Q&A: GP2X chief Craig Rothwell

The portable underdog reports surge in interest in the UK and first big-budget game release; sales expected to reach 50,000 by Christmas.

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The GP2X--which stands for 'Game Park Times Two'--was first released in the UK this year as an alternative portable that runs on Linux. The handheld sports two 200MHz CPUs with 64MB of RAM and custom graphics hardware and decoding chips. It connects to a PC via USB and also takes SD cards. It retails in the UK at £124.99 (around $231).

The GP2X.
The GP2X.

So far, approximately 30,000 units have been sold in less than nine months, and Craig Rothwell, the Director of GP32/2x Distribution, is confident that sales will reach 50,000 by Christmas.

Rothwell is delighted at the way that sales have been picking up for the underdog, which can play games, movies, and music, as well as show photos and e-books. And although GP2X still has a way to go to catch up with the likes of the Game Boy Advance or the iPod, he thinks things are looking good.

"Things have really sped up in the last few months," said Rothwell, who attributes this growth in sales to a number of factors. One of the things he firmly believes is that people "have had enough" of larger companies and their restrictive policies on homegrown game development.

"We think it's [the growth in sales] because essentially the system is completely open whereas Sony and Apple and big companies like that lock down their systems. We pretty much let people run whatever they want on it. We don't have any secrets about how it works, and we release all the documents. In fact we encourage people to hack the system and see what they can get it to do."

Rothwell used to own (among other systems) an Amiga, and looks back on the early days of computers, especially the 16-bit era, fondly. With the GP2X, he says that he wants to try to re-create this kind of computing community.

"In the late '80s and early '90s, all systems were open like ours. They were all owned by small companies like Sinclair and Amstrad and Tiny. And then the big guys came in and put an end to it. I used to really like doing all that hacking around with the systems and things and it had a huge scene at the time. We know that the market is still there--it hasn't disappeared--so that's the market that we're trying to appeal to now."

He also revealed his "cunning plan" to make the GP2X easily upgradeable, with plans to do so at some point in the future.

Rothwell believes that there is great gaming potential for his company's handheld. There are over 200 freeware games for download posted in the files section of the company Web site, and he recently ran a coding competition, and several people rose to the challenge of creating new games and applications. He added, "It's essentially a PC, so ports are really easy."

It's not just indie games and freeware coming out for the GP2X, though. Payback, a Grand Theft Auto-style car game is the first big-budget game to be released for the handheld and will be available for £24.99 (around $46) this month. There are also a number of other games in development for the system, including an RPG called Elsewhere from Japan.

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