Wireless Virtual Pets
for Mobile Phones
An Industry Study
by Gary Polson
This page is a mildly technical article covering the development of wireless virtual pets for mobile phones. We,
Polson Enterprises, provide virtual pet market and technical services
and provide this page as background information from which to launch more in-depth discussions with our clients and
Tamapichi was the first mobile phone / cell phone based virtual pet way back in
June of 1997. Since then many have produced cell/mobile phone virtual
pets and other games.
The emerging mobile phone game and virtual pet market is being
driven by the increasing availability on tens of thousands of potential
subscribers, especially in Japan and Europe.
Many animated characters were offered on Japanese phones.
Hitachi currently sells a color WAP phone (model C309H) that has a "hamster mode"
(a hamster endlessly dances on the screen). Mobile virtual pets appear
to have developed from a combination of those characters and the success
of keychain virtual pets (Tamagotchi).
Japanese vendors rapidly produced games that
could be played on phones for a small monthly fee.
Among the early ones was a virtual fishing game called
Turibaka Kibun from Dwango (Dialup Wide Area Network Gaming Operation).
Partially due to the fascination of the Japanese people with fishing, it was a great success.
Doom was an incredibly popular PC game. Dwango
stationed high speed DWANGO servers (feed mobile phones) in Europe beginning about 1999.
Dwango's main web
site is in Japanese, but you can click on the Dwango USA button
Their recent efforts include a phone Samurai game
and a collection of board games.
Japanese and European phones have many more features
and capabilities that those used in the U.S. Europeans can
purchase pop from pop machines, add time to parking
meters, check their bank balance, book a flight, order theater tickets,
view restaurant guides and weather reports, listen to music and find
an open apartment to rent using their phone. Phones using these
technologies are slowly coming to the U.S. They are sometimes referred to
as 3-G (3rd generation) phones.
Several foreign phones have nice graphic capabilities
and internet access. A few even have joy sticks and infrared
ports that can be used to interface with other units.
The phone technologies
A wide range of formats are capable of supporting virtual pets.
Currently most virtual pets use i-mode or WAP and SMS.
- i-mode phones (nobody really knows what the "i" stands for)
- these phones transmit data in wireless packets, similar to the method
used by the internet. It is a proprietary protocol. i-mode was introduced
by DoCoMo in early 1999 in Japan. The desire for open standards has limited
its use outside Japan. That appears to be changing now. DoCoMo has a chart
illustrating the explosive growth rate of this technology. Thousands of
tamagotchi run on i-mode phones in Japan.
- WAP phones (Wireless Application Protocol)
- WAP is an open standard widely used in Europe. It allows mobile phones
and PDAs to access special services on the Internet. WAP phones cannot view
normal web sites. They only view sites written in WML (WAP Markup
Language) which are in very limited number, but easily adapted to housing
virtual pets. In Japan, i-mode is "always on" (sort of like a DSL line), but
in Europe WAP is circuit switched (dialup).
- Sprint PCS Wireless
- Sprint's PCS service is a WAP phone (see above)
- PHS (Personal Handy Phone system)
- PHS has been around Japan since 1995. It was thought to be dying off,
but has recently staged a comeback. It sends digital data at higher rates than
early cell phones and routs data to low-power base stations placed 300-500
meters apart in cities. PHS phones were very economical and big hit with Japanese
teens. They even operate in underground Japanese shopping malls. DDI Pocket Inc.
plans to launch a higher speed version of PHS in the spring of 2002.
- SMS (Short Message Service)
- This technology allows sending short text messages to mobile phones.
It can also be used to support virtual pets.
- MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)
- Ericsson, Logica, CMG and Comverse are major providers of this messaging format.
- BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless)
- Qualcomm's wireless internet solution
Mobile phone game standards
Motorola, Siemens, Ericsson and others are working toward a mobile phone game standards
that may allow intercontinental game play, or at least improve "interoperability"
among the many technology formats. The group is called the
Mobile Games Interoperability Forum (MGIF)
Mobile phone virtual pet programming
i-mode uses compact HTML, or cHTML, which is supposed to allow
users to view HTML sites, but they look much better in cHTML.
cHTML is well described on Anywhereyougo's
i-mode Development page.
