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News
Issue #2003 - 06 (February 2003)
(Updated Feb. 20, 2003)

OPINIONS

Nokia Shows Off Mobile Game System, The N-Gage, in London & Sydney

Source: Wireless Developer Network 

The N-Gage Global Launch... forget gaming, this is mobile gaming!

By Glenn Letham Developer/Owner www.SymbianDevZone.com  email - (info@symbiandevzone.com

On February 5, Nokia officially launched the N-Gage game device. WDN Editor Glenn Letham was in attendance. In this report you'll hear about the mobile game market, why Nokia has jumped in with both feet, and opportunities that exist for developers

Glenn shows-off the N-Gage
Question: What do you get when you morph the Nokia 3650 with a Game-Boy like console capable of continual, connected (via GSM network), online gaming with rich graphics, supported BlueTooth connectivity, and a catalog of titles from some of the leading game developers? Answer: N-Gage - the first device available from Nokia's game deck device category (Oh yeah... it's also a phone!)
Last week myself and roughly 200 other journalists and media were invited to take part in the Global launch of Nokia’s mobile game deck - the N-Gage™. The event was a PR splash designed to introduce the World to a new mobile gaming platform and the partners that are working with Nokia to bring it to market. Chances are that you’re already familiar with the device (WDN provided coverage from the NMIC event held last Nov in Munich, and the device has been featured in the WDN Symbian DevZone weekly column) although if your main source of information is the “traditional” tech press all you’ve heard recently is that Nokia is planning on taking on Nintendo with their version of the Game Boy Advance (GBA). Trust me though, there’s more to this story than Nokia vs Nintendo.

Meet the Entertainment & Media Business Unit

During the event we were frequently reminded that applications are going mobile… the next applications to be bundled with mobile communication devices include email, music, camera/imaging, and of course gaming. Nokia’s response to mobile gaming is N-Gage. Ilkka Raiskinen, Senior VP of Nokia's Entertainment and Media Business Unit stated that the company has 2 possible responses to this; treat these new business areas as “features” of devices (that’s not sufficient - a poor market would result), or create a new business unit responsible for the total offering. Nokia has elected to go this route with N-Gage. The company has established a new business unit - The mobile entertainment & media Business Unit (MEMBU) - charged with publishing, developer support, retail sales channels, basically, the total offering. The mission… market a new platform focused on interactivity with every console having inbuilt connectivity. The plan is to bring mobility to all of the parties involved.

The Device

N-Gage Features
High performance mobile interactive gaming
Gaming-optimized design and functionality
Digital music player and recorder
Stereo FM radio
Nokia Audio Manager PC software
New design concept, new UI experience
Multimedia messaging
Full email support (IMAP4, POP3, SMTP, MIME2)
Content with XHTML browser
Tri-band EGSM 900/GSM1800/GSM 1900
Series 60 UI enabling application multitasking
Bluetooth
Slave USB 1.1. for digital music download from PC
MP3, AAC, Midi, WAV ringing tones
WAP over GPRS
Detailed Specs Here
Enter N-Gage, a mobile game device. It’s been compared to the GameBoy Advance (GBA), however, this puppy is much more than a gaming device. N-Gage is best described as a multi-user, mobile, game device … it’s fortay is connected gaming! The MEMBU is charged with providing the total package with respect to N-Gage. When you think of the Nokia brand you may think phones, however, with the company stretching it’s legs and introducing a new brand (N-Gage) the company wants us to know that "it’s not only about phones… it’s about devices and games consoles." Raiskinen believes that "mobility is a powerful concept that will drive the N-gage platform." Coming out with a new brand is a pretty big decision for the company, particularly when research reveals that the Nokia brand is the 6th most widely recognized and respected brand name on the market (Microsoft, GE, IBM, and Coke lead the pack).

Click Here to view N-Gage demo (Source: Forum Nokia)

N-Gage is the latest Nokia device running the Symbian OS under series 60. Initially, the company will target the GSM market, however, execs have revealed that with the CDMA market being so substantial, that this market would be addressed in the future. Contrary to popular belief, N- Gage, like virtually all other devices (phones, mp3, walkman, gameboy), would be sold at a profit; the suggested retail price has not yet been addressed. Rest assured though, this device is a “high-end” game console and that will be reflected in the price.

In the mobile area, many series 60 devices offer compelling gaming, however, the N-gage has been developed with gaming as its main function - Nokia execs joke that in the best case, users will decide to own several Nokia devices (a game deck, phone) although its not really necessary.

