All About N-Gage Interview Ilkka Raiskinen At The N-Gage QD Launch

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Jim and Ewan catch up with Ilkka Raiskinen (Senior Vice President of Nokia, in charge of Games) to discuss the launch of the N-Gage QD, and Nokia's continuing adventures in the gaming market.

Side Talking Banished?The first thing that strikes you about Ilkka Raiskinen is he's very Finnish. Practical and precise with his words, never using twenty when five will do. He's also that rare breed of Management, who can talk eloquently about what he believes in, and he really believes in the N-Gage.

So how did the launch of the N-Gage QD go? It's a guarded response, and perhaps points out that Nokia understand this market a lot more than some people give them credit for. "I think the games have gone down really well", he replies. Which is true, there are copies of Ashen, Tiger Woods, Crash Bandicoot and Ghost Recon going around the room, and the machines running them were always occupied. "But we're waiting to see what you guys think about it before we'll really know about the device."

These first opinions are going to be vital. The N-Gage QD looks to be available at some point in May (within 5 weeks?) so the journalists here are going to help shape what the popular opinion might be. But what about N-Gage two years down the line?

Ilkka's eyes are lighting up, this is obviously something close to his heart that he could talk about for hours. "N-Gage is going to be a brand in Nokia, with a range of devices that can play N-Gage games." We're starting to see that now with the N-Gage (a full featured version) and the N-Gage QD (sleek and stylish, clearly targeted at a gamer and not a power user). It's doubtful this means another device in 2004, but could it be fair to say we'd be at another launch this time next year? Read into a cheeky smile what you will.

"We want a range of 'new' games that have a much richer experience for the user." The N-Gage has many unique features that Nokia are hoping its partners will use heavily, and the N-Gage Arena, providing connectivity for hundreds of thousands of other users to a central server for gaming, forums, chatrooms, and cheats. Games such as Pocket Kingdom can support up to one thousand users in a single game instance. And by new games, we're talking new genres, things that have never been seen before. This could get interesting.

Of course we could get all of this from a PR Drone if we really wanted to. Let's find out a bit more about the man with the vision. Before the N-Gage came along, what was his favourite game?

A pause for thought. "I have three children, so 'Rayman' is almost a family member. Myself, I really enjoyed 'Age of Empires.'" So you're a fan of the N-Gage's Pocket Kingdom? "Most definitely."

Side Talking Banished?Moving back to business, Nokia have given the N-Gage till the end of 2005 before its success (or otherwise) is judged. How are Nokia going to measure the success? The obvious is answer is in volume of sales, but Ilkka again shows that Nokia understand this market a bit better than 12 months ago, when they were ready to take on the world.

"There are other measurements such as mindshare, penetration, creation of new markets and the usage of areas like the N-Gage Arena. These are all good indicators we would look at. We'd like to give the N-Gage three Christmas sales periods. So realistically we'll look at it from a business point of view in Quarter 1 2006."

And what about this Christmas? Nokia haven't really played the game by releasing sales figures? How well did the N-Gage do in the UK? "Nokia are entering a new market, and we have made some mistakes. One of them is in communication. We're hoping this is something we can improve on this year." And a number of around 100,000 units up to the end of 2003 for the UK was mentioned in passing.

The thinking behind the QD shows that Nokia's hands are tied slightly, because as a company they don't want to sell loss-leading unit. That means offline you can expect a price of 199 Euros. But with most people buying the unit through a network, their subsidy could bring the unit down to 99 Euros. Thankfully Nokia have published this price as well as the offline price - another mistake learned from the launch of the N-Gage.

So is this one reason why a lot of the extra features such as MP3 have been removed? "Yes. Through all our feedback we could see that features such as multimedia and USB connectivity were consistently rated lower than other elements. Removing these means we can lower our price, and hope the networks follow our lead." Of course there are users out there who like these features, and it's for this reason the N-Gage will continue to be available "Now the market can tell us what it wants."

We're coming to the end of our time. Ilkka looks like he could go on for hours, but Nokia staff are hovering over their man, trying to lead him away from the Scotsman in a Kilt and steer him somewhere else. Let's get one or two final questions in.

"Tell us something we don't know about the N-Gage QD?" Jim turns to me at this point and declares this to be "an evil question." Ilkka on the other hand seems to have gone catatonic. His eyes are closed, his head has dropped, deep in thought.

He stays like this for an entire minute, and I wonder just what he's thinking? It's eerily reminiscent of Mika Hakkinen being interviewed after his Formula 1 car has had a failure and he doesn't want to get anyone in the garage into trouble.

His head lifts and he starts telling us about using the N-Gage Arena function, on the handset, as a communications hub. "Not only can you chat live to your friends, and interact with them on the forums, you can leave messages from them and read messages to you. As well as this you can find new opponents that match your skill and get in touch with them directly from the handset. The N-Gage Arena can be your personal assistant in the gaming world."

Very nice. Finally, what does he think of us?

"You had a lot of content available this morning [when the N-Gage QD went public]." Anything else? "Where did you get the pictures?"

For the first time, we had received details of a new phone under embargo in advance from Nokia's PR people. Okay it was only eight hours, but it meant that we could get you all the information, accurately, as soon as we could. Which impressed Ilkka. Which impressed us.

With this man overseeing Nokia's multi-million Euro budgeted N-Gage range, it's entirely possible that Ilkka could make the device a success on his charisma alone.