WAP phones view web sites written in WML (WAP Markup Language). Wireless Developer Network
hosts a WML tutorial.
Per a Nov 2001 report on Singapore Cnet,
finally gets a shot of Java" some new i-mode phones will run java based programs (java was
used to write many online virtual pets. The article reports NTT Docomo released the final draft of i-mode
Java specifications on Christmas day 2000. The Java language for i-mode terminals is based on
CLDC (Connected Limited Device Configuration) of J2ME (Java2 platform, Micro Edition).
DoCoMo Java also supports i-melody (sound file) and i-anime (animation GIF) playback function.
DoCoMo is expected to release the new Java i-mode terminal--the 503i series--sometime in Nov. 2001.
There are concerns java may slow down the network, but others point out
a new possibility. Sony has found a way to display information from the handset onto a
TV via its games consoles. One Asian business wire was quoted by The Register
theregister.co.uk as saying:
"For example, users might want to raise virtual pets or other animated characters using
their phones, and then later use a TV to show their friends what they've done, or else to
let the characters fight each other."
Billing mobile virtual pet users
i-mode users are billed by the amount of information or services used,
while WAP users are billed by connect time.
Timeline of mobile virtual pet history
- In June of 1997 Bandai's
Tamapichi was the first mobile phone / cell phone based virtual pet.
- In March 1999 or March 2000 two Swedes, Marc Doudiet, 22, and Olivier Amrein, 21
launched a WAP version of the Tamagotchi called the Wapagotchi.
They learned from Bandai's problem on the gen1 tams of death not
being cool for some youngsters and theirs live forever, unless you treat
them bad and they go back to Mars. A 6 Nov. 2001 M Business Daily report
indicated 25,000 had been adopted and 1,500 were still on earth.
Wapagotchi messaging, public and private Wapagotchi chat rooms and
Wapagotchi procreation are in the planning stages. The pet has been free
as it was sponsored by various firms as a Pizzagotchi,
Astalavistagotchi, Nokiagotchi, etc., but is moving to subscriber revenue.
You can view it with a WAP phone
at wap.skol.ch. Version Two was scheduled for Jan 2001.
- Feb 2000 IObox introduced the
WAP pet. If the pet was poorly cared for, it sent messages to its master via SMS requesting food.
Wapagotchi claimed to be the first mobile pet. Iobox was later acquired by Terra Mobile, a Spanish
operator. This was probably a version of the pet above.
- In March of 2000, Lucent and Bandai
joint effort to bring wireless playing to the U.S.
- In Sept 2000, Wirelessgames
a Scottish base wireless games developer introduced what they
claimed to be the first WAP virtual pets. Pets included: Katty (cat), Tooth (dinosaur),
Poochy (dog), Grey (alien), Spooky (ghost), Shelly (turtle). You could
purchase toys for your pet, take good care of them, enter them in a pet show
and win "extra pet pennies". Instructions include comments like making sure you
have enough pet pennies to purchase food and water for your pet
(sounds almost like ransom money).
- The 4 Nov 2000 edition of WAP Drive reported the Philippine GSM network
launched two virtual pets. The "Handypet" is displayed as an icon
on the screen. Commands are sent via SMS messages. It obeys commands
and dispenses advice. The report said the pet was based on the Tamagotchi.
- 15 Feb 2001 INQ7.net article focused on a Philippine mobile virtual pet effort by
the two leading cell phone network operators, Smart Communications Inc.
and Globe Telecom. At least 30,000 Smart subscribers have downloaded
virtual pets into their mobile phones, per Smartís business development
division. They used Wolfpac Communications Inc., a local software developer,
to create the pets.
