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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Playing games with Wap
Kamar Shah
Kamar Shah: Focusing on commuters
In the ultra competitive mobile phone market, operators are constantly looking for new areas to make ever more revenue.

One of the major leaps in the next few years will be mobile Wap gaming, predicted to become a multi-billion dollar industry by 2005, according to Datamonitor.

All the main players are fighting their way into this area, but Orange is one of the first to establish its own wirefree gaming division as part of a future portfolio of life services.

Orange, which has released 14 Wap games, is in 19 countries across Europe and has more than 10 million customers in the UK.

Of these, more than 700,000 currently own a Wap phone capable of playing games.

David Gibbon spoke to the company's head of games, Kamar Shah.

Q. How important will mobile gaming be to Orange within the next five years?

A. At Orange, we are building a strategy towards life services but our core focus will be on games.

We want to offer the best entertainment content to our customers and will offer music and more, but we aim to be at the forefront of gaming.

With the market set to be worth an incredible $6bn within the next five years, other operators are all keen to move ahead in this area and we intend to stay on top.

Q. How can users access the 14 games now available?

A. Assuming the customer has an Orange Wap phone, they can access any of the 14 games simply by using the menu system on the telephone.

Q. What kind of games are they?

A. They cover everything from family titles like Connect 4 to a Wap boxing game.

The most popular game, we've found, in one called Air Lock, which is a text-based adventure set in space.

Q. In the UK, how many people have played the 14 titles so far?

A. Our 14 wirefree games were launched in January and since then we've seen Air Lock pick up 500,000 impressions - by far our most popular game.

Wap Boxing, however, is not too far behind. But what we are trying to do with Wap gaming is be realistic - we don't expect them to replace home consoles, for example.

Instead, we aim to focus on groups such as those commuting in the morning and on their way home at night.

Q. How will Orange create revenue from these titles?

A. In order to attract customers to play our games, we have made them free to play.

In the future, of course, when Wap gaming is at a more mature stage we may then decide to change things but for the time being the only thing the customer pays for is the call at 5p per minute - though this is free during weekends.

Q. Do you expect a high percentage of Orange users to play your Wap titles?

A. Yes, we've already seen amazing growth and we've got plans to make things even more mass market.

We are also planning to launch SMS Text Messaging games - allowing even those without Wap to play.

Eventually, however, we would like to make gaming an extra to that at home. For example, imaging playing Metal Gear Solid 2 at home on your PlayStation and, while trying to solve a puzzle, you could actually transfer this to your mobile and carry on playing while in a bus or car.

Q. Apart from the current 14 titles, what other games do Orange have in development?

A. We are developing new SMS text messaging games and we are looking at signing up intellectual property.

When GPRS is fully operational later this year, it will allow the next generation of phones to take gaming a step further.

In the future, I would like to see the day when mobile phone games are actually converted to console.

Q. How far off are we from seeing high-end 3D graphics on a mobile?

A: Companies such as Nokia are leading the way in this field and it may not be too far down the road before we see this.

Nokia has only just announced the 3330 which is aimed specifically at gamers. Though the graphics are still no match for a PC - but in a few years I expect things will change an awful lot.

See also:

03 May 01 | Reviews
Fun and games with Wap
08 Jan 01 | Business
Orange's bright future
08 Jan 01 | Business
Orange float gets go-ahead
14 Nov 00 | Business
Handheld combat
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