Bandai to develop online games for cell phones
(IDG) -- Japanese gaming company Bandai and cellular service provider NTT Mobile Communications Network (NTT DoCoMo) provided a peek at future mobile services today when the companies said they would team up to develop online video games for cell phones.
From next month, the two companies will begin preparing around 20 of Bandai's gaming titles to run on NTT DoCoMo's new "i-mode" cellular handsets which the carrier is jointly developing with Sun Microsystems, representatives at the companies said today. The Java-enabled handsets and the online games should hit the market by the end of next year, the representatives added.
Users will be able to either download games onto their handsets or to play against opponents online anywhere in the country, according to a spokeswoman at Bandai. She would not say which Bandai games will be migrated to the i-mode platform.
Neither NTT DoCoMo nor Bandai would comment directly on how much the service is likely to cost, only to say that users will pay through their cellular phone bill. I-mode users today, however, can buy animated images from Bandai that can be downloaded onto their handsets. That service costs a flat 100 yen (US$0.95) fee per month, plus a nominal charge for each image downloaded.
Sun and NTT DoCoMo agreed in March of this year to use the U.S. company's network interface technologies to expand the set of services offered on the Japanese carrier's i-mode phones. Currently, i-mode cell phones give users access to some online services, such as banking and ticket purchases, e-mail, and limited Web surfing.
I-mode, though unavailable outside of Japan, has taken this country by storm. Takanori Utano, vice president of NTT DoCoMo's Radio Network Development Department said recently that the i-mode service has been growing much faster than the company had expected, more than doubling subscriber numbers each month since its launch on Feb. 22. He said the i-mode community will hit 4 million users by the end of this year.
Takano Shiino of market analysis company Nomura Research Institute forecasts that i-mode phones and handsets will hit 10 million users by the end of next year and 20 million by the end of 2001.
NTT DoCoMo is Japan's largest cellular service provider with just under 60 percent of the total market, while Bandai is perhaps best known for its Tamagotchi electronic pets and Power Rangers action figures.
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