Nokia N-Gage Interview

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posted 11/15/2006 by The GN Staff
other articles by The GN Staff
A few years back Nokia attempted to enter the mobile gaming market with its Nokia N-Gage gaming phone. The phone wasn’t exactly a success and even though Nokia came out with the much superior Nokia QD, most gamers had written the N-Gage off. Nokia however had other plans and they are back with several new mobile gaming initiatives. This time around Nokia is going to with a more general multimedia device that plays games rather than a dedicated gaming device. Below is our interview with Nokia and their upcoming mobile gaming plans.
 
GamingNexus: Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
My name is Jaakko Kaidesoja and I’m heading games at Nokia Multimedia. I’ve been involved with mobile gaming since the first days of the N-Gage platform. I joined the N-Gage team late in 2003 and have been with Nokia for 12 years. I’ve always had a great interest towards gaming and obviously when I got the chance in 2005 to head the team I was eager to take it. I have great faith in our current gaming strategy and it's a privilege to be able to follow the fast developments of mobile gaming and mobile multimedia from such close proximity and to be able to influence the market.

GamingNexus: Given the lack of the success of the original N*Gage platform, was there ever any thought of abandoning gaming on cell phones all together? Why did you decide retain a brand name that carries a lot of baggage instead of coming up with something new?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: Nokia sees mobile gaming as a core part of the mobile entertainment experience we are offering to consumers. With our huge installed base of devices, marketing, distribution and development support, we have the infrastructure, expertise and past N-Gage learnings, to create a comprehensive mobile gaming experience. Especially when assessing some of the current bottlenecks in the industry I’m confident that we can bring great value to our consumers and to the industry.
 
N-Gage stands for high quality games, and while we all know the shortcomings of the first device, the next generation platform offering and N-Gage Arena complemented with our great Nokia Nseries and S60 device line-up is something of which we are justifiably proud. There are 2.7 million fans out there, which is a great starting point to getting more fans.
 
GamingNexus: Cell phone gaming is something that is huge market outside the US and is finally starting to become more mainstream in the US. Why do you think the adoption of cell gaming has been slower here?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: Cell phone adoption (and the use of mobile services like gaming) have generally been slower in the US. It’s not down to any single factor, but rather is a combination of things like the role of carriers, the confusing billing structure, a more “internet” oriented mindset and other factors. But we see in the US, like in other markets, that if you make it easy to find high quality games and other content, people will get on board.
 
GamingNexus: With the launch of Snap Mobile, the expansion of the N*Gage platform, and now the agreement with EA Mobile, can you provide an overview of the Nokia gaming strategy?
Jaakko Kaidesoja:Consumers are demanding great graphics, great content and great game play and we’re listening. We want to offer choice, so with N-Gage we’re offering a comprehensive mobile gaming experience where consumers can easily find, buy, play and manage great quality mobile games on a range of Nokia S60 devices.
The casual, mass market positioning of SNAP Mobile and SNAP Mobile’s games are an extension of Nokia’s connected mobile gaming offerings, focusing more on the connected Java space. Our N-Gage platform focuses on the high-end of the mobile gaming space.
 
GamingNexus: Will future N*Gage games be only be offered as downloads instead of something that you purchase in a store? 
Jaakko Kaidesoja: We’re exploring various distribution methods and downloading digital content directly is one method we’re considering. We’ve started to sell existing N-Gage games over the internet (check out http://www.n-gage.com/gameshop) and we are learning a lot about how people want to be able to purchase their mobile games. We also aim for choice here so we will adapt our distribution to the market conditions but as of today the digital distribution seems to be the way to go.
 
GamingNexus: What are the biggest barriers in cell phone gaming right now? How is Nokia planning on addressing them?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: Again, I don’t think that there is a single barrier, but rather a number of hurdles that make it difficult for the mobile gaming industry to get to the next level. Right now, it’s very hard to buy a game and know for sure that it will work on your phone, not to mention if it’s any good! It’s also hard to know how much you will be charged. For game developers there is a huge effort in producing sometimes hundreds of different versions of the same game for different handsets. Additionally, try and buy is not enabled on a wide scale and to ask consumers to purchase before they know what they get is something we would like to avoid.
 