A Gaming Environment, not just a device!

I’ve already mentioned that Nokia has started a new brand. This is serious stuff, particularly when you consider that with N-Gage the company has not just released a new device (that would be the story you’ve seen over and over again). In-fact, what the company has done is introduce a new mobile and connected game environment… that’s the real story here. Online, connected, multi-player, wireless connectivity, these are all attributes of gaming the Nokia way. What should excite developers, carriers, and game publishers is the new business streams and revenue sources that this environment will bring. Sit back, close your eyes, and think about it… what do you see? I see $$$$

The Mobile Gaming Market

So why gaming? Consider this, Nintendo own roughly 97% of the current gaming market (are you familiar with the gameboy advance (GBA) you should be). Also, projections reveal that gaming will reach the level of the recording industry market and eventually surpass that market within several years. That’s some serious coin, particularly in a market dominated by one player. My take on this; if Nokia didn’t do it then someone else would. The gaming market at a glance:
  • Today more than 200 million PC gamers
  • 140 million console gamers
  • 100 million handheld gamers
  • And now online gaming is rapidly emerging
  • Age distribution of gamers:
  • 40% below 18 yr
  • 40% 18-35
  • 20% over 35

Nokia plans on targetting the 18-35 year old population for mobile gaming. This age demographic is very significant as it closely resembles that of Nokia’s existing customer base. Recall the number of Nokia mobile device users (roughly 40% of the mobile handset market) - more than 300 million currently in use.

 
N-Gage is targeted at the 18-35 demographic...
or those who still feel like kids!

So, in short, we have a company [Nokia] leading the wireless handset market with 40% marketshare. They’ve introduced mobility and connectivity to gaming, a horizontal market totally dominated by Nintendo with 97% marketshare and targeted at a demographic that is already 40% of Nokia’s existing business… this is too easy!

Is it really that Easy?

Well, the concept works and seems plausible, however, skeptics are focused on one main point. Consider the GameBoy Advance (GBA), a game console that retails for roughly $99. N-Gage has already been identified as a high-end device and it offers much more than the traditional game console. How much? That is a closely guarded secret, however, do the math, compare it to other Symbian communication devices and quickly it becomes evident that N-Gage has to sell for at least $300 and perhaps as much as $400. Now it seems the market is actually a sub-section of the existing game console market. That leaves 18-35 year old gamers (and existing Nokia customers) that want to experience mobile & connected gaming using the latest game console/GSM handset. That’s still a pretty big market, actually, according to Nokia’s Kari Tutti this is a new market segment.

Recall, gaming is not totally new to Nokia devices - some 50 million people have and use devices loaded with “snake” and surveys reveal that virtually all users try the game at some time; thus the demand for gaming exists.

Look for carriers to play a big role in establishing pricing. Just last week T-Mobile announced that they will be developing "innovative services" globally for the N-Gage. Carriers will be responsible for setting service plan prices which will likely include the game deck, a service plan, as well as other related service offerings. In my opinion, a bundled service plan for a "low" monthly fee that includes a device would be very well received - although I'm sure customers would be required to register for extended time periods. Look for more agreements to be inked over the coming months.

Getting Games to the end-user

A number of popular game titles are expected to be published for the N- Gage platform. These will fall under a number of game genres including sports, strategy, fighting, family, classic, shooter, and racing. Titles will be published by leading game developers, third party developers, and in-house from Nokia.

It has been announced that a number of game titles will come from some of the leading game publishers; SEGA (the first announcement made last November), Activision, Eidos, Taito, and THQ - industry leaders in gaming, all of whom were in attendance at the product launch. Others are expected to be announced later in the year. Specific titles announced include the world’s fastest hedgehog… “Sonic” who will debut as one of the first titles from Sega as will the popular Tomb Raider with Lara Croft (Eidos). Tomb raider is not going to be a head-to-head game, (would you want to play the role of the dog?) however, the wireless offerings supported by the device will enable community building such as playing scores head to head and tournament play.


Lara looks just as hot on N-Gage!

Original titles from Nokia are in development and will complement the offerings - one title we demonstrated was “Snowboarding”. It offered a 3-D environment where users race down a slalom course. In my demonstration I competed head to head with a fellow attendee by hooking up via Bluetooth. When I wasn’t boarding out of bounds I could see my fellow opponent’s boarder on my screen (I was always looking at his back!) and our scores were displayed at the top of the screen.

