Consumers at large have generally felt let down by their handheld devices—particularly cell phones. For all of the innovative technology involved in the workings of these devices, users have been left holding rather basic phones with pretty uninteresting offerings. What ever happened to the super-gadget that consumers imagined? Thanks to the increasing integration of games into handheld devices, that thirst may finally be satisfied. A variety of companies have been adapting games to the handheld market. Now, service providers are starting to roll them out in droves.
Taito Corp. (www.taito.co.jp) can be credited for giving new life to an old favorite—"Space Invaders." The original version of the game debuted in 1978 in Japan's arcades. There, it was so popular that it actually created a countrywide shortage of 100-Yen coins. For those of us who grew up playing Atari, that version of "Space Invaders" is a familiar and nostalgic favorite. Surely, many incarnations existed of what has been dubbed "the world's most famous game ever created." Now, Taito has developed a Java cellular-phone version. The game is being hosted and delivered by Digital Bridges (www.digitalbridges.com). In the U.S., it is available to AT&T Wireless mMode customers.
European users also are enjoying the Taito version of "Space Invaders." Digital Bridges has been chosen as the mobile-games supplier for Sky digital. Through the carrier's Sky Active program, SMS and Java mobile-entertainment content is now available to over 6.3 million households in the U.K. and Ireland. It's easy to use as well. With the new service, Sky Active users just use their Sky remote to download games to their chosen mobile phone.
"Space Invaders" was one of the first Sky Active games to launch (FIG. 1). It was joined shortly thereafter by "Scooby Doo;" "Jeepers Creepers;" "Men In Black II: Same Planet, New Scum;" and "Denki Blocks." Now, Sky digital plans to add more choices in the form of action/adventure games, quizzes and puzzles, Tamagotchi-style games, and more.
The return of an old favorite also was the theme chosen for the world's first multiplayer, cross-platform wireless game. This time, however, the choice was derived from television. Toward the end of 2002, Mobliss (www.mobliss.com) made "Family Feud" the first entertainment property to be introduced across all major wireless technologies. The game is driven by the Mobliss Pervasive Media Platform. It is built on the company's GameShowServer and GameShow-Client technology platform. It can be accessed via WAP, SMS, J2ME, and BREW-enabled phones.
The most interesting aspect of this game is its multiplayer feature. For the first time, mobile users can compete with other players around North America using different wireless devices, multimodes, and numerous wireless carriers. Harking back to the original televised game show, wireless "Family Feud" makes users guess the most popular answers to specific survey questions (FIG. 2). Players who guess those responses in the shortest amount of time win by accumulating the highest number of points. Right now, wireless customers of AT&T Wireless and Canada's Bell Mobility and Telus can access "Family Feud." Other carriers will be adding the game to their wireless offering in the near future.
Of course, personal digital assistants are getting their share of games too. One of the recent additions to Palm OS and Pocket PC handhelds is the word game, "Bookworm." It hails from Astraware (www.astraware.com). The object of the game is to match up adjoining letters on a staggered board of "Scrabble-like" tiles to make words. As each word is completed, the tiles are removed from the board and eaten by the animated "Bookworm."
Clearly, a diverse number of games is quickly being developed for the mobile market. Soon, there will be enough wireless games to satisfy all interests and age groups. A grateful consumer public should welcome these offerings warmly. Finally, users have something fun to do with their handhelds.