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The market for downloaded games has grown rapidly in recent years and a number of operators are already capitalising on the revenue to be made at the point of download, writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research. However this one off revenue could quickly become overshadowed if game users make ongoing use of the network during gameplay. One way to accomplish this is with multi-player games.

Thus far most multi-player mobile gaming has involved the use of a direct bluetooth or infrared link for two or more players in the same location. The gameplay only generates revenue for the electrical companies used to recharge the phones, and is no great money earner for the operator. What would help are games that make use of GPRS and 3G communication flow.

Multi-player communications based gaming on the Internet goes back to the 1980s with MUDs and MOOs. Multi-User Dungeons as they were originally known, and MUD Object Oriented worlds, as well as graphic first person adventures such as id software's Doom in the 1990s developed quite a following. Internet multi-player gaming generates little revenue except by subscription controlled access. With the high popularity of handset games on mobile phones, there is a significant opportunity for multi-player games communicating over the mobile networks.

To deliver this profitably to the hard realities of multiple handset types across multiple networks is a complex issue, so three companies have come together to try to address the problem.

The companies are elata, Terraplay Systems and Synergenix. The subscriber management and service delivery system is provided by elata senses, which manages delivery of downloadable components written in either Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) or the C programming language. Synergenix provide the morphun gaming engine for the handset. This gaming engine is found on most of the Sony Ericsson phones and can be downloaded onto the Symbian based phone, such as the Sony Ericsson P800 and Nokia's 7650, 3630 and N-Gage.

The communications element comes from Swedish company, Terraplay Systems. Although gaming might not be regarded as a 'critical' service, communications breaks during gameplay would spoil the experience, so the Terraplay solution, MOVE, will handle up to 20,000 simultaneous gamers and copes with the network delays in GPRS networks. In addition to supporting a wide variety of mobile devices, the Terraplay system permits interplay between mobile, PC and games console, which widens the player potential somewhat.

Of course this could be used for applications other than just games, but with the strong interest in games on mobile devices, and an apparent widespread willingness to pay for mobile phone entertainment, multi-player gaming could be a revenue earner for operators.

Between them, these three companies provide the server, client and communications elements of a multi-player gaming solution. They also all seem to realise that these elements need to be brought together to simplify the integration tasks for operators, but also to stimulate developer interest to create compelling games content.

This is a good example of how several specialist skill areas converge to produce a complete mobile solution for the service delivery platform challenge. As a model for more 'serious' mobile data applications it has much merit. In the meantime, mobile multi-player gaming could start providing some serious fun for mobile operators.

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