View Full Version : N-Gage Inside? Nokia's New Gaming Program


Ewan
18-05-2005, 01:02 PM
N-Gage Inside? Now that’s probably going to raise the eyebrows of Intel if they did decide to go for that slogan (not that they are, I’ve just made it up), but that’s essentially what the Nokia N-gage announcement at E3 has boiled down. While all the indications were for a new N-Gage type phone, what Nokia have done is make two big leaps.

The first is that pushing a single handheld gaming machine in the current marketplace just isn’t cutting it. If the N-Gage had reached the 9 million devices they hoped it would, then this shift sideways in strategy would not have been needed. As it is, the concept of high quality gaming has still been proven, with (by our estimates) around 2 million N-Gage and N-Gage QD devices out there. So the question to Nokia would have been where to go next.

They’ve decided to harness the fact that the majority of their smartphones run the same OS and interface (Symbian and Series 60 respectively). So by finally acknowledging what many a hacker knows already, that N-Gage games will by and large run on other phones, the number of phones that can run “N-Gage” games is going to be a much larger piece of market pie than a single device. Great, that’s just what many of us have been saying they should be doing.

There’s probably going to be a set of Gaming API’s for developers so that phones which aren’t ‘optimal’ for gaming won’t be able to run the games. But for the devices where Nokia have decided it would make a good gaming experience, they’ll be present, and I would expect some sort of logo to be used (a logo that would have been nice to have available at E3 for PR mind you). So we can expect a number of phones in 2006 to carry the “N-Gage Inside” (or whatever) program.

In terms of actual gaming handsets, it’s not clear from the information if we’ll get an “N-Gage style” gaming device alongside the more traditional designs of candy bar smartphone. But they would be crazy not to have at least one pure gaming device – even if it’s there just as a flagship to sell everything else.

One of the other interesting points in the press release is the development of a PC based “Games Locker”:

“Consumers can manage their mobile game collection via their PC, with an individual locker of purchased games to make it easy and reliable to track purchases or reinstall deleted games.”

Sounds like the other experiment, having Snake on electronic distribution only (no MMC card copies for the public), along with the popularity of 16MB downloadable demos for titles such as “Pathway to Glory”, has proven to Nokia that they can ship games out this way. Add in Nokia’s Preminet system to charge the end-user for the games, and the building blocks for a huge online gaming system become clear.

Now the cynic is going to point out that strategy is completely opposite to what Nokia said at the launch of the original N-Gage (Game first, Phone Second). The change has been slowly happening though through the life of the N-Gage, as can be seen by the tagline changes for the QD marketing when Gerard Wiener came on board to head up Nokia’s Gaming Section. So what we have here is a graceful side-step from “attack with a single phone” to “attack with a range of future smartphones.” No more using a sniper, time to send in the whole division.

The current N-Gage Devices are going to be supported till the end of 2006 (which was always the intention, to give it a guaranteed three years). With this new focus on gaming over the whole smartphone range, Nokia have found what is, for them, probably the best way forward to stay in the handheld gaming race.

krisse
18-05-2005, 04:14 PM
Now the cynic is going to point out that strategy is completely opposite to what Nokia said at the launch of the original N-Gage (Game first, Phone Second). The change has been slowly happening though through the life of the N-Gage

I think they always had this in mind.

Why else did they insist on using such blatantly difficult hardware such as a vertical screen and no hardware acceleration? Nokia easily had the resources to do a proper dedicated console, but they chose to do things the hard way. Why?

Because it meant they could (at some point) easily re-use the games on their "normal" smartphones, it meant they didn't break the S60 standard in any way. The games on the N-gage would be able to be exactly the same on any other S60 they chose to release it for.

What may have happened is this plan was meant for way in the future, with a 10 million selling N-gage earning them a reputation for gaming, but when that didn't work they brought the opening of N-gage forward.

I totally agree with Ewan on this, it's how Nokia should have done things right from the start, although maybe some of the crucial parts of the puzzle (3G, wi-fi, cheap high capacity memory cards, hard disk phones) just weren't available in 2003.

