Nokia’s N-Gage will combine mobile phone functionality with that of a gaming device. The aim is to challenge Nintendo’s handheld gaming dominance, producing the first compelling alternative to the Game Boy Advance. It’s too early to say whether N-Gage will succeed at this task – but it will certainly be a shot in the arm for the nascent mobile gaming market.
Nokia will launch a combined mobile phone and games console in February 2003.
Mobile giant Nokia plans to launch its N-Gage device in February 2003, combining mobile phone functionality with a gaming platform. Although Atari, Sega, and Bandai have posed limited competition, the N-Gage will be the first real threat to Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance handheld console, which is expected to have sold 50 million units by the end of 2003.
One key factor determining the N-Gage’s fate will be the quality of games. It will come pre-loaded with five games, with further titles developed by Nokia and third parties. Sega has already signed up, and Nokia hopes other major publishers will join.
The N-Gage will not be available in Japan – the most advanced mGaming market – because Nokia does not support Japan’s mobile protocol. This not only cuts the potential target market of the N-Gage, but could also result in a lack of support from Japanese developers.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic. Nokia plans to distribute games by memory card, rather than by phone – allowing games to be more complex than current wireless games, and therefore to compete with GBA titles. And since GBA margins are very tight, publishers may be more willing to gamble on Nokia’s new device.
But the N-Gage’s biggest advantage is its dual functionality. It will offer online gaming over mobile networks and Bluetooth (allowing short-distance multi-player gaming at no cost) – and Nintendo cannot match this functionality in Europe. The widespread popularity of mobile phones and gaming among teenagers will also work in its favor.
It would be foolish to expect Nokia to overturn Nintendo’s 15-year lead anytime soon, given the Japanese firm’s publisher support and back catalog. It’s also too early to say just how much of an advantage Nokia’s multi-functionality will be.
However, the N-Gage will be a massive shot in the arm for the mobile gaming sector, as the first device and platform that could live up to the hype of this nascent market. A successful N-Gage would bring on offerings from Nokia’s mobile competitors – plus gaming titans Sony and Microsoft.
Related research: Datamonitor, Global Online Games (DMTC0844)
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