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Summary:

The Game Developers Conference said more than half of its attendees last year were from mobile game development companies and the trend is likely to continue this year as Google, Qualcomm and RIM pour more money into mobile-focused developer days and booths at the show.

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The business of making games is very much alive and well. But increasingly, the energy is moving away from AAA titles and console games to mobile apps built by a growing army of developers.

But don’t take my word for it, check out one of the premier game development events, the Games Developers Conference, held every year in San Francisco. Through its voluntary post-show surveys, the conference found that 43 percent of attendees in 2010 said they were involved in mobile development projects for a smartphone or tablets. Last year, 56 percent of attendees reported that smartphone or tablets development was their company’s major focus and 55 percent said this development was their company’s secondary focus.

The next GDC takes place from March 5-9 and the trend shows no signs of changing. Attendance was up to 19,000 in 2011 and early indications suggest the show should be even bigger this year. I talked with Meggan Scavio, general manager of the Game Developers Conference, about what she’s seeing and she said development is chasing user interest, which is booming in smartphones and tablets. The conference is evolving to fit what’s happening in the development world.

“Games are changing and team sizes are changing. People are finding it’s easier to build and distribute games on their own on mobile platforms,” Scavio said. “You’re seeing more traditional game developers working for smartphone development companies and these games are becoming more creative.”

The show itself has evolved in a lot of ways reflecting the rise of mobile gaming. The mobile summit, which used to be quiet side event, has morphed into the Smartphone & Tablets Games Summit with more than 20 sessions spread over two days. But also interesting to note is the rush of big technology companies looking to set up their own sponsored mobile developer days.

Google has expanded its developer day to two days and may continue its tradition of handing out free Android devices. This year it will be joined by Qualcomm, Unity and DeNA’s Mobage for the first time. Research in Motion, which has mainly conducted small business meetings at previous GDCs, is now going big with a large booth and it’s also sponsoring a session on developing for the PlayBook.

“We’re finally having discussions with mobile providers. They’re participating at a level they never have before,” Scavio said.

In a first for a mobile title at the show, GDC will also be doing an in-depth design look at Jetpack Joyride, a critical and consumer favorite. Much of the main conference has traditionally been dedicated to big budget console and PC titles but that’s starting to change, Scavio said.

She said traditional game development appears to be still very healthy. But the rise of mobile gaming is unmistakable.

It’s a good reminder of how smartphones and tablets are changing industries. We’re seeing stalwart Nintendo stumble through some tough times and Sony is trying to come back with a new Vita handheld game device. As Flurry pointed out already, revenue is increasingly flowing toward mobile app titles with mobile titles generating one third of all portable gaming revenues in 2010, up from 19 percent in 2009.

There’s still a need for big titles and dedicated hardware. Those are still responsible for some amazing gaming experiences that just can’t happen on mobile devices for the most part. But with more powerful smartphone and tablet hardware hitting the market, we’re getting even more sophisticated games that are increasingly immersive, not just time killers. And with cloud gaming services like OnLive, we’re seeing how mobile devices can play at a much higher level using a fast broadband connection. With smartphone and tablet penetration still growing with a lot of room left, this trend toward mobile gaming will only accelerate in the coming years. Consumers are embracing mobile games and developers are adjusting.

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