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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 01:14 GMT 02:14 UK
Text messages play games with TV
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Pop Idol winner Will Young
Vote messaging has turned people into stars
Your TV and mobile are coming closer together, with game shows played by text message set to grow, say experts.

Voting via SMS is already immensely popular in programmes such as Pop Idol, Fame Academy and Big Brother.

But soon you could be shooting, kicking or punching other people on screen over a mobile handset.

"We want to react to what happens on TV and SMS acts as a form of communication," said new media consultant Ashley Smith.

There already are shows in Finland, the Philippines and Poland where people can become part of the action on screen.

Water fight

These programmes are seen by some as the future of interactive television, with viewers taking a far more active role in what happens before their eyes.

We need to move away from something just for gamers and to something that people will be interested in watching, like Robot Wars
Ashley Smith, Van Dusseldorp
"We might see the mobile device influence what you see on the TV," said Mr Smith, who is part of the new media consultancy Van Dusseldorp.

"But you have to be creative. You have to think beyond votes," he told the Game Developers Conference currently being held in London.

He pointed to the success of multiplayer TV games such as WaterWar in Finland. The programme is shown in the afternoon on a youth channel which has hundreds of thousands of viewers.

In the game, two teams battle each other for a few minutes using water pistols. A player sends instructions to their character in a text message.

Up to 50 people are playing at any one time, with others waiting in the wings to join in.

Despite its niche appeal, the show has provided a lucrative source of revenue for the TV channel. Mr Smith said the average player sent 26 texts at a cost of around 50 pence each.

From niche to mainstream

Another station in the Philippines, called gamechannel.tv, has taken the concept a step further. It offers a range of multiplayer games with a presenter in early evening slot.

Katapult game
The Katapult game on gamechannel.tv is played via SMS
"It's all about ego as there are no prizes" said Mr Smith, with people lured by the opportunity to get their name on the top of the leaderboard.

While there is no doubting the appeal to gamers, there are doubts as to whether TV gaming via SMS will make it into the mainstream.

"The biggest question is whether the concept can be successful in prime time and whether you will get a high enough number of people playing," said Mr Smith.

"We need to move away from something just for gamers and to something that people will be interested in watching, like Robot Wars."

The Game Developers Conference Europe runs at London's Earls Court conference centre until Friday.

It is part of London Games Week, which includes a mixture of industry and consumer events around the capital.




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