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Game Boy moves forward amid new threats

Japanese game maker Nintendo expects to continue to dominate the portable gaming market, despite renewed threats from the cell phone industry.

Japanese game maker Nintendo expects to continue to dominate the portable-gaming market, despite renewed threats from the cell phone industry.

Nintendo executives said during a Tokyo press conference Tuesday that they expect sales of the company's Game Boy Advance handheld player to increase by a third in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts April 1. The company has forecast sales of 20 million Game Boy Advance players for the year, up from 15 million this year, according to a report from news agency Reuters.

A good chunk of the sales are expected to come from the sleek new Game Boy Advance SP player. Nintendo expects to sell 2 million of the units in the first six weeks after its Feb. 14 launch in Japan.

While competition for living room video game consoles remains fierce, Nintendo has virtually owned the handheld market for more than a decade. The three main versions of the Game Boy have sold a combined 120 million units since the line was introduced in 1989.

The franchise has faced potential new competition from cell phone makers, however, which have latched on to games as a way to sell advanced phones and more airtime.

Nokia will up the stakes later Wednesday with the debut of the N-Gage, a combination device that will look similar to a Game Boy Advance and let players compete against each other via cell phone or short-range Bluetooth connections.

Major game publishers Activision, Eidos Interactive and THQ announced Wednesday they will create games for the new device, and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile division announced it would develop mobile services for N-Gage.

P.J. McNealy, an analyst with research firm GartnerG2, said the N-Gage may fare better than previous attempts to popularize cell phone games by having a display screen, controls and other crucial components designed primarily with gaming in mind. "It's a fresh approach to the market, which gives it hope," he said.

But the device is unlikely to pose much of a threat to Nintendo, he said, because it will appeal to a different age group. "This will be a demographic-stretching device" for handheld gaming, McNealy said. "Nintendo is really looking at the 6- to 12-year-old market, and cell phones are more of a teen market. This could lower the demographic for cell phones."

Also this week, a joint venture between Japanese electronics makers Toshiba, Bandai and Imagica announced it is making a digital media add-on for the Game Boy Advance. AM3 said its as-yet-unnamed adapter will let the Game Boy Advance play digital music, animated videos and other content stored on SmartMedia cards.

The company plans to begin selling the device in Japan in May, with a U.S. release later in the year and a European arrival in 2004, according the AM3 venture's Web site.

Reuters contributed to this report.