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Gameboys and Cellulars will Bring us Portable Multiplayer Gaming

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Dateline: 06/21/00

From time to time, especially in February, winter blues makes me a little hypochondriac so I end up at the doctor's office convinced that I have a disease, only to find out that I am totally healthy. Last time it happened, expecting the wait to be long, I brought my laptop to play "Duke3D". I was thus the only guy having fun in that sea of un-patients displaying faces of major boredom or trying to take interest in the September 1988 issue of Good Housekeeping. Guess what: one year later, I still found myself there, but we were two to have a laptop. Times change.

And they will change radically before long since portable consoles manufacturers are decided to kill boredom where it is: on the street and in line ups. That has existed for a long time in the form of Gameboys and other portable game consoles, but it lacked the spark that lightens up the eyes of every gamer: multiplayer gaming. It will be done within one year or two, thanks to cellular networks, increasingly becoming data networks.

Using their PCS phones as a modem, gamers will play with real opponents from anywhere in the world. They will also be able to download new games or new levels without even using a PC. All that will be needed is a PCS phone and a special cable similar to those used by Laptop users who go online using their phones.

Who will be first?

Manufacturers are struggling to be first to market with that new concept, expected to be the the future of portable gaming. Nintendo, with its popular Gameboy, recently announced that, by the end of the year, it will market an adapter (at about 47 US$) that makes it possible to connect existing Gameboys to PCS phones. It will allow gamers and kids to download new Pokemon characters or exchange some online with other players. And new games will be specifically designed for multiplayer play.

But that announcement is partly a reaction to Nintendo's competitors, who recently announced similar projects. Sega, for instance, has just teamed with Motorola to develop software that will make it possible for PCS phones to transfer information at high speed, based on a technology invented by Sega. It will facilitate game downloads and even video.

Meanwhile, cellular gaming is also progressing with the WAP standard (for " Wireless Application Protocol "), which enables phone users to browse the Internet. Some new dot coms intend to tackle this new market, of which wirelessgames.com, currently offering casino gambling and classics like Hamgman on WAP phones. Still rather far from what Gameboys can do, but remember: five or six years ago, one could only play cards and checkers on the Web; look at it now.

The other consoles manufacturers are not staying behind the scenes. Sony, maker of the famous PlayStation, has just announced its upcoming PSone, a portable version of the PlayStation, and which will be cellular compatible. PSone is supposed to ship next month and a few months later, Sony promises to come up with a PCS phone adapter.

Of course, all these nice projects are yet only vaporware. Delays are sometimes extensible. Indeed, Bandai, the manufacturer of Tamagotchis, announced last September that it would deliver a cellular adapter for its portable game console, WonderSwan, by mid-December 1999. Eh... well... Bandai remade the same advertisement last April, for the following month!

However, it is probably only a matter of time before I have to find some new imaginary diseases so I can go and test all these nice things in another doctor's waiting room.

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