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Small Players Enter Big Market

3 Jul, 2003 By: John Gaudiosi

There have been a couple of quiet introductions of new video game systems, hidden behind the hype of Nokia's N-Gage $299 video game/cell phone and Sony's new PlayStation 2 and portable PlayStation Portable gaming devices.

A Sarasota, Fla.-based upstart called Infinium Labs has introduced the Phantom, a broadband-enabled video game box that is expected to retail for $600 to $700. The gaming system will include a hard disc drive and a wireless keyboard, mouse and controller, but no CD-ROM drive. All software will be downloaded from the Internet directly to the machine, bypassing retailers, rental chains and traditional distribution channels.

Infinium is working out details on two rental packages that would allow gamers to try out a game for three to seven days or check out a group of games for a month (organized by publisher, genre or left up to the gamer to decide). Games can then be purchased directly from the developer or publisher.

The company has not discussed plans regarding the download of movies onto the hard drive, but the machine has the capacity to do this for both rental and purchase, just as it does for games.

According to Infinium's VP of marketing, Jim Roberts, more than 500 game developers have already contacted the start-up about online distribution of their games. The small company is aiming at a niche gaming crowd and hopes to carve out a small percentage of gamers, rather than compete directly with the big players.

Should the Phantom's funding continue on schedule, the new console is slated to ship in the first quarter of 2004. Infinium will officially unveil the new console at the Ultimate Gamers Expo in Los Angeles Aug. 15-17.

In addition to facing new competition from Sony's PSP and Nokia's N-Gage, Nintendo's Game Boy Advance SP has a new competitor in Tapwave's Helix. The Bluetooth wireless gaming device will include PDA functionality and the ability to play audio and video files. Created by former Palm engineers Peng Lim and Byron Connell, the device will sport a 3.8-inch color display with 16 bit color (its 320 x 480 resolution is better than both N-Gage and GBA SP). According to published reports, there will be two versions shipping this fall, a $199 device and a $299 device with a built-in digital camera.

This gaming hybrid isn't expected to make a significant dent in Nintendo's 98 percent handheld market dominance, but it will offer an alternative to 18- to 34-year-old gamers looking for a PDA that was built for gaming. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Neverwinter Nights have both been confirmed for the system.

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