Sprint looks to liven up wireless games

The carrier signs deals with Sega, Midway and THQ to bring something to a person's tiny mobile phone screen that has rarely been seen before.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
The next generation of wireless gaming is arriving with something that has hardly ever been seen before on cell phone screens: characters that actually move.

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Wireless carriers eye gamers
Melissa Francis, correspondent
Sprint PCS said Monday that it has made deals with game makers THQ, Sega and Midway Games to provide titles for its next-generation network. The network, estimated to launch in July or August, will be at least five times faster than what Sprint offers now; that will help raise the level of game complexity. Sprint says games will bring live action to a phone's tiny screen.

Though the new technology will outdo the stagnant semicolon, comma and dash configurations that passed in earlier cell phone games, analysts say that most people will be unimpressed. They say that hard-core gamers who are used to the high speeds of games and to the big screens of their PCs and television sets will be less than dazzled.

"Wireless gaming has been (games) like "Snake," simple games that aren't that impressive, but hey, it's a time killer," IDC analyst Keith Waryas said. "Now, we are moving from time killer to games being something you want to do. The question is, will there be interest in the market?"

Sprint says there will be. The carrier says its new network will be capable of download speeds that rival those of dial-up Internet networks. The handsets that will be sold this summer will also be more powerful and will have color screens, Sprint said.

Wireless games come in two varieties. One type that is played over a network, and another type that comes embedded onto a phone. The embedded games often feature rudimentary moving images, such as in games like "Snake" or "Pong." Wireless network games are text-based. The only images that appear are stagnant.

The carriers are counting on this next generation of cell phone games to catch on so that it will drive more sales. They hope subscribers will keep burning their minutes and data allotment by playing and downloading games.

Verizon Communications began selling service on its next-generation telephone network last year. Its games travel on a network that transfers information at rates of 40kbps to 60kbps, Verizon said, compared with prior speeds of 9.6kbps to 14.4kbps.

One of the games on the Verizon network that comes with a 3G handset--the Kyocera 2235--is an embedded version of "Cavern Crawler." The phone's keypad lets a person guide a character through a maze, encountering gold and other items.