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Cell Phone Games Enter the Third Dimension

Phones sold in the U.S. will soon boast displays capable of displaying 3-D graphical glory. Start your thumb exercises now.
June 30, 2004

If youve spent much time in subways or in public gathering places, youve likely seen the faces of the forward infantry for the next gaming frontier. You know, those young males (usually), tongues taut between pursed lips, working the buttons of their cell phones in such a manner that can only mean theyre dialing long distance to Mars or embroiled in an immersive game on their phones.

Not long ago, these specimens were rare, back when the best games available on phones involved black-and-white snakes and bowling for dummies. These days, however, the gamers are more common, as color screens and detailed games come standard in more phones. And by early next year, the trains will be lousy with them.

As with many things related to technology’s infiltration into society, we must look to Asia for the reasons why: Right now, the first cell phones featuring 3-D graphics are appearing in Japan and Korea. In the coming months, well start to see the first numbers to indicate how well Asian consumers take to the new phones. And starting at the end of this year, well likely see the first 3-D phones hit the U.S.

Three-dimensional games will enter a U.S. cell phone market primed for their arrival, with two main factors driving the desire for more full-featured games. First, hundreds of cell phone game titles are now available from companies such as Sorrent, JamDat, and THQs wireless division, and the sector is growing fast. Research firm IDC projects the U.S. cell phone game market will grow from $394 million today to $1.7 billion in 2008. Moreover, phones have upped their storage capacities. And color screens, once available only for high-end phones, are now showing up even in inexpensive models.

3-D graphics technology in cell phones will allow  games to evolve from the flat, simple facsimiles of popular titles of today to more exact replicas of these games. And with the promise of better, network-ready games such as Doom and Quake comes the prospect of additional revenues for wireless carriers and phone manufacturers. [Cellular companies] are recognizing that people like games, says Schelley Olhava, a videogame analyst at IDC.

When we talk about 3-D technology on cell phones, were not talking about displays that require funny-looking glasses to appreciate, but rather, the visual style that require more processing power than todays cell phone engines provide. And three-dimensional games–first person shooters such as Doom and Quake, role-playing titles such as The Sims, and flight simulators–have proven their popularity with the public. The cell phone industry is rightfully excited about what 3-D games on phones portend. The more compelling the game, the more time the user will play them, says Alex Slawsby, a cell phone analyst with IDC. If the games have an online component, it means more   time spent on data services.”

Theres a lot of buzz about 3-D games, says Ken Muche, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless. And gaming is a very important part of our strategy.

People buy phones now for their communication capabilities, of course, and that priority will remain paramount no matter how appealing the games become. But as cell phone games reach the graphics levels of some of the PC games from the mid-1990s, industry observers believe the games will provide consumers a reason for upgrades. This is great news for cell phone maker such as Nokia, Motorola, and Siemens. And when networked games begin appearing on phones that make use of high-speed cellular networks now rolling out in the United States, such as Verizons EV DO and AT&T Wireless EDGE Network, they should drive more data usagea development that would make wireless service providers such as Verizon Wireless, Cingular, and Sprint very happy. The real potential for this technology will occur when it takes advantage of the game being on the cell phone, says Allen Nogee, an analyst with InStat/MDR. Nogee believes games that take advantage of location awareness or that play off of real-time events will be winners.

One thing is for sure: When 3-D game technology arrives in mass-market phones, the legions of cell phone gamer will increase. If the thought of still more people distracted by cell phones enrages you, perhaps you ought to try some of the new first-person shooter games. If nothing else, they’re great for blowing off steam.

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