November 2, 2004
I must be a walking relic. I could very likely be the last person in the U.S. who doesn't own a cell phone. I've somehow resisted the siren call (or ring, perhaps) of the device's power over the communications culture. If I'm going to be traveling long distances, I borrow one for safety reasons. But since I am one of those let-the-voice-mail-pick-up telephone screeners, there's simply no logic for me to carry a cell phone; after all, if I resist taking calls at home, why would I want to be in constant contact?
Nevertheless, I can imagine that if I did own a cell phone, I'd probably want to play games on it. Electronics Boutique (Nasdaq: ELBO ) is imagining that a whole host of cell-phone users have the same desire, thus creating a sales opportunity. Beginning sometime next month, 100 of its stores will be equipped to allow cell-phone owners to download games. These locations will have sections dubbed "Wireless Game Portals" where the downloads will take place. The service is enabled by a company called WideRay, and besides games, other bits of data can be accessed, such as promotional previews of titles for consoles.
Hardcore gamers want to be playing something wherever they are; sure, they have the Nintendo handheld devices at their service, but they also want their cell phones to be game-ready (that's why they call them hardcore). Cells are no longer just about calling out to friends and chatting; nowadays, connectivity to the Web and the ability to capture images are just as important. Before any of us realize it, they're going to become capable of predicting the weather not by downloading a report but by simulating it; an exaggeration, of course, but I'm sure my meaning is understood.
The youth -- plus not a few adults -- want as much complex functionality as conceivable in their portable payphones (or should that be playphones?). Electronics Boutique cites research firm Datamonitor in pointing out that the wireless gaming market will be worth $6 billion within the next five years in this country and Western Europe (combined). Publishers like Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI ) , Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) , and THQ (Nasdaq: THQI ) will be looking to capture a lot of those dollars.
Electronics Boutique wants to snare more than a handful of those dollars as well and improve its brand positioning against competitor GameStop (NYSE: GME ) . This new move looks like just the play do to the trick.
Here are some more articles on the video game industry:
Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned.