Sony: For games' sake, fix your phones

Wireless gaming, only in its infancy, suffers when cell phone makers rush out buggy products, a Sony executive says.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--Sony's wireless-gaming division chief took a swipe at cell phone makers on Wednesday, saying badly made phones rushed too quickly to market are hurting his industry.

Bug-filled phones are not only turning off gamers, but also game developers that want to take part in what's supposed to be an $8 billion a year industry by 2007, said John Smedley, chief operating officer of Sony Entertainment.

"(Cell phone) carriers are in a huge battle to deliver new phones ASAP," Smedley told a gathering of telephone industry executives attending the Cellular Telecommunication and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless I.T. and Internet 2002 trade show here. "Maybe I'm the only one saying this, but some people are building phones that aren't very stable."

"Let's leave them (phones) in the labs for a little longer," he continued. "Let the phones stay in the hands of consumers a little longer."

All six U.S. carriers have now launched high-speed wireless Web networks and begun selling the more powerful color screen phones needed to access the networks. The new cell phone networks are supposed to handle twice the number of cell phone calls, plus create a wireless Web with speeds rivaling those of dial-up services.

Games are among the earliest wireless enticements carriers have available for their subscribers. Generally, game makers do all the development and get the bulk of any revenue from carriers.

Smedley said game makers are the first to suffer the negative effect of disconnections and fading screens because games now dominate the data options of Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless.

Buggy cell phones are not a new problem. Finnish cell phone manufacturer Nokia recalled thousands of phones this year and last year because color screens faded to black after a few hours of use. Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo also has had its share of bad phones. The carrier had to recall tens of thousands during the past two years.

Smedley warned at the trade show that this year might be the worst yet for problems and recalls, given the rush handset makers seem to be in. Nokia, for instance, will introduce 22 new wireless devices this year, the most ever for the company. Device maker Audiovox plans a larger crop than usual of new cell phones this year--at least 10, including four new phones that will go on sale in the next few days.

Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak said the shipment of phones with fading screens was limited to Europe, although there were some scattered reports of bad phones in the United States. "Other than those, I don't know of any other problems," he said.

Smedley also disclosed during a keynote address that Sony Entertainment plans on "going big time," with multiple player wireless gaming in the next year or so. Most cell phone games are one-player games that don't offer games against opponents.

This month, wireless game maker Jamdat is scheduled to introduce the industry's first cell phone game that can be played between two people. Smedley didn't disclose which Sony game titles, which include the popular online fantasy game "Everquest," would be fitted for wireless multiple player gaming.