February 28, 2017 10:00 AM | Joel Couture
The International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA) looks for the best and brightest mobile games from around the world, seeking new, innovative experiences and unique games that show the strength and flexibility of the mobile platform. With the announcement of their 13th annual winner, as well as the winners in several other categories, coming this evening, they continue to celebrate the innovations in mobile, doing so to help these games get the recognition they deserve in markets that are beyond flooded.
"Discovery of games is completely broken. The IMGA is trying to highlight the best among these games and help promote these games with a quality guarantee."
Many striking, thoughtful, and wonderful games come out on mobile each year, and Maarten Noyons, founder of the IMGA, wants to see them shine despite the hundreds of thousands of games that release on mobile platforms. Many might otherwise fall through the cracks, and Noyons doesn't want to see these special games fade away.
Noyons is no stranger to the interesting work done on mobile, having been keeping an eye on it for over a decade. Over this long period, he's watched the platform's growth, both technologically and artistically, to the giant it would become.
"Back in 2001, there were already a few large mobile game publishers such as Gamevil, Com2Us in Korea, G-mode in Japan, Gameloft in Europe, Hands on Mobile (later MForma) in the USA." says Noyons. "We all shared the same vision: there were 1,4 Billion TV sets in the world and probably 2 billion PCs, but the number of mobile phones surpassed 4 billion. It would become the largest platform for games, entertainment, advertising and other services."
While game systems, televisions, and PCs would be in many homes, far, far more people possessed a mobile device, opening up mobile gaming to the largest audience of any platform. Not only that, but everything about the platform was growing.
"Everything in mobile was happening at lightning speed: the networks were getting faster, the phones were getting better, and people started playing games on their handsets. All analysts predicted double digit growth, so all eyes were turning away from TV and the Internet towards mobile." says Noyons.
It was in this environment that Noyons saw the potential of mobile games, and sought to celebrate the excellence in design that was coming to the platform. "Right from the early days in mobile games, the IMGA wanted to become a global discovery platform for the best mobile games - the games that were driving the industry further in terms of quality, innovation, and exploration of new genres."
These games had the potential to reach the largest audience of any platform, and offered constant new developments in game experiences, narrative, and art. These games had the greatest chance of reaching the highest number of players, showing them the unique beauty the game industry had to offer. That constant innovations were being made in the mobile industry, with new tech and gameplay experiences and narratives coming every day, only added to Noyons' need to see these developers shine.
The IMGA looks to promote and celebrate mobile development, looking for positive, well-crafted experiences for the platform. With all of the growth in the industry, the need for this continues to grow as well.
"Discovery of the best games will remains a problem. 280 596 games were launched in 2016 on iOS only. There are big challenges there for studios and publishers and for the app stores. How are players going to find their favorite game?" says Noyons. "With the IMGA we intend to highlight the best games and set standards in how to evaluate and judge games."
Hundreds of thousands of games are released each year, and that number will keep getting larger. Games are being released so fast that it can become a matter of luck and timing to get seen and build an audience. Amazing art, deep story, and innovative gameplay can easily be buried in this kind of market, and Noyons wants to change that.
To start this process, Noyons ensures that every game that gets entered into the IMGA competition gets a fair shake. "Since we have so many entries and we want to give each entry the attention it deserves, we have built a community of online judges - all professionals in the industry who play the submitted games." Says Noyons.
"Each online judge receives access to 16 - 20 games, and has a month to give a score to each of them. At the end of the process, we filter out the 100 games with the highest scores. These 100 games are then presented to a jury who travels to Marseille, France to play all these games and select the winners per category."
Jury members are also carefully selected to ensure they will help promote innovations and art. "Let me give you a portrait of the ideal judge. She (there are not enough women in the jury) is an influential person in the industry with a lot of personal connections to developers. She knows about games in development, is curious about upcoming trends, and blogs or creates YouTube videos about mobile games. A judge like that will bring us interesting entries, can contribute to the discussion with a lot of insights and knowledge, and can also help us promote the Awards." says Noyons.
Noyons wants judges that know a great deal about the industry and are passionate about its growth. Through carefully selecting judges that care a great deal about mobile gaming, he can ensure they will see something special when they look at a game, as well as know its quality when they play it.
Noyons is clear in what he wants his judges to seek out, as well. "I am asking the jury members to look at quality, innovation and originality. Commercial success or potential is not really relevant for the IMGA: we are looking for the game that announces a new emerging genre, or a game which is setting higher standards, leading the way for other developers."
The IMGA isn't seeking the next big financial hit. The qualities they're looking for don't have to translate to financial gain. What they are looking for is a beauty of form, a new type of art or play, a different way of using the platform, or a striking way of examining ourselves and our lives. Noyons and the IMGA seek games that take the platform in whole new directions, showing how much the devices in our pockets can do.
What has caught the eye of the IGMA's judges in previous years? What was so special that it stood out to them, showing what the competition would be looking for?
"The first AR and Location Based Games we played back in 2005 and 2006. These were great discoveries. These games were coming in from research labs and universities. We have been actively looking for more and did find more, but these first experiences were really amazing." says Noyons.
