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02 touts games arcade for mobile phones

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02, the mobile phone network, launches the UK's first commercial Java games service for phones on Sunday (Sept 1).

O2 Games Arcade includes Atari classics such as Asteroids and Breakout plus more modern games such as Men in Black II, Racing Fever and Popstar. It is 'free' to UK customers (with the right handsets) for one month from 1 to 30 September.

Suitable handsets include the already-available Java-enabled Nokia 3410 and the Siemens M50 (available from 1 October), with further devices (many with colour screens) expected to go on sale before Christmas. The service is to be available to both post and pre-paid O2 subscribers.

Before 30 September, users are charged a download fee of around 30p. Thereafter, games will be charged on an 'event basis' (similar to ringtones) costing around £1.50 per game, plus any necessary download charges. Downloaded games will remain active on customers handsets for at least 30 days and can be played as often as liked during that period.

After September, around three new games a month will be added to the O2 games arcade. The service will launch across the other O2 territories (Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands) from October.

02 is launching itself into one of the few next generation mobile services confidently expected to succeed in the short term.

Forrester Research predicts that, in three years, 45 per cent of mobile subscribers in Europe will regularly pay to play games on their mobile. Meanwhile, Ovum forecasts that global spending on mobile games will total €4.4 billion by 2006. O2's own research shows strong demand for the games it is offering amongst teenagers.

SMS games (driven by The World Cup, Big Brother 3 and the like) generate four million games-related text messages per month over O2's UK network, and the mobile operator hopes bringing pictures, colour, sound and what it describes as an "arcade feel" to mobile gaming will prove to be an even greater money spinner.

The company is working with a number of game suppliers and developers, including Motorola, THQ, Digital Bridges, Macrospace, MR. Goodliving, Sumea, Picofun and iFone to offer games from the likes of Atari. O2 hopes its online application developer communities (including 9,000 people registered to sourceO2) will develop future games. ®

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