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GDC: Nokia Keynote: The Next Generation of Mobile Gaming

March 20, 2006

Market Leadership

Nokia's keynote at GDC Mobile this year was rather low-key, with only a few new announcements during the rather short presentation. The address was given by Gregg Sauter, Nokia's Director of Games Publishing, who first praised the developers in attendance for getting the mobile market to where it is today.


There are three components to Nokia's next generation strategy. First, Sauter talked about hardware. Nokia commands over 50% of the handset market, and thus over 50% of the mobile game-playing fanbase. Nokia's Smartphones are the most advanced of the bunch, and Nokia has currently shipped 2.5 million of these worldwide, and predict a 250 million userbase by 2008. Nokia has found that Smartphone owners are five times more likely to purchase game content than owners of other handsets.

Just like multimedia drove PC innovation, so too will Smartphones drive mobile advancement, Sauter boasted. In his estimation, the screen, onboard memory and graphics capabilities of these phones are increasing rapidly, and graphics will soon reach the level of consumer handheld consoles.

The current N-Gage hardware.

Consumer Experience

The next part of the strategy is the consumer experience. Not just the gameplay, but the entire experience, from downloading to execution of programs. “In this industry, we have issues with experiences,” Sauter admitted – continuing, “if users have a poor experience with their first attempt to download content, they may not come back.” Indeed, he lamented that some 10-30% of mobile content downloads end in failure, either due to interrupted transfers, content that doesn't work, or other problems.

“The mobile games industry isn't about dumping console games onto handsets,” Sauter explained, adding that some of the most successful developers are using the unique properties of phones to create experiences that are impossible anywhere else. But on top of new gameplay, the entire platform needs to evolve. We need ease of searching, access, purchase, playability/value, sharing (multiplayer), and managing content, according to Nokia, and they hope to be the ones to achieve this.

Their plan is to beef up their N-Gage arena content to work with Smartphones, very much mimicking the Xbox Live Arcade experience. You can have a gamer profile and avatar (or take your own picture with your cameraphone), and win N-Gage points (NGPs). Though he mentioned nothing of this during the keynote, many have guessed that Nokia plans to make N-Gage content downloadable to Smartphones in the relatively near future.

Nokia showed a new version of this game, System Rush.

Developer Support

The third major branch of Nokia's plan is developer support. Much of what Nokia announced is not new - you can program in C++, have access to analyzing and debugging tools, community and multiplayer hosting, DRM solutions, training and workshops, global developer support, and early access to prototypes. The most interesting bit is the community and multiplayer hosting. With their recent partnership with Sun for their SNAP mobile Java technology, gamers can communicate with greater ease and access the games portal from PCs and internet-enabled phones.

What's more, developers won't have to have a direct relationship with Nokia in order to provide online content and multiplayer options now, going through the SNAP mobile system instead, easing development a bit. They're hoping to remove the necessity of working on platforms, allowing developers to make their games independent of the actual hardware. Nokia also recently launched their pay-for-membership Forum Nokia Pro Games Zone, which will provide high-level development support in a live dynamic forum.

Next Generation?

Unfortunately, Nokia made no specific mention of any next-generation plans for the N-Gage service itself, leaving us to speculate about what they might be planning. All we know is what they said in the press release: “Nokia's next generation mobile games platform is expected to launch in the first half of 2007, with a range of titles and devices.”


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