Mobile phone trio plan wireless gaming platform

Fancy having Lara Croft on your mobile phone?

A trio of big name mobile phone manufacturers aims to level the playing field for developers of games for wireless devices.

Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens announced they are banding together to push an initiative to develop a common gaming platform for mobile phones. The group is aiming to define APIs (application programming interfaces) and create software development kits (SDK) with which developers can license and build games. Specifications are expected to be available by the third quarter, and APIs and SDKs should follow six months after.

With some common tools, developers won't have to start from scratch each time they create a game, so they can concentrate on making games that are faster and more entertaining than what's available. For network operators, this can mean an increase in the number of minutes used by subscribers as they play interactive, multiplayer games on their phones. For consumers this can mean a wider breadth of games from which to choose. "Developers have been hesitant to create for mobile devices because they haven't had the standards to help guide them," said Suneil Mishra, chief executive of Califorian-based Synovial, a company that creates tools for developers of wireless games. "This is a step in the right direction."

Bret Barker, technical director at Los Angeles-based PacketVideo, agreed but is keeping his enthusiasm in check. "This all sounds good, but if it turns out to just help you with something like billing, then it won't really help. We'll have to wait to see what they come up with."

Developers may have to wait until the launch of 3G, or third-generation, wireless networks to realise the true potential of these common APIs. 3G wireless technologies are expected to enable high-speed, always-on Internet connections for a number of devices including mobile phones, handheld computers and laptops within the next few years. "We're doing this to make 3G more compelling," said Paul Goode, entertainment server manager at Motorola. "With fatter pipes, no doubt the games will be better."

Synovial's Mishra added that a lack of interest on the part of consumers for wireless gaming hasn't encouraged developers. However, unlike in Japan and in Europe, this is limited to the United States, where wireless gaming has yet to catch on, said Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy. "The lack of interest may be the result of cultural differences," McNealy said. "In Europe, the ground lines stink, and so more people use their wireless phones. In Japan, most people spend at least two hours a day commuting to work, so they have the time. In the United States neither is necessarily true."

But McNealy acknowledged that with higher speed access and improved capabilities, interest for wireless gaming may change in the United States.

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