Video game historian Liam Robertson shared his quest to find out what happened to this add-on in a new Game History Secrets video on DidYouKnowGaming? and, not only did he track down the original creators behind the WorkBoy to learn the story behind why it was never released, he was able to get one of the only prototypes in the world working.
As you can see in the image below, the WorkBoy was a keyboard that connected to the Game Boy via Link Cable and would allow you to take advantage of 12 apps, including an address/phone book and appointment book.
The WorkBoy was set to be an officially licensed accessory for the Game Boy that was designed by Source Research and Development and produced by Fabtek Inc. in close collaboration with Nintendo.
In January 1992, WorkBoy was officially trademarked by Nintendo of America and even made an appearance at CES 1992. It was profiled by various outlets, but following a brief swell in coverage, it more-or-less vanished.
Robertson was able to track down Eddie Gill, the architect of the WorkBoy and the founder of Source Research and Development, and he discussed how the WorkBoy was originally planned on being released in late 1992 or early 1993 for around $79-$89 USD, but various issue prevented it from ever reaching the public.
Gill said there were only two WorkBoy prototypes left in the world that he knew of, and he said that one was probably “deep in the vaults of Nintendo,” while the other was in possesion of Frank Ballouz, the founder of Fabtek.
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Robertson got in touch with Ballouz and he did indeed have a WorkBoy prototype. Ballouz did not, however, have a Game Boy to test it out, so he sent it to Robertson in hopes he would be able to get it working.
When Robertson first connected the WorkBoy keyboard to a GameBoy, nothing happened but a short alarm beep. It turns out that the WorkBoy needed a cartridge to fully function, although none could be found.
As fate would have it, Robertson was able to find a ROM of the software in one of the big recent leaks that followed the Nintendo Gigaleak earlier this year. After burning the ROM to a blank cartridge, Robertson got it to work.
Seeing the WorkBoy in action is a glimpse at what could have been. It’s also very interesting to see this in action in 2020, where many of the functions of the WorkBoy are commonplace. Back in 1992, this was ahead of its time.Due to that, it needed to carry a pretty high price. That high price was one of the main reasons the project was cancelled, as the $89.99 USD Game Boy was set to get a price drop, meaning the WorkBoy would most likely have been more than the system itself at $79-$89 USD.
Additionally, a large explosion in a factory in Japan that was producing computer chips caused the price of D-RAM to soar, making it near impossible to bring the price down of the WorkBoy, had it been released.
Even though the WorkBoy never saw the light of day, Gill’s original design helped inspire a new device he patented for a personal communicator, complete with a keyboard and touch screen, that would later be licensed by Nokia for its Nokia 9000 series of devices in 1996.
Gill would then go back and work with Nintendo to try to develop a revamped WorkBoy for the Game Boy Advance that would allow for E-Mail, web browsing, and word processing. As with the original, however, it never reached the finish line.
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