Mobile Gaming - The PAN vs. WAN Struggle
By Carlo Longino, Mon Sep 08 18:15:00 GMT 2003

An entry from a game designer's blog talks about gaming over Bluetooth, and raises some interesting questions about connectivity.


Greg Costikyan, a game designer and industry consultant gives an excellent run-through of a Bluetooth gaming model, and in the process highlights some potential obstacles to its success. He concludes by saying that BT is all well and good for gaming, so long as anybody you want to play is within 10 meters, and that a device like the forthcoming Sony PSP will have an inherent advantage because of its 802.11 connection to the Internet.

Costikyan's entry is well thought out and on point, and raises a number of relevant issues. I agree that Bluetooth's direct application for mobile gaming is rather limited. It requires other players to be within 10 meters, but also requires you to know they exist, and have an interest in playing the same game as you. So in that sense, it may be great for setting up play among friends who are in the same location, but that kind of defeats the purpose of mobile gaming.

(This has sprung a divergent thought in my mind: would there be a market for some sort of Bluetooth server or "message board" so that when someone goes to a cafe or wherever, they could log on and make themselves available to others for gaming or chat?)

So he says that having a Wi-Fi connection would be a better solution, allowing you to connect to the wide-area network (i.e. the Net), as opposed to just the piconet around you and your device. That's true, as long as you're within range of an access point -- again, limiting your mobility.

But where Bluetooth can come in is in acting as a gateway to a wide-area network. In my mind, the great promise of mobile gaming is to offer an interactive, inter-personal experience from the widest possible array of locations. Xbox Live and PlayStation Online have proven the attraction of gaming communities, and something like the N-Gage, with its built-in GSM/GPRS data capabilities can offer that over a wider area than Wi-Fi. Take a device like the Tapwave Zodiac, and it can use Bluetooth to connect to a mobile phone, again offering access to an online community from the widest possible area. And certainly carriers will cater to this market -- expect to see cheap data plans offered alongside the N-Gage when it's released to enable low-cost access to these burgeoning mobile gaming communities.

So Bluetooth (or ad-hoc Wi-Fi) can create a personal-area network. Various flavors of 802.11 can add a link to a wide-area network. But Bluetooth and a mobile phone can create a wider area network.