Gaming on the small screen is entering the big time. PC and console game giant Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) will deliver mobile-phone games through both Verizon Wireless Inc. and Sprint Corp. in the next few months, the companies announced Monday.
EA, the publisher of blockbuster game franchises such as Madden NFL and The Sims, will hit the market with several titles. Games will be available for a variety of phones from both Sprint and Verizon starting in the next few months, the mobile operators said. EA already offers some titles on Sprint phones through partner I-play but will bring the new crop of games to phones on its own, according to Sprint.
Mobile users looking to play networked real-time games on the way to work may be disappointed with the first EA titles, which will be designed for solo play or turn-based group games.
The Redwood City, California, company is leaping into a burgeoning market, according to Yankee Group analyst Adam Zawel.
"We've expected them to go directly to carriers once the industry got to a certain size," Zawel said. "This shows that we've moved beyond the trial phase with wireless games." Yankee estimates phone-based games in the U.S. alone will be a US$359 million industry this year and grow to $521 million in revenue in 2006. While mobile games specialist Jamdat Mobile Inc. looms large in the field, titles from several mainstream game makers, including Atari Inc., Namco Ltd. and Activision Inc., are already available on phones.
Phone gaming is still far different from the console and PC game worlds, Zawel said. The consumers overwhelmingly are casual players, and most of the games don't involve real-time, multiplayer interaction, he said. But future generations of 3G (third-generation) wireless networks should offer lower latency that would make those kinds of games more feasible, he said.
"We're getting closer and closer to a compelling wireless gaming solution for the (dedicated) gamer. But given a choice, they'll sooner pick up the PSP" Zawel said, referring to Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Portable.
Verizon and Sprint, with 45.5 million and 26 million subscribers, respectively, are two of the nation's largest mobile operators.
Verizon expects to offer Madden NFL 06, NBA Live 06, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Need for Speed Most Wanted, FIFA 06 and The Sims 2 to customers of its Get It Now mobile data service. The initial lineup is also expected to include games from EA's Pogo.com brand, including Tri-Peaks Solitaire, Turbo 21 and Poppit, the carrier said in a statement.
Customers will find the games on the GetGames shopping aisle of the Get It Now service, where games typically sell for $2.50 to $8, said Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson. Subscribers with Verizon's VCast service will be able to download 3-D game content, including Need for Speed Underground 2, which will be launched in 3-D exclusively on VCast.
Sprint customers will be able to download the games on any Sprint Vision handset, which includes most of the phones the carrier offers, said Jason Ford, general manager of games at Sprint. Sprint's offerings will include Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Poppit, Tri-Peaks Solitaire and Turbo 21, according to the carrier. The games will be available in the Game Lobby on Sprint Vision phones and probably will cost $6 to $7, Ford said.