The more popular the console hardware, the more aggressive and imaginative manufacturers become in dreaming up extra peripherals to release for that hardware. Game Boy was by no means an exception, enjoying all sorts of first- and third-party add-ons, but one Game Boy add-on that was announced and never officially released was the WorkBoy. It was essentially a keyboard that plugged into Game Boy and transformed it into a workstation, and in a new episode of Game History Secrets for the Did You Know Gaming? YouTube channel, journalist Liam Robertson has unearthed the full story behind WorkBoy and why it never released. In fact, he even got to play with one.
WorkBoy came into the public consciousness in 1992, when it appeared at press events and eventually even appeared on UK television before utterly vanishing. UK company Source Research and Development designed the peripheral, and Washington-based Fabtek intended to produce it; both companies have long since ceased operations. However, Robertson located Source founder and WorkBoy architect Eddie Gill, as well as Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz, to share their stories about the development.
The device was the result of Source’s dual interests in hardware and software colliding, as the company was also the developer of Pyramids of Ra and Noah’s Ark. WorkBoy for Game Boy intended to fill a niche for cost-effective and accessible technology that could perform work in lieu of purchasing a computer, which were still quite expensive then. If you wanted to crunch numbers, convert currencies or temperatures, or check the time in different regions of the world — among many other features — WorkBoy could do that, and it was targeting a price of $79 to $89 USD.
Frank Ballouz explained that the reason the device never actually released was because they learned Nintendo was planning a price cut for Game Boy, which would have potentially put the cost of purchasing a WorkBoy higher than purchasing the handheld itself. That would make the peripheral a difficult sell with consumers, figuratively and literally, and the project was essentially canceled in 1993.
Ballouz actually mailed his own WorkBoy, the only one definitively known to still exist, to Robertson to demo, and Robertson shows it off in depth in the Game History Secrets video. Unfortunately, contrary to what had been suggested in promotions, plugging the WorkBoy into Game Boy did not immediately transform it into a workstation; Eddie Gill subsequently explained to Robertson that it still requires an extra, never-before-mentioned cartridge full of software to do that.
Locating that lost software could have been its own dramatic ordeal. However, in an extraordinary stroke of luck, the enormous Nintendo leaks of the past year recently yielded the exact WorkBoy software Robertson sought. Thus, he burned the ROM to a rewriteable cartridge, paired it with the WorkBoy hardware that has its own unique software, and — it worked! It all worked as intended, which you can see beginning at around 19:10 in the video.
Watching a guided tour of WorkBoy on Game Boy decades after the fact is a bit surreal, and the level of detail in the software is really impressive, albeit occasionally random, such as offering 8-bit renditions of some countries’ national anthems. Do be sure to watch the full Game History Secrets video for even more facts and surprises.