In context: After Game Boy was launched in 1998, it accumulated more accessories. A few were sensible, such as mountable screen magnifiers. Others were not so practical, such as the Game Boy Printer. WorkBoy is without a doubt the most useful (and rarest) device ever made for the handheld.
Game historian Liam Robertson has unveiled an unreleased accessory for the Nintendo Game Boy that can turn the handheld game console into a full-fledged PDA. Robertson unveiled the periphery, thought lost for the past 28 years, on a recent episode of his YouTube series “Game History Secrets” (below).
The accessory, called WorkBoy, is a simple keyboard that connects to the Game Boy via a connecting cable. WorkBoy has several built-in productivity apps, including an address book, calculator, database, appointment book, world clock, calendar and more. In fact, there are 1
Designed by the British company Source Research and Development, WorkBoy was trademarked in 1992, with the start-up of Washington Fabtek Inc commissioned to manufacture the device. Both companies have now closed down. The periphery was featured in several game publications from the 1990s and even appeared at CES 1992. Not long after that, however, it disappeared, and never to be heard from again.
After several months of digging, Robertson traces the source of Source Research and Development Eddie Gill. Gill was also the primary designer behind the device. Gill said that WorkBoy would be released in late 1992 or early 1993 for around $ 80 or $ 90. However, various problems prevented WorkBoy from reaching production.
There are only two prototypes of the extremely rare Game Boy periphery that exist to Gill’s knowledge – one is probably held somewhere by Nintendo, and Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz owns the other. It was unlikely that Nintendo would provide information about an unreleased product, so Robertson contacted Ballouz.
Ballouz generously agreed to send the WorkBoy prototype to Robertson to see if he could make it work. Robertson connected the device to several first generation Game Boys, but failed to make it work. Although Ballouz did not remember that it needed separate software, they decided that it must have been stuck by a cartridge inserted in the Game Boy.
In a lucky battle, Robertson was able to find the exact ROM he needed to get WorkBoy up and running. The code happened to be contained in the Nintendo “Gigaleak” earlier this year. Robertson flashed the software to an empty ROM cartridge, and WorkBoy certainly came to life and worked flawlessly.
Robertson cited a D-RAM shortage caused by an explosion at a foundry in Japan as the main reason why WorkBoy never went into production. It was also considered too expensive for a peripheral device, and cost as much as the Game Boy itself. However, the device’s design later inspired other gadgets such as the Nokia 9000 series. And of course, modern smartphones now come with everything that WorkBoy offered.