N-gage games are difficult to compare favourably with DS or PSP games, but they're very easy indeed to compare favourably with Java or Symbian games. N-gage is the highest form of mobile phone gaming, and now they're taking the logical next step of actually treating them as mobile phone games. People will compare them to Java instead of PSP and perhaps realise quite how high quality N-gage games are now.

The use of Next Gen graphics on the new Nokia Mobile Gaming Solution phones is also interesting. Are they going to have distinct generations like consoles, or will they gradually ramp up the power of smartphones imperceptably like PCs?

Ewan
18-05-2005, 08:13 PM
The biggest hindrance was sticking to Series 60 for the N-Gage. But the biggest advantage is that they stuck to Series 60. With it they;'ve proven the power of the platform through the titles and the arena. If it succeeded, great. If it stuttered, then this plan would catch it. Nokia have always said the N-Gage was also about understanding the gamign market, and by creating the N-Gager brand, the main Nokia brand wasn't affected seriously by the success or failure.

krisse
19-05-2005, 07:15 AM
The biggest hindrance was sticking to Series 60 for the N-Gage. But the biggest advantage is that they stuck to Series 60. With it they;'ve proven the power of the platform through the titles and the arena. If it succeeded, great. If it stuttered, then this plan would catch it. Nokia have always said the N-Gage was also about understanding the gamign market, and by creating the N-Gager brand, the main Nokia brand wasn't affected seriously by the success or failure.

Exactly. Everything they were criticised for is now helping them.

The people who kept saying "use 3D chips, use shoulder buttons" were just video game pundits and analysts more used to standalone equipment.

None of them looked at the bigger picture, that Java games came to be a billion dollar industry not through marketing or graphics or even big names but purely because the technology sneaked its way into peoples pockets and made games incredibly convenient and easy to buy.

The paradox is that if they do include the Game Service as standard, it could become successful not because it's well-known or well advertised or has famous games, but just because people buy the phones anyway and just try out all the functions. "Oh, what's this? Game downloads? Sounds interesting..."

Microsoft did exactly the same thing with Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player etc. No advertising, just a quiet inclusion as a feature of an extremely popular product.

Masamune
19-05-2005, 08:43 AM
This is all well and good but what about other Series 60 devices with special sound and video chips (e.g. my Sendo X) - I doubt whether Nokia will extent this concept out to 3rd party manufacturers...

krisse
19-05-2005, 03:51 PM
This is all well and good but what about other Series 60 devices with special sound and video chips (e.g. my Sendo X) - I doubt whether Nokia will extent this concept out to 3rd party manufacturers...

First, no current smartphones, Nokia, Sendo or otherwise, will EVER get N-gage games. This new download service only applies to FUTURE smartphones, the first of which will be released in the first half of 2006. None of the phones have been unveiled or even built yet, the service is a year away.

Current smartphones are too slow to support the Next Gen games they're releasing for the new gaming service (have a look at the video of a Nokia Next Gen demo here: Demo Video (http://www.nokia-americaspress.com/uploads/videos.asp?P=VID&ID=22) ). Even if you had a Nokia smartphone, you'd have to upgrade in 2006 anyway to take advantage of the service.


Second, I don't think it matters if there's custom chips, as long as the device is capable of supporting the Series 60 standard as well. All they'd do is leave the custom chips unused. They could easily extend this to third party, as long as the third party sticks to the same Symbian Series 60 standard. It would be ludicrous to expect them to design games for every single deviation from the standard, otherwise what's the point of having the standard in the first place?


Third: in any case, why should Nokia spend millions on developing games and then worry about third party manufacturers? Why should Sendo get any benefit from something that Nokia developed entirely on its own? How much money did Sendo put into N-gage game development over the past two years?

This isn't an extension of Symbian, this is a totally separate software-based service paid for by Nokia just for Nokia phones, like Nokia Sensor, Nokia Lifeblog etc. It has nothing to do with the OS, it just runs on the OS.

If you want Nokia games, I don't think it's unreasonable to have to buy a Nokia phone. Otherwise, what's the point of Nokia putting all this money into it on its own?

Just because Nokia, Sendo and others share an OS, it doesn't mean all Symbian manufacturers have to share absolutely everything. They're still competitors, remember, and they're perfectly entitled to do things to encourage people to buy their brand of Symbian as long as they don't break the standard.