ability to publish one time for all devices, creating faster machines, and increasing user interactive capabilities.

Tam concludes, "Making a game is not easy. But at the end of the day, when you see all the pieces fall together, it is well worth it.”

By Gina Traficant