Games coming to N-Gage

Bounce an original title from Nokia provides for up to 4 concurrent players. This action game provides 30 levels.
Kart Racing an original title from Nokia provides for up to 1-4 players. This racing game offers 16 different race tracks.
MLB published by THQ enables players to play agaist 30 different MLB teams. Supports 1-4 players.
MotoGP published by THQ enables players to select from 10 popular racing bikes. Supports 1-4 players.
Pandemonium published by Eidos Interactive lets players visit the medieval city of Lyr and join Nikki with sidekicks Fargus and Sid. Supports 1 player.
Red Faction published by THQ. In this "shooter" game, players assume the role of a miner deep beneath the surface of Mars. 20 levels take you through land, sea, and air adventures. Supports 1 player.
SonicN published exclusively for Nokia by Sega. Sonic The Hedgehog has been rewritten specifically in this title for the N-gage platform.
Super Monkey Ball published by Sega. these monkeys race, fight and fly with a mission - of course - find the bananas!
Super Space Invaders published by Taito Corp. Taito has brought SI and puzzle bobble to the N-gage. Classic games now available in multi-user mode.
Tomb Raider published by Eidos Interactive. N-gage can bost the "hottest" female ever to hit a mobile gaming device... yes it's Lara. Supports 1 player.
SnowBoarder, A Nokia original title. Supports 2 players via Bluetooth connectivity.

Games will be distributed on slender, stamp-sized multi-media memory cards (MMC) capable of storing up to 8 MB of data. Optionally, larger cards will be made available’ ideal for storing MP3 that you may wish to listen to while you are “n-gaged”! MMC game cards will not be supported by any other Nokia devices, future N-gage releases excluded of course.

Ho much will the games sell for? Unfortunately no exact figures have been released, however, Nokia execs are quick to state that the market will drive the price. My prediction, look for N-Gage game titles to retail for roughly the same cost that you'd pay for a GameBoy Advance title (that's anywhere from US$19 - $49 depending on the title).

Providing new opportunities for games publishers. The MMC media will provide game publishers the ability to offer simple updates and additional features to users, prolonging the life of a title and also offering an opportunity for added and continual revenues. Carriers can enjoy revenues from the opportunities afforded by exciting and compelling services such as the provision of LBS. One carrier hopping on the mobile gaming bandwagon is T-mobile. They will offer online services, games, and devices to their customers.

Developers will enjoy opportunities to make their work available via the proper channels, such as Forum Nokia and the company really sees them as a crucial component. SDKs are available for free download from Forum Nokia and the barriers to entry in this market are said to be few.

Sales Channels

Games, services and devices will be available to the end users via traditional sales channels including game specific retail outlets, operator’s retail stores, major retail outlets, others. Ability to innovate in this space exists. This likely means a number of options will be provided, including online purchasing from Nokia.com, electronic distributors like Circuit City, third parties such as Handango, and likely even on Amazon.

Availability

N-Gage will be available to the public in late Q3 or early Q4, timed perfectly to coincide with the busy Christmas shopping season - the only time of the year when game sales spike. Expect a global catalog as well as regionally focused titles.

A huge opportunity will exist for developers as the mobility factor is now being introduced to the gaming world. Hint, start looking for career opportunities from leading game publishers for experienced mobile content publishers and programmers skilled in providing secure mobile solutions.

Nokia has challenged developers, the game world, and the carriers to come up with titles and services supporting the device. One company meeting the challenge is Sega with the announcement of a new “Sonic” title designed specifically for the N-gage… Sonic-N. Are you up for the challenge? If so I'd encourage you to act fast.

Are you developing or planning on developing for N-Gage? WDN would like to hear from you. Also, feel free to discuss N-Gage in the discussion board.

For more information: http://www.wdn.com

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: Last week, we published comments on the above announcement from Nokia that perhaps did not do full justice to N-gage's potential. We publish the news again - this time to give a developer's enthusiasm for N-gage. While we would like to share the enthusiasm that Wireless Developer network has with respect to mobile gaming potential, we are still not sure that N-Gage will be an instant success. Movement from stand-alone electronic games for individual pleasure to a mobile team game without seeing your virtual team mates would take a while, in our estimation. Meanwhile, the game developers can have a ball developing new games for N-gage. Making a buck in mobile gaming will take second place to the fun of writing these sophisticated mobile games.

Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and section 21E of Securities Exchange act of 1934 in USA. Similar provisions exist in other countries. There is no assurance that the stipulated plans of vendors will be implemented. MobileInfo does not warrant the authenticity of the information. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.


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