Is Astérix the answer? Deutsche Telekom’s quest for life after voice

A decade ago, if you’d heard of Deutsche Telekom, you’d know it as Germany’s incumbent telco. A few years later, it would have been familiar as a mobile carrier in the U.S. and U.K.. In the past few months it’s moved into the incubation space, and now it’s taken on an even less-likely guise: that of a games firm.

Not just ‘games distributor’, mind you – DT has already been doing that for a while with its GamesLoad portal – but ‘games publisher‘. The first title will be based on one of the two great Belgian comics, Astérix (I’ve always been more of a Tintin man myself), and it’s being developed by the Austrian studio Sproing, which specializes in browser-based games.

Here’s what DT games VP Marko Hein had to say in a statement:

“This game is definitely the flagship of a range of products which will get Deutsche Telekom started in the growing area of game publishing.”

The statement also indicated that the Astérix game was being published “with the creative expertise of global publisher SEE Games”.

According to DT spokeswoman Sylvia Braunle, that means “SEE helped [DT] with the Astérix license and franchise” – which makes sense, as SEE’s main experience appears to be in touring attractions, including the Astérix Tour.

“We are the developers and publishers of this game,” Braunle told me.


To put this in context, it’s worth briefly reminding ourselves of the state of the telco industry. Voice and SMS, the original drivers, are becoming less lucrative as people switch to IP-based forms of communication that are, crucially, mostly outside the carrier’s control.

Cheta Sharma recently explained the dilemma quite neatly: basically, voice and SMS are being replaced by data, but that, too, will naturally see a revenue decline in time. A fourth business is needed, and that is…

… Something. It’s not clear what yet. And so we see operators such as DT and Telefónica creating incubators in an attempt to both sponsor and ride the coat-tails of young startups. We also see some genuine innovation that is, from a business perspective, borderline suicidal – here I’m thinking of Telefónica’s Tu Me app, which provides a free, IP-based alternative to traditional, non-free voice and SMS.

And we see moves that vaguely gel with the operators’ TV-plus-broadband packages. Here we have, for example, Deutsche Telekom’s funding of IMDB rival Moviepilot: a service that provides the movie recommendations for DT’s IPTV packages, but that is pretty much available for all to use.

I’d lump the Astérix game into the same category. The logic goes like this: browser-based games use broadband. And DT provides broadband. Except anyone can play the game – it doesn’t serve up any real extra value to DT’s subscribers.

“The innovation portion is the fact that Deutsche Telekom ventures out into different arenas,” Braunle put it to me. “Our core business is telco – we’re trying to expand our horizons by becoming more active in other fields that are adjacent to our core business.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get it. These services are great, I’m sure, and I’m super-glad that DT’s sponsoring them and putting them out there. But the benefits for the telco are not particularly apparent. It’s hard not to get a sense of a corporate behemoth that’s watching its big moneyspinners dry up, and trying just about everything to find the next big thing.

This kind of piecemeal approach works best if your customers treat you as a content portal and, unless you’re Apple, that era is gone. If DT does succeed at this kind of game, it may end up being more sprawling conglomerate than lean post-telco victor.