- A 20 Feb 2001 release on WAP Drive reported Motorola teamed
with T-motion to deliver a mobile virtual dog for WAP firms on Germany's
T-Mobil GPRS service. You can pick between three types of
dogs and give commands in English, German or Hungarian. The
handset screens indicate if the pet is hungry, tired or thirsty.
Users are billed by connect time (time to feed or water the dog).
The application is being hosted on servers in Swingdon UK
and users access it via the WAP gateway on T-Mobile. It
can also be accessed via a T-Motion portal. Motorola specifically
mentions the use of their Timeport 260 GPRS phones.
- 21 Feb 2001 Nokia and Eidos announced their cooperation in
the mobile games arena. Eidos will develop games for WAP phones
over the next two years. Their first game, Gangsters, will be available
in the first half of 2001.
- In Feb. 2001 Motorola and Creature Labs said they would work together
on an Sea Monkey pet for Motorola 2.5 and 3-G wireless networks. After
birth, owners keeping the tank clean, dump waste matter, fed them,
encourage relationships and develop them through different stages (a common
process with the keychain pets).
- NTT DoCoMo, a major Japanese wireless firm, announced an effort
to bring i-mode technology to play station video games. This will lay a broad network for the
future development of virtual pets.
- 25 July 2001 issue of Computer Wire (story #30) reports Intelliplus Group Limited
has licensed a four year deal with Lumo Media Oy (a Finnish wireless software
company) for the wholesale and retail sale of mobile phone virtual pets in the UK.
An earlier 6 Apr 2001 report on CNet news reported they were still looking for a
licensee. At that time the pet was a dog named Kiepo.
Lumo Media is based in Helsinki. Their pets require eating drinking, care
and attention. They are sold and maintained via WAP or SMS. Owners can access a
Pet World site on the internet to see the creatures native habitat.
Intelliplus (ISP based in London) says the pets are expected to cost about
3 pounds ($4.25) and live for about 150 days (the equivalent of 150 pet
years). They use the one day equals one year mentality of the keychain pets.
A pet's life can be extended by keeping it in good physical and mental health.
Each Kiepo is an individual. One may be great in sports but a poor reader.
The user must raise it the be the best it can be, problems and all. You can
teach them to read, take them to a virtual library to get smarter and to a disco
to learn to dance. It can compete in dancing with other users over the internet.
Lumo and Small Planet issued a
on this pet in April 2001.
- A 29 Aug 2001 report on BDA China Limited http://www.bdaconnect.com
included a report on the growth of the SMS (Short Message Service) in China.
They (FT.com) report a Chinese craze of adopting and caring for virtual pets using their
handsets and claim it could be very significant, given the potential user volume.
Subscribers educate a range of animals including tigers, pigs and koala,
send them on dates and put them to bed. The "pet park", is operated by
Linktone, a Shanghai-based value-added mobile data firm.
- 16 Sep (2001?) a firm called SurfGold had a service called Gameislive that
let WAP-phone users raise virtual pet dogs or nci gongfu mtr characters. The firm
appears to have a relationship with Motorola in HongKong.
- 23 Oct 2001 Bware Technologies press release
covered on an Italian mobile virtual pet developed by Bware and served by i-Tim called the Wappet. The pet has an Italian web site.
- Nov 2001 Agotchi.net has a beta version of a WAP virtual pet online
that looks like it may have been there since Jan. 2001. Palowireless.com reports it uses cheat codes.
These are often very popular with users.
- Nov 2001 a Finish server has a WAP virtual pet called WAPPY by a hobbyist.
The site also has music in the background. Get ready for some noise.
- Nov 2001 Alien Fish Exchange from nGame is a WAP virtual fishing
game up and running. It includes feeding, breeding and a number of recipes for COOKING your alien fish. They came up
with the idea in Dec of 1999. One very unique part of their site is a several page
history of the development of the game.
- Nov 2001 a WAP enabled Cocomonster is
online in a mix of English and another language. The fighting pet comes with a nice mystical history (good thing for a pet).