"When Konami ported Metal Gear Solid to mobile in 2007 and won the Grand Prix, we saw that mobile was becoming a mature platform and that many more big games would follow. In 2009 we were one of the first to see Angry Birds, presented by the then CEO of Rovio, Michael Hed."
Large games have won the IMGA's prestigious award, but that's not to say that you need to be a mobile giant in order to take home the prize. "The Grand Prix winner's game is regarded by the jury as the game that contributed most to the progression of the mobile gaming industry. It can be an innovation in gameplay, technology or art. It can be the introduction of a new genre or a game that starts a trend." says Noyons.
It was with this attitude that some smaller games won the Grand Prix award as well, showing the power of innovation and unique play can have. "There are too many examples of games that were surprisingly well made, such as Monument Valley, or brought something completely new, such as Her Story." says Noyons. Games that take the platform in exciting new directions have the power to win in the IMGA, as its main goal is to promote those wonderful games that might otherwise be lost to obscurity.
Other categories await more games, celebrating excellence in design, storytelling, meaningful play, and technical achievement. The IMGA is designed to find the gems in several different ways, and promote the excellent work being done for the platform.
Thirteen years and thousands of games later, and the competition that Noyons founded has grown exponentially along with the games it celebrates.
"The first IMGA had 85 entries. The categories were determined by the size of the games; from less than 200K Java, less then 200K Native, to bigger than 1MB. It is funny to see that at least 5 of the nominated games this year are bigger than 3GB, a factor of 3000 bigger than 13 years ago." says Noyons.
The industry has also changed a great deal over the years, with several challenges fading away over time that used to make life difficult for mobile developers. "The growth of the number of entries has been quite steady from 2009/2010 onwards, the introduction of the iPhone and the App store, the end of Nokia's NGage platform and the launch of Android and Google Play."
"It is safe to say that when the western operators lost their dominant position in the mobile games industry, the industry could finally really flourish. The operators were a real barrier to entry in Europe and the USA, preventing developers from making money by keeping the largest part of the revenues for themselves and not re-investing it in the industry." says Noyons.
Noyons sees this movement as a boon, making life simpler for developers and allowing them to stretch out to audiences that would have been challenging to reach before.
"The challenge changed over the years. In the beginning, they were commercial and technical: it was a lot of work to make a game run on hundreds of completely different handsets, with different screen sizes, and different API's. I remember that Michel Guillemot, CEO of Gameloft, said he was making about a thousand versions (SKU's) of one game in order to be able to launch a game internationally." says Noyons. "Now, basically a few versions are sufficient to reach international audiences. Fragmentation has been reduced a lot with the domination of Android and iOS."
This trend towards defragmentation and simplicity in the market has allowed developers to concentrate more on the games themselves, freeing them up for the more artistic aspects as opposed to the complex programming required to release on so many different platforms at once.
With that freedom to grow, so too has the IMGA, further through the worldwide market just as games are having an easier time getting worldwide reach. "In 2016 we started to launch local competitions in Southeast Asia, Middle- East North Africa and China. This gave us a truly international footprint, which is unique in the Awards business. The winners of these three competitions, compete again in the Global IMGA. On February 28 in San Francisco we will announce the global winners." says Noyons.
They have no intention of stopping there, either, spreading the competition to other areas of growth in the mobile industry. "We intend to grow with the industry, geographically: we would love to launch an IMGA in Japan and Korea and grow to 6 competitions in 2017. And last but not least: Mobile VR is an area of growth we are following with great interest." says Noyons.
As innovation in mobile game development continues to spread and grow, so too will the reach of the IMGA, and its hopes to promote the good work done on the platform.
With more and more mobile devices in more hands, and more games developed every day, there is a constant pressure on the IMGA to find these special games and show them to the world - to help show the excellence being done in this industry. It's been a constantly-surprising journey to watch that growth as well.
"Initially I was motivated by the huge market potential of mobile games: billions of screens! The first games we judged were often not very rich in imagery, but fun to play on a small screen. The restrictions were huge: it was a challenge to make something below 200K that people would want to play." says Noyons.
"We have always kept an eye on innovation. We awarded the first AR game in 2006 and the first game using GPS in 2007. I am still fascinated by the potential of these technologies and think that, after Pokemon Go!, the players are ready too to try out new ways of playing mobile games. Playing the 15 nominated mobile VR games this year was a lot of fun, too. We are really at the beginning of something."
That growth is showing no signs of slowing down or stopping, either. "The challenge today is that we are looking at a market which is showing double digit growth. Now the mobile games market weighs 37 Billion US$ in 2016 and is expected to grow to 52 Billion US$ in 2019, according to Newzoo. At the same time, in 2016 280,596 games were launched on iOS only." says Noyons.
Still, with the work done by Noyons and the IMGA judges, he hopes to see more excellent games get the recognition they deserve. With the endless surprises coming from the market, and the never-ending drip of wonderful stories, excellent gameplay, and unique experiences, his passion for doing this is showing no signs of slowing down, either.
"It is the constant innovation in mobile that attracts me, and each IMGA there are new unexpected innovations - that is what keeps me passionate about mobile." says Noyons.