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Games Without Frontiers

Games Without Frontiers

The games industry is a horrible place to find yourself, long hours working on projects that might just be the next big thing, but probably won't be. Very little recognition and not much money for the developers who can spend several years working on the same title, only to have the project pulled when a competitor comes out with something too similar or the customer's insane demands go too far. But the rewards can be huge, the market is obvious, and the revenue streams established, so it's no great surprise that the wireless world is poised to enter the games business with a vengeance.

The Nokia N-Gage will be massive, regardless of its technical capabilities or the games available. Nokia's market muscle will ensure that the N-Gage is on every TV screen and billboard in the country this Christmas. But clever advertising will get you only so far, and without the latest titles being available, many a console has seen failure well before its time. Network play is what the N-Gage is about, and with Bluetooth connectivity, it's fun to play against the rest of the office. With the recent announcement from Nintendo that Game Boy Advance is also going wireless, it seems everyone wants to get into network gaming.

Gaming on the move has always been a niche activity, limited to teenagers and the gadget obsessed, but with mobile phones now having the power to play proper games (rather than the ridiculously successful "Snake" from Nokia) there is a much bigger market for users with time on their hands. What remains to be seen is if network games will extend beyond the immediate area available at 2.4GHz. Will users really want to play massively multiuser games like "EverQuest" or "Ultima Online" on their phones? Or even interact with their characters from those games in a limited way while they're on the move?

"Warfare Incorporated" from HandMark demonstrates that proper real-time strategy games are possible on mobile devices, but even that lacks the network play that could make it a killer application for the dedicated gamer.

Having enough memory and processing power isn't enough in this world. The next generation of mobile games is going to need better connectivity than the patchy GPRS of today's GSM networks. Wi-Fi is working hard to offer an alternative.

But Wi-Fi is by no means the only game in town; for truly ubiquitous network coverage, 3G is what you need. But will this much-anticipated technology really give us the always-on connectivity we've been waiting for? John Dooley examines what the reality of 3G connectivity is going to mean.

However you connect, it's clear that operators, device manufacturers, and developers are going to be offering us an ever-broader range of network games to play as the holidays approach and beyond. What remains to be seen is if we actually want to fill our spare minutes with them. While I'd love to discuss this issue more, Omni industries is trying to muscle in on my Galaxite mining operation, and only I can save the world!

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

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