Mobile

MoMinis lets developers make 2D games for any mobile platform

Smartphones are supposed to be easy to develop apps for. But as new versions of mobile operating systems proliferate, fragmentation is wrecking that hope.

That’s why Israeli firm MoMinis is launching a new game development and distribution platform today. The two-dimensional casual games created with the MoMinis Studio can automatically run on virtually all mobile operating systems. It’s a great idea if the company can execute on it, since it could reduce development costs, developer hassles, and speed time to market at a time when getting a hit game onto multiple platforms is extremely important.

But there’s a lot of competition and the idea has been tried before. Real Networks promised the ability to do the same thing with its Emerge platform in 2009, targeting as many as 1,700 older feature phones. Moblyng, meanwhile, offered an ability to create cross-platform games for smartphones, web sites and Facebook. Also, MoMinis doesn’t support the iPhone, at least not until the second quarter.

But the Israelis say their system works and it has already gone through an extensive beta testing program.

Such cross-platform development tools are important because Android has splintered into different versions. Rovio, the maker of the huge hit Angry Birds, complained that it had to create two versions of its game for Android — one that would run on more recent versions of Google’s mobile operating system and another that would run on early software and phones without much processing power.

Even worse than that, Android is splitting into different distribution channels. Developers can upload games to the Android Market run by Google. But to reach more consumers, the developers also have to redo the game to upload it to the redundant Android stores built by carriers such as Vodafone, Verizon, Telefonica, Orange and web site Amazon. MoMinis can reach all of those companies with its games, automatically.

Mobile gaming revenue topped $5.6 billion in 2010, but it’s hard for developers to reach a worldwide audience, said Eyal Rabinovich, co-founder of MoMinis. While there are a lot of riches to be had across all of the mobile markets, the developers have so many fragmentation issues that it feels like they’re picking up a million dollars penny by penny. Too often, developers don’t have enough resources to invest development time in the smaller platforms. That leads to less product diversity.

Tel Aviv-based MoMinis has backing from Japanese trading giant Mitsui and has distribution agreements with NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile operator. MoMinis will publish 100 localized games created with the MoMinis Studio for NTT DoCoMo’s 56 million mobile subscribers.

Like Sun Microsystems once promised with its Java programming environment, MoMinis says its goal is to “develop once, deploy anywhere.” The tools are available as a free download. One of the priorities built into the MoMinis system is the ability for developers to get paid swiftly. MoMinis strives to provide a single ecosystem that automatically supports all platforms.

For a company like Rovio, which is closing in on 100 million downloads for Angry Birds, reaching all of the mobile markets quickly is extremely important. But it’s also relevant to any developer that is watching its costs and doesn’t have programmers dedicated to adapting games for slightly different markets. MoMinis says it can cut the time required for adapting a game to a platform by months.

While Moblyng allows developers to create web-based games, MoMinis focuses on creating games that are using native access to a mobile operating system. That allows the software to take full advantage of the abilities of the device. MoMinis also avoids fragmentation problems by compiling the game to a specific model of the device, with its unique screen resolution, operating system version, and processing power. MoMinis Studio uses its own programming language and creates its own format called a .mom file. The MoMinis Studio servers take a file from a developer and compile it to all different platforms, including Android, BlackBerry, mobile Java, and Symbian.

Developers using MoMinis now include Absolutist, Wheemplay, and Baby First TV. The company says its tools have been downloaded thousands of times and it is working with dozens of developers.  MoMinis provides its tools for free to developers and lets them distribute their content across a global distribution network. MoMinis says it makes money by sharing revenue of the games that are distributed on its network.

MoMinis says it can reach a wider distribution network than Unity Technologies can with its 3D game technology. While MoMinis does not support 3D games now, it says it will eventually do so in the future. Another rival is GameSalad, but that company is focused on the Apple iOS (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch).

MoMinis was founded in 2008 and it has $5 million funding from Mitsui Ventures, the venture capital arm of Mitsui & Co. and BRM Capital. MoMinis has 25 employees.

Founders include Tzach Hadar, chief technology officer and a former member of an intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Force. Rabinovich is a seasoned engineer who previous worked at Hegde-Tech Financial Engineering and Lipman Electronic Engineering. Zvi Rabinovich, co-founder, is vice president of research and development.

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