Since my first clunky flip-phone to my most recent handset I've been an unwavering AT&T loyalist. Every couple of years I upgrade to the latest model, extending my obligation without considering the alternatives. After a meeting last month with T-Mobile to discuss its gaming strategy, my loyalties are beginning to waver. T-Mobile wants to be the gamer's carrier, and its well on its way.
The primary indication of this is that T-Mobile contacted me to discuss its gaming strategy. T-Mobile has a gaming strategy, which is a lot more than can be said for most of its competition. Gaming is no longer a side-effect of owning a smart phone—it's a reason to buy a smart phone, and by extension another factor to take into account while choosing a provider.
T-Mobile's senior vice president of product management, Brad Duea, is well aware of this fact.
As I took my seat at a table in a meeting room at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Duea was ready with one of Power A's MOGA controllers and the T-Mobile version of Samsung's ridiculously gorgeous Galaxy Note II, a phone / tablet (phablet!) that I will talk about in much greater detail at a later date.
Aside from its large size and gorgeous OLED screen, the most striking feature of the Note II Brad put in my hands was the Zynga-branded app taking up nearly half of the screen.
The T-Mobile exclusive launchpad is a major factor in the former Facebook-focused developers expanding mobile presence. From within the app players can download games and connect with their friends to see what they're playing. For the casual gamer it puts gaming directly in their face, giving it a position of importance on an interface that otherwise wouldn't be much more than a weather widget.
For the more hardcore gamer, right below the Zynga app was an icon for EA's Need for Speed Most Wanted, one of the best mobile racing titles available today. At the time of our meeting the game hadn't been released yet, but T-Mobile customers that grabbed the Galaxy Note II were given the ability to pre-load the game and play it as soon as it went live, Steam-style.
The T-Mobile version of Most Wanted is also the only version to work with the MOGA controller, a device that weighs heavily into the carrier's gaming plans. They were launch partners on Power A's device, with kiosks set up at T-Mobile stores and Best Buy locations. Earlier this week AT&T announced that they'd be selling the product at its retail locations, but T-Mobile was there from the get-go.
When's the last time you walked into a phone carrier location and saw a dedicated gaming station? Not just a display phone that might have Angry Birds on it, but a space reserved for folks that take their mobile gaming seriously enough to purchase their handset based on its gaming capabilities.
That's exciting to me. To see mobile gaming given the same respect and floor space as consoles and traditional handhelds is a strong indicator of the growing power of playing games on the phone.
T-Mobile partnered with Rovio an extravagant launch event for Angry Birds Space in Seattle earlier this year, using the Space Needle as a slingshot—possibly the best use for the Space Needle ever.
What's even more exciting is the video Brad Duea showed me towards the end of our meeting. It was his two sons sitting in from of his television set, playing mobile games on the big screen courtesy of T-Mobile's wireless HD adapter. "They play this more than their Xbox now," he told me.
Sure, he's a company exec that might just be feeding me an elaborate company line, but I'd like to think this is the direction gaming is going—a direction T-Mobile is already traveling.