Nokia quells dissenters with revised game deck

15 Apr 2004

If at first you don’t succeed, try again: a mere seven months after first releasing the N-Gage mobile games system, Nokia has launched its successor which addresses many of the widely perceived snags with the earlier version.

Specifically, the new N-Gage QD mobile game deck offers longer battery life, improved gaming controls, a brighter screen and a hot-swappable slot for installing new games. On the first N-Gage, users had to remove the battery in order to fit games cartridges.

In phone mode, the N-Gage QD has been revised so that the position of the microphone and speaker have been rearranged and placed on the front of the device, more akin to a standard mobile phone. The earlier version came in for flak because users had to hold the device like a seashell when making calls.

At least Nokia can’t be accused of not listening to its critics. Announcing the N-Gage QD, even Nokia senior vice president of games, Ilkka Raiskinen, referred obliquely to the travails endured by the previous model. “After six months on the market with the N-Gage platform, we wanted to expand our device portfolio based on the feedback we’ve received,” he said.

“With improved gaming ergonomics, gamers can now start to play games at the push of a button and enjoy the increased responsiveness of the game keys. We also added support for hot-swap MMC and extended the battery life. For phone calls, we reoriented the speaker and microphone to support ‘classic talking’.”

The device will be available in Europe from next month and is expected to retail for €199 excl. Vat, unsubsidised by operators. The price could be as low as €99 with subsidies.

Current N-Gage titles are compatible with the new handheld. In fact, the earlier model is not being withdrawn even though the QD is a clear attempt to improve on its predecessor. Upcoming N-Gage games titles include Ashen, Pathway to Glory and Pocket Kingdom: Own The World as well as The Sims: Bustin’ Out, Crash Nitro Kart and Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 2004.

The game deck also has advanced smartphone features such as personal information management, XHTML browser, email and the possibility to download and install additional Series 60 applications.

The QD also includes the N-Gage Arena launcher, said to make accessing the N-Gage Arena easier than before. The launcher is a software application preinstalled on the N-Gage QD device that allows gamers full access to the N-Gage Arena online community directly from their game deck.

Coming so soon on the heels of its first attempt, this latest launch is a clear attempt by Nokia – whose strength to date has been in the mobile phone market – to gain a foothold in the games sector dominated by the likes of Nintendo with its Game Boy handheld.

Research group Informa has said the mobile sector is the fastest growing part of the games industry. It is forecast to be worth US$3.8bn in 2007, up from US$243m in 2002. However, Strategy Analytics, another industry watcher, is more downbeat and earlier this year said that Nokia’s converged mobile phone/games system was targeting a non-existent niche of the market.

By Gordon Smith