Nokia to Expand N-Gage Game Platform

Since its launch in late 2002, the Nokia N-Gage phone turned handheld gaming console has struggled to meet expectations. Nokia has sold about 2 million of the devices in 3 years, far below its goal of 6 million. But despite the disappointments, Nokia plans to make some changes that it hopes will invigorate the concept.

The original N-Gage model was plagued with design flaws, such as placing the game memory card under the battery slot, which brought bad reviews and slowed consumer adoption. Even after changes were made, pricing has remained a huge sticking point, with games running upwards of $40 USD.

Because of the limitations of N-Gate's small screen and mobile phone form factor, developers have also been slow to adopt the platform. At the E3 conference in Los Angeles earlier this year, Nokia demoed a few new titles to BetaNews, but the company lacked a major game franchise to attract customers.

Sony, meanwhile, has seen blockbuster success with its PlayStation Portable and expects to sell a total of 13 million units this year. The Nintendo DS has also favored well in the marketplace.

"I am not happy," Anssi Vanjoki, head of Nokia's Multimedia division, admitted to Reuters Wednesday at the Nokia Mobility conference in Spain. "We need to make some changes."

First on the list of plans to bring the N-Gage back to life, Nokia will soon extend game support to other Series 60 based mobile phones in its N-series line. The N70 and N90 are currently on sale, with the N91 expected early next year. Nokia's N71, N80 and N92 will follow in 2006.

At E3, Nokia told BetaNews that other Series 60 phones would not be compatible with current N-Gage game titles, but said it would make the porting process easy for developers. Expanding the potential market for game makers is crucial to keeping the platform alive, Vanjoki said.

Nokia expects the usage of smartphones to double next year to 100 million devices, which opens up a great deal of opportunity for the gaming platform - especially with the company controlling 55 percent of the market.

But even with the focus shifting to smartphones, the N-Gage hasn't seen its last days, Nokia assures. The company is reportedly working on an upgrade to the device and if its presence at E3 was any sign, mobile gaming is still an important niche to the Finnish phone maker.

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