What we are doing with N-Gage is making it easy to find, buy, play and manage great quality mobile games. This will happen through an easy to use application on your device. When you buy a game from Nokia, you know that it will work and that it’s going to be great quality. You can also try the games before you decide to buy them or you can just rent it for short time if you like. For developers, we’re also making it easy for them to create fantastic games that will work on a range of devices and for publishers the N-Gage platform will offer a clear revenue opportunity through large installed base and great user experience.


GamingNexus: The two biggest handheld gaming devices on the market right now are the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, do you see cell phone gaming competing against those devices now or are they separate markets? 
Jaakko Kaidesoja: We see the handheld gaming market and cell phone gaming as two different markets. We’re not in direct competition with handheld gaming devices. The great thing about cell phone gaming is that you are using a device that is going to be with you all the time. The majority of people are not going to leave home without their phone, whereas if you forget your handheld gaming device, you’re probably not going to go back to get it. 
 
GamingNexus: Gaming is as much the output of the system as it is the quality of the game. Can you talk about some recent and future hardware enhancements that will make for a richer mobile gaming experience?
Jaakko Kaidesoja:
We are seeing a number of hardware enhancements coming: first, more powerful processors that allow for 3D hardware acceleration. If you haven’t had the chance, visit http://www.n-gage.com/e3 and check out the trailer for “ONE – Who’s Next”. The graphics are amazing and that level of quality is only possible with the processors that are available in the very latest devices.  You’ll also be seeing bigger screens with higher resolution and improved audio. Finally, which is very important for gamers, we’re also working to improve the gaming ergonomics, both through the device and game design.
 
GamingNexus: The N93, while it has many features, puts a special emphasis on video capture and playback. Is this the beginning of a trend for higher-end Nokia Mobiles to have a highlighted feature?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: With Nokia Nseries, it’s all about delivering the best mobile multimedia experiences possible. Some of our multimedia computers will continue to be designed to enhance certain experiences such as video capture (like the Nokia N93) or music (like the Nokia N91 8GB) while still delivering a great overall multimedia experience.
 
GamingNexus: With the expansion of the N*Gage platform to a smartphone line, is there any chance Nokia would ever create a single focused device like the N*Gage QD again or do you expect to stay with general purpose devices?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: Right now, our focus is on the multimedia computer, which combines a range of functions (e.g. games, music, photos, videos, internet browsing, navigation, etc) in a single connected device. This means that people have a range of experiences that they can take advantage of from a single device. I won’t say that we will never have a gaming optimized device in the future, but we are hearing from the majority of consumers that they prefer to have a multipurpose device.
 
GamingNexus: Can you explain some of the basic differences between the Snap! Mobile or N*Gage platforms and the basic concepts of Microsofts XBox Live Anywhere platform?
Jaakko Kaidesoja:As I said before the N-Gage platform is focusing on the high-end mobile gaming market and SNAP Mobile is focusing on the connected Java gaming market. We’ve got both ends of the spectrum covered! One common element is the connected factor – people want to have the chance to share their mobile gaming experience, whether that’s competing against a friend or simply just sharing your high score. Because you are able to do this through your cell phone, which is always with you, it means access to your community wherever and whenever you want. The underlying technology for both SNAP Mobile and N-Gage is the same.
 
GamingNexus: What should we expect in terms of gaming from Nokia in the coming years?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: Our goal is to create a new mobile gaming culture, where people can easily find, buy and play fantastic mobile games. You will be seeing more announcements around which publishers are getting on board, you’ll be seeing some new devices and most importantly, you’ll be seeing some great games!
 
GamingNexus: What handheld games are you playing now? Is there one upcoming game you are really excited about?
Jaakko Kaidesoja: I’ve been playing some classics like Tetris and also EA Sport’s games and recently completed Pathway To Glory Ikusa Islands for N-Gage. There are bunch of great upcoming games on our platform like the fishing game we showed at E3 and some others that you have not seen yet and will have to remain secret for the time being. Those have taken most of my, unfortunately limited, playing time.
We'd like to thank Jaakko for taking the time to answer our questions and Kathy for helping coordinate the interview.