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And There's More... Over the Air

The N-Gage gamers unraveling The Plot could download and install extra missions over the air. This amounted to a fair deal of network access even for players who only were interested in the single-player games. The greatest buzz on downloadables began when the game proceeded to the stage at which players first discovered the in-game helpers. They were given a chance to download over the air supernatural boosters for their player character: SuperIntelligence, SuperSpeed, and SuperStrength.

For a few weeks, every N-Gage gamer was furiously looking for these game aids. Not only did they make great power-ups in BlastPlots, but they also proved to be necessary in some of the latest puzzle missions. Web sites and chat forums were filled with discussions, hints, and tips on where in the game levels these boosters could be found. All the boosters were gradually mapped out, after which it was relatively easy to collect them all— until one day, one of the players accidentally noticed The Plot SuperVision link on his favorite WAP service, the public transport route finder....

The OTA (over the air) download mechanism is used when N-Gage games are updated and enhanced with a direct, wireless download. OTA was first presented as a download process when Sun Microsystems released the recommended practice of user-initiated downloads for Java MIDlets in 2001. WAP protocol made it possible to retrieve data from Internet servers. Previously, content had been pushed using messaging, which was not very convenient given the limited amount of data and the delays in delivery. Downloading is more efficient because it uses a data connection as the bearer. It has been adopted for various kinds of content supported by the phones, including the now-usual MIDI ringing tones, phone wallpapers, game levels, and so on.

There are several ways to initiate the download. For native N-Gage games, the download of extra features might be built into the game since networking is a basic service available for applications. If any extra charge is associated with the download, confirmation can be requested from the user before proceeding with the download.

Another way to initiate the download process is to use a WAP browser for searching and selecting an appropriate item to be installed (see Figure 3.2). When a link in a WAP page is clicked, phones with the OTA capability can automatically download and install the item into the phone. This process typically is used for downloading Java games and phone enhancements, such as ringing tones and color wallpapers, on WAP sites.

Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 The direct download model.

OTA download servers can be developed and maintained independently because the communication between a phone and the server is based on open specifications. To download games and other content over the air, the mobile subscriber needs to have data access provided by the carrier. OTA download is an interesting opportunity for application developers, and there are likely to be several out-of-the-box solutions providing software for game-download services.

The biggest issue for OTA distribution and the delivery of games and related products is the payment transaction. Today, there are two alternatives: revenue sharing deals with the carriers or a direct agreement with the game players.

If a revenue-sharing deal with a carrier is signed, text messages are used to initiate the download process. This way, the carrier is able to charge a premium price for the text message and share the revenue with a game developer or publisher. Text message–initiated downloads are interesting because games and extra services can be advertised via TV, magazines, the Internet, or newspapers. When a customer sees the ad, he can order the product by sending a message to a premium number (see Figure 3.3), just as he might type in a URL on a computer. The game or application is downloaded after the user provides confirmation.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 The carrier-assisted download model.

Individual game developers and publishers also have another option: to make a direct agreement with the gamer. Both prepaid accounts and monthly billing can be used to collect revenue. Of course, in this case, the game provider needs to have its own invoicing, payment processing, and customer care in place. This system needs to be able to handle potentially large numbers of customers efficiently. Therefore, for most mobile games providers, partnering with a carrier has been the preferred choice.

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