Sony Ericsson ups the ante for mobile gaming

A new deal will see high-end games for Sony Ericsson's latest handsets distributed through retail, wireless and online outlets in the UK

Mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson is aiming to make its latest mobile phones more viable as a gaming platform with a new deal that will see popular titles such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer distributed through UK retail and Web channels.

The company on Monday said it had signed a distribution deal with Wizcom, part of the Caudwell Group, which runs the Phones 4U mobile phone retail outlets, the Singlepoint mobile service provider and other wireless businesses. Wizcom launched its own mobile content delivery platform in March and is now delivering more than 15,000 phone game downloads a month, the company said.

The mobile phone industry is using games as a way of shoring up handset sales and network revenues, which have shown signs of levelling off. The industry is hoping to pave the way for other kinds of mobile services, but is still encountering teething problems with how such services will be marketed and distributed -- a more thorny issue than in the relatively homogenous PC world.

Sony Ericsson's gaming strategy is focused on two consumer-oriented handsets, the T300 and the T310, which use the Mophun 3D gaming engine from Synergenix, enabling more sophisticated games than the Java engine found in many newer handsets. Wizcom said it will be offering several Mophun-based games for Sony Ericsson handsets, as well as add-on levels for Tony Hawk, a basic version of which is included with the T310.

Wizcom said the games, wallpapers, themes and other add-ons would be available over WAP, by sending a text message, through Phones 4U's 350 retail outlets or for order over the Web. The company offers a selection of Java games for under £5, but Phones 4U's Web site is selling the Tony Hawk levels at a premium, for £6 each. Tony Hawk wallpapers, themes and multimedia messaging templates cost £2 while ringtones cost £2.50.

Sony Ericsson is hoping that the focus on multimedia and gaming, and its new P800 smartphone handset, will help it reach profitability this year. In the first quarter of this year the company reported widening losses and dropped out of the top 5 handset suppliers, according to figures from IDC.

Most of the top handset makers also have gaming strategies. Nokia is planning to introduce a games-oriented mobile phone called the N-Gage later this year, with games distributed on dedicated memory chips, much like traditional games cartridges.

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