Despite the spectacular failure of earlier attempts by Finnish communications giant Nokia to crack the notoriously difficult handheld gaming market, and the subsequent ridicule that was heaped upon them because of it, they are nevertheless trying again. Word on the street is, predictably, similar to last time – more ridicule and mild speculation as to their chances of success. However, they’ve got the backing of some major players and could fare considerably better this time around. So what’s different?
Well, for starters the last time they ventured into the market with their original N-Gage device, which was by described by some as resembling a taco, Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance largely dominated the market for handheld gaming and their efforts to break into this highly contested marketplace were further hampered by the terrible design of the device itself. Combine this with a less-than stellar lineup of games, and the result could be compared to the ‘success’ of Microsoft’s attempts to muscle in on Apple’s turf with their Zune media device. However, you don’t become a market leader without learning from past mistakes, and so this time Nokia seem to be in a much stronger position to make their re-launch of the N-Gage gaming platform more profitable. I use the word ‘more’ in the context of ‘it may actually make them some money this time around’ and the word ‘seem’ in the context of ‘the whole venture could still crap out anyway, dooming Nokia to decades of pointed fingers and hysterical laughter’.
With companies like EA, THQ and Capcom all declaring their support for the N-Gage, things are starting to look quite promising for November’s relaunch. However, the real cunning behind the whole operation lies with the decision to implement the N-Gage platform across a range of devices, as detailed in this interview with Jaakko Kaidesoja. Now, when you look at the previous device – aside from very real fears of being petrified by it’s nightmarish ugliness, like a certain Gorgon of legend – it’s easy to grasp why this would be so crucial to the success of the N-Gage platform. It is not only this, however, that makes smartphone compatibility such a shrewd move for Nokia.
Last time I was on the subway, I noticed a large proportion of the other passengers playing games on their cellphones – although this could’ve been an excuse to avoid direct eye contact, according to the unspoken rules of subway etiquette. This observation got me thinking – how many potential gamers are out there, that would never consider buying a device so perceived as ‘childish’ as a Nintendo DS or PSP? Despite the proof to the contrary, gaming is still perceived by many would-be gamers as a childish pastime. However, as evidenced by the growing popularity of mobile gaming, there’s gold in them thar phones, and by offering people a way to play games on devices that they’d like to own anyway, the re-imagined N-Gage platform has all the ingredients for a successful foray into the handheld gaming market.
Despite this, Nokia cannot afford to be complacent – as Peter Molyneux recently stated, limitations of the hardware and actual usability of the devices themselves will still prove a barrier to many gamers. All things considered, perhaps Nokia’s critics would do well to wait until Q2 of 2008 before passing judgment on the N-Gage platform.