BREW 2004: Day 2 coverage

Keynotes, mobile game awards, and plenty of high hopes among developers and carriers punctuate developers conference.

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SAN DIEGO--The second day of the BREW 2004 Developers Conference started with a presentation titled "Building Tomorrow's Devices," delivered by Dr. Sanjay Jha, executive vice president of Qualcomm and group president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (Qualcomm's mobile chipset design and manufacturing arm).

Dr. Jha first outlined Qualcomm's own device-building strategy by touting the increased capabilities of next-generation Qualcomm chipsets, which he claimed would deliver improved memory, performance, and functionality in a more compact and integrated package. Jha then spoke about the vast potential of wireless broadband in general, which he said would help drive the wireless data market to 1.2 billion users and $55 billion in revenue by 2008.

According to Jha, mobile operators have a lot of influence over what sorts of features are included in new handsets and therefore bear directly upon Qualcomm's chipset planning. "We really look forward to your feedback when designing chipsets," Jha assured the audience, reminding them that increased interest in mobile gaming and graphics had already prompted Qualcomm to invest more toward the rending capabilities of its chipsets. "That synergy is very important to us. We're looking forward to helping you deliver very compelling games to your customers."

Jha got in some company messaging when he stated that Qualcomm's existing 6100 chipset has more rendering horsepower than Nokia's N-Gage and that the company's upcoming Convergence series of chipsets will be capable of pushing up to 4 million triangles per second--besting Sony's original PlayStation by almost 3 million triangles/sec and reaching a third of the power of the PS2. Of course, triangle generation is only one measure of graphics performance. Jha didn't mention whether these handsets would have the same shading and rendering capabilities as consoles.

Qualcomm's multitiered series of chipsets, which Jha referred to as the company's "chipset road map," will suit a widening spectrum of handsets through 2005, according to Jha. Qualcomm has already rolled out its Value and Multimedia chipsets, but Jha directed attention to the company's upcoming Enhanced and Convergence lines, which are due next year. Jha then ran through the potential feature set of a Convergence-based handset, which included dual processors, integrated TV and monitor ports, Wi-Fi, and ATI graphics acceleration. "We're partnering with ATI to bring 3D acceleration to the top 20 percent of the marketplace, at first, but we expect the technology will cost-reduce and spread with time," he said.

Next up at the event was the Third Annual BREW Development Awards, which honored several international developers for their enterprise and informational BREW applications. The awards are handed out in six categories: Best Productivity/M-Banking Application, Best Entertainment Application, Best Game, Best Location-Based Service (LBS), Best Communications Application, and Best Information Application.

Chinese developer MWorld won the Productivity prize with Mobile Banking, a mobile commerce application; Japanese developer Nano Media won the Entertainment prize with EZFM, a mobile application that allows radio to stream over a mobile network; and another Japanese company, NAVITIME, took home the LBS prize with EZ Naviwalk, a GPS mapping and directions utility.

American companies rounded out the winners. The Communications category was picked up by Silicon Valley-based Rocket Mobile for Rocket MMS, while WeatherNews America received the Info statuette with its self-titled weather forecasting application. JAMDAT Mobile added to its trophy case when JAMDAT Bowling 2 was named 2004's Best BREW Game. The game is the sequel to mobile gaming's all-time leader in downloads and has already garnered several prestigious awards this past year (including Wireless Gaming Review's 2004 Best of Wireless Gaming Award for Best Lightweight Sports Title).

GameSpot then had an opportunity to sit down with mobile game developer Sorrent's new vice president of production, Robert Nashak, to discuss upcoming games and market strategy.

Nashak, formerly of such traditional gaming heavyweights as Acclaim and Vivendi Universal Games, opted to join Sorrent two months ago because he believed both the time and the team were right. "I've always been into new technology and handheld games," Nashak said. "I loved developing games for the GBA, and two months ago I was also working on games for the PSP. So getting together with Sorrent was a no-brainer." Nashak thinks that Sorrent is "the absolute leader in the mobile sports genre" thanks to its strong Fox Sports brand (although companies like JAMDAT and MForma might beg to differ).

Nashak also indicated that Sorrent is planning to greet the new football season with a brand-new slate of goods this September, such as Fox Sports Football '05 and a new fantasy football application. "We want to broaden the Fox Sports offering this year to include a wider range of content," said Nashak. In addition to fantasy sports, the Fox Sports agenda will now include Fox Sports Mobile, a news and statistics application that will be user-customizable to automatically download specified content on your favorite teams. On the gaming side of things, Fox Sports Football '05 will sport a new isometric perspective, as well as more motion-based gameplay than Sorrent's earlier football model. All new and existing Fox Sports products will be cross-sold, with a miniature storefront embedded into each application to direct gamers to Sorrent's other sports offerings.

Nashak stressed that Sorrent would be expanding from its base in sports to other mobile genres. We've only seen a few "concept art" screenshots from its upcoming version of Baldur's Gate thus far and have no substantive details. However, Nashak is confident that the RPG is going to be "better than [SOE's] EverQuest: Hero's Call."

Another potentially interesting game coming up from Sorrent is based on Nickelodeon's EverGirl license. The EverGirl franchise is online-only at present and has been aimed squarely at the "tween" girl market in terms of scope. The mobile application will ask its user to fill out a poll filled with personal and "emotional" questions, and then it will tailor a virtual EverGirl companion accordingly. Although EverGirl will contain some game elements, it sounds more like a character-based lifestyle application than anything else. Nashak suggested that the character interaction would be fairly robust as well--down to the point that an EverGirl will send you SMS (short messaging service) messages. This sort of game hasn't been Sorrent's bailiwick in the past, so it will be interesting to see how the company brings it off.

The final event at the BREW 2004 Conference was Verizon Wireless' Get It Now presentation, where three of Verizon's top execs released some interesting figures on the company's mobile-content delivery service. The presentation was manned by Jim Straight, vice president of data and wireless services; Ray Taylor, executive director of consumer multimedia products; and Paul Palmieri, executive director of business development. The three executives switched off during the presentation, talking up the growth of wireless data services on Verizon and in the US in general.

According to Palmieri, the US is now the world's fastest-growing wireless data market. Get It Now has been live only since September of 2002, but Straight quoted some impressive figures concerning its level of success. The count presently stands at 70 million applications downloaded, of which 34 million have been purchased since January 2004. One-third of Verizon's 40 million customers have Get It Now-enabled handsets. Taylor added that mobile games were a large part of the overall success of Get It Now, accounting for 30 million downloads--12 million so far this year.

Interestingly, Palmieri went out of his way to mention the contribution of multiplayer and tournament games--especially the "for Prizes" games of Atlas Mobile, which have hosted 4 million tournaments on Verizon since January.

Palmieri also tapped data to illustrate that Verizon has the largest portfolio of mobile applications available for download in the US. More important than portfolio size, said Palmieri, is the fact that Verizon has swapped out 20 percent of its applications from Get It Now to allow new applications better deck placement. Verizon has also streamlined its testing process to get products to Get It Now faster.

The presentation's final topic focused on gaming possibilities opened up by Verizon's upcoming high-speed EV-DO (Evolution-Data Only) network. To illustrate that high-bandwidth networks would make downloading richer games feasible, the Verizon team demonstrated a 3D version of Ironman Baja Off Road that they said would run on Verizon's next-generation EV-DO handsets. Palmieri then concluded the presentation with a glimpse of Swashbuckler, Etherplay's massively multiplayer swords-and-ships adventure, an example of how higher bandwidth might be used to drive interactive multiplayer experiences.

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