Conditions include: health, hunger, happiness, love, experience level, won and lost fights, number of babies.
You raise and train these fighters, take care of them and feed them. Challenge a cocomonster to fight at
random or select the last one you fought for a rematch. You can give your pet presents, cocomonster babies
and send SMS messages to other cocomonsters (a cool feature). The site is ran by some a foreign telecom provider.
- A paper on a genetic virtual pet (Alife similar to Creatures game), IKI-IKI Phone: A Multi-user Alife Game for Mobile Phones. was presented in 2001 at the IEEE International Conference on Multimedia and Expo. (ICEME 2001) Conference held at Tokyo Waseda University. The paper is in adobe acrobat format and downloads slowly, even on a DSL connection.
- DoCoMo users are still taking care of many Tamagotchi and other
Virtual Pet PATENTS
Extensive coverage of virtual pet patents is provided on our Virtual Pet Patents page. The collection provides a extensive information about virtual pet design, including many of the elements used in Wireless pets.
Similarities between wireless pets and keychain pets
The mobile virtual pet explosion is mirroring many elements of the keychain pet industry.
I have not noticed any mentioning the "clean" feature. It was common on the keychain
pets to clean up your pet's poop.
- Early pets were dogs and dinosaurs
- They were followed by a proliferation in the number of species / varieties available
- The Tamagotchi name is passed on in several variants (Wapagotchi)
- A similar list of activities (feed, water, discipline, play, dance) is developing
- Some have mythical tales of where they originated and their purpose (Cocomonster)
- Fighting pets are coming on the scene (Cocomonster)
- The one day equals one year mentality is surfacing (Kiepo)
- The ability to interact with other pets (keychains did it via physical links or infrared)
- Some have babies or procreate
- Some are growing through different life stages (puppy to adult dog, etc)
- Some can grow up to be different versions of the same species (life charts)
- The use of cheat codes is surfacing
- The market is growing very rapidly and few pets have advanced features
- Larger screens with higher resolutions and more buttons for interaction
- Use of color screens (in very few keychain pets)
- Dropped the gen1 Tamagotchi problem of death and dying
- Numerous firms claim to be the first to introduce a mobile virtual pet (similar claims were made for keychain pets)
- Use of the term "generation" in reference to the phones (keychain virtual pets were always claiming to be the next generation)
Very extensive coverage of keychain pets trends is provided in our 1997 article,
Developments and Trends in Keychain Pets.
Wireless virtual pet articles
Mobile virtual pets have received little attention in printed media. Most of the coverage has occurred in online sources.
- "Toon in Your Phone" Mbusiness. March 2001. Pg. 14. talks about a startup effort called
FunMail by CEO Adam Lavine. It targets women aged 25-45 who will use FunMail as a fancy emotion
to stay in touch. It basically sends happy characters with brief text messages. FunMail is now deployed
in the U.S. and Japan (Nov 2001) per the FunMail web site.
- Opinion: Wireless Gaming Will Succeed in the U.S. Mbusiness online site. 22 Aug 2001. Digital Bridges announces "Wireless Pets" is now available to U.S. Sprint PCS wireless customers. Over 120,000 pets were adopted the first month in Europe. In June, pet owners generated approximately 95,000 hours of game play. The pets live in Petville and owners adopt, feed, play and take care of them.
i-mode and WAP emulators
Emulators allow you to trick your PC into thinking it is an i-mode or WAP phone. They
can be used to viewing of existing WAP and i-mode vp. Several vp sites are subscription
English i-mode emulators are very rare as most users are Japanese.
Wapprofit has one with a 30 day
free test and a license for about $20.
WAP-shareware has a long list of
Market entry costs
In addition to programming, overhead and marketing costs:
The major difference between web based pets and wireless web based pets
is wireless pets must be coded specifically for each wireless access
technology (i-mode, WAP, etc) and are not accessible by normal PC browsers.
