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Wireless games may be catching hold

An investment from Sun Microsystems and another separate deal with AT&T offer the latest signs of potential for the wireless games industry.

The wireless industry continued to dive deeper into the mobile game playing arena on Monday, with Sun Microsystems investing in the maker of one of the world's most popular cell phone games and another game maker signing a pact with AT&T Wireless.

Sun was among the companies investing a total of $12 million into Los Angeles-based Jamdat Mobile, which says its game Gladiator has been played more than 1.5 million times. Other Jamdat investors include Qualcomm, a major wireless technology company, and Intel's Communication Fund, an investment unit of the semiconductor maker.

Sun and Jamdat also said they will work together on several "technology initiatives" for the next generations of high-speed phone service, like those expected to debut in the United States at year's end.

Mobile game company Unplugged Games also announced a deal Monday. The company announced that AT&T Wireless, one of the largest U.S. service providers, will add two multiplayer mobile games to the growing list of games offered by AT&T's Digital PocketNet service.

Unplugged's chief design officer, Greg Costikyan, said the company is the first mobile game maker to sign deals with three major U.S. wireless providers. It has similar deals with Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

Mobile gaming is starting to catch the attention of analysts, who have long denounced it as a waste of time and money for telephone service providers. Mobile games, however, stand to generate new income for wireless carriers, analysts and executives say.

Last week, Research firm Strategy Analytics projected that mobile gaming will improve as telephone service providers continually upgrade their networks to faster ones. As networks get faster, the number of customers for mobile games will jump, according to Strategy Analytics analyst Nitesh Patel. Strategy predicting there will be 100 million mobile game players by 2006.

Unplugged's game Void Raider has been played for a total of 250,000 minutes since it was launched on the Sprint and AT&T services, Costikyan said. Such figures may come as a blow to some analysts who think U.S. wireless customers will never embrace gaming, he said.

Rags2Riches, an Unplugged game now available in which players assume the role as a fashion designer trying to predict next year's big fashion trends, is also expected to be introduced by AT&T Wireless.