- Keychain pets cost several hundred thousand dollars to get up and running in high volumes
- CD rom based pets for PC's incur CD disk, burn and distribution costs
- Web based virtual pets only incur web site operational costs
- Online downloadable virtual pets run locally and only briefly incur web site operation costs,
but do not automatically provide ongoing customer contact
- Wireless pets only incur wireless web site operational costs
Future directions in mobile pets
We anticipate some similarities with the keychain pet explosion.
Some chronic diseases (diabetes, asthma), health groups (dentists), museums and causes
(animal rights, save the whales, pet care) have come forward with virtual pet designs. The virtual fishtank at the Museum of Science in Boston
is an example. We expect similar efforts to move to mobile virtual pets.
As keychain pet prices drastically dropped, they began to be used for movie tie-ins in Japan
and later in the U.S. (not always with the blessings of the copyright owners). Examples included
Mulder & Skully, MIB (Men in Black), Star Wars, Toy Story, and Godzilla.
Fast food tie-ins are possible, KFC branded Giga Pets. An International airline produced a
pet for giveaway on long trips to keep people busy.
The strong popularity of the 8-in-1 type keychain pets indicates their might be a market
for multiple-in-1 mobile pets.
The use of codes and cheats finally came on at the end of keychain vp movement. It was
very popular with the youth. They are very easily incorporated into mobile vp games
and we expect to see more of them.
Most keychain vp little or no web site support (fun places to talk and play about a
specific virtual pet as well as to find the instructions that were inevitably lost). Since
mobile vp are already online, we would expect this to be incorporated to a greater degree.
Virtual pet breeding has been carried to the n'th degree by the Norn PC based pets (Creatures Labs
in the U.K). Some version of breeding vp games will undoubtedly come across to mobile pets.
Its probably only a matter of time till we begin to see evil (drink, smoke, drugs, sex) mobil phone pets.
Several surfaced in the keychain and online pet movements
(Tamahonam Gangster Pet,
JunkyPuff), virtual slave girl.
The ease of tie-ins to ISP's and phone services would indicate the possibility of major
ISP's having their own pets as a value added service and phone companies using them
as a tool for differentiation.
Hopefully at least a few of mobile virtual pets will be used as an educational tool. The same platform
can be used for a wide variety of applications beyond games. It's going to be an interesting future!
Closing comments - Virtual fish
It was interesting that a mobile fishing game come to the forefront early on. Virtual mechanical aquariums have
been available for a several years (NEC company used 3d projectors to make them in 1995), Aquaroid had robotic fish, Dali has
virtual fish that actually swim between PCs on the internet, Fin-Fin was Fujitsu's effort at artificial intelligence in a
"dolphin-bird" creature, El-Fish was a very hot PC pet from Russia in 1996 by Anima-Tek and Maxis, Aquazone by 9003
is a great PC virtual aquarium and who can forget the success of the handheld bass fishing games. Wal-mart even has
Pro Guide Bass Fishin' unit with simulated GPS! The U.S. does not seem incredibly hot on the fish market,
but much of the rest of the world loves fish games. One of the new mobile phone fish games (Alien Fish Exchange)
even lets you cook your fish!
Polson Enterprises Research Services
We have been working with virtual pets since mid 1996 and assist in the development of virtual pets in all formats.
We provide technical, market and patent information support, identify potential partners, review pet designs and
maintain a vast library of virtual pet materials in all media forms (wireless, mechanical pets, keychain pets, java pets,
online pets, CD rom pets, robots, vp downloads, game cartridges, board games, playing cards, etc).
Mobile phone pets offer a low cost of entry opportunity as well as foster ongoing customer
relationships. The mobile vp market is new and still partially ruled by novelty. It will soon be a
very competitive market ruled by successful revenue models based on innovation, design, market segmentation,
promotion, business relationships and ease of access by the various phone technologies.
We can help you be a long term winner in this industry!
Polson Enterprises web site: www.virtualpet.com
provides further information on our services.
Polson Enterprises email : firstname.lastname@example.org
We would also appreciate a note if you are aware of any wireless pets not listed above.
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