Nokia has officially unveiled its next-generation N-Gage platform at GDC 07, backed with support from publishing partners including EA Mobile, THQ Wireless, Glu Mobile, Gameloft and Indiagames.
The Finnish company has handed over version 1.0 of its SDK to the development community, along with Java testing platform Snap Mobile, ahead of the official launch of the format this Autumn.
GamesIndustry.biz took the opportunity to sit down with head of global sales for games at Nokia, Antoine Doumenc, to further discuss the platform, the company's relationships with the development community and the lessons learnt from the original N-Gage release.
GamesIndustry.biz:Can you begin by telling us a little more about the thinking behind third-party and first-party publishing on the new N-Gage platform?
Antoine Doumenc: The fundamental thing is that we're definitely a device manufacturer. Nokia was one of the first companies to put Java into mobile phones and we invented customisable ringtones, so we're a company that is about developing a market not just for our business but for other businesses too. The way we look at the mobile gaming business is that for Nokia it's not just a focus on pure hardware. We need to allow the ecosystems around these developments to grow. That's the philosophy behind everything we do.
A mobile phone has no value as a piece of hardware if you can't put great content on it. Our focus is on helping the third-party publishers make the best games they can. We have to allow them to leverage the device as much as possible. If they are successful we are successful.
In terms of our first-party publishing, it's about pushing the envelope and showing what's possible with the technology.
So primarily, first-party deveopment is to showcase the N-Gage technology?
Yes, but they will not necessarily be the best titles. It's to show off a particular feature. We might have something that isn't fully stable so it's our focus to test it and then give it over to game developers. Our first-party game development is to showcase, test and to show that Nokia is also a publisher who wants to make proper gaming titles. We did a lot of work with the original N-Gage over some time and we learnt a lot from that so it would be foolish to not make the most of it.
What would you say is the most valuable lesson gained from your work with the original N-Gage?
There are many. Absolutely. You can't enter a new industry and know everything from scratch. We understand the value of doing games specifically for mobile and how the consumers uses the mobile device. N-Gage was a success in terms of the quality of games on mobile phones. If there is one thing we've learnt it's that the mobile gaming market has to be taken seriously. You have to understand the user - where he is playing, how he is playing. Nokia today has a good understanding of the market but there is always more to learn and we are honest about that.
It's clear that Nokia hasn't given up on the mobile market, whereas a number of developers and publishers have counted their losses and walked away. Do you think that has actually helped strengthen your relationship with the third-party publishers who still believe in mobile gaming?
Because we've been in the N-Gage journey for such a long time now, clearly publishers such as EA Mobile and ourselves know what we're talking about. Three years ago there weren't enough professional people in the mobile games industry. It's different today. EA Mobile, Gameloft, Glu Mobile - all of these publishers understand the market really well, and the industry itself has matured. We know need to turn that understanding into real products.
In terms of development you're handing the technology over to publishers and letting them do the best that they can. What about in terms of marketing - can publishers and developers expect Nokia to stand beside them to promote the format to the consumer?
We are going to push the platform, absolutely. To look at another company - if you consider the Nike brand, it has a value whereby you know if you walk into a Nike store you're going to get a product of a high quality. It's the same thing here. With N-Gage we want to do the same thing for consumers. When they hear the N-Gage brand they know they'll be getting a valuable experience. But in terms of single titles we're not going to promote a game for a third-party publisher. It's about the publisher making their own strategic decisions and their own positioning in that case.
You have a good mix of publisher support - both mobile specialists such as Glu and Gameloft, but also publishers better known for their console brands like EA and THQ. Are you also working with other publishers and can we expect to hear from them before the new N-Gage platform officially launches later this year?
We can't announce them yet, but what we see today is an indication of the support we have. There's a real need from publishers to have the right tools for development in order to go from the early stages of mobile gaming to the next-level, where they can financially invest in better games for mobile.
These publishers have the know how to create some fantastic games. But in terms of the set-up, the mobile business just hasn't been good enough - the fragmentation, the development costs, tools and so on have delayed the industry. Through learning with the first N-Gage we've managed to build up an ecosystem that can be relied on, it's predictable and publishers can manage costs and also have the brand recognition that comes with it. With all of this taken care of on their behalf, publishers can now afford to take more of a creative risk and develop more games with a better return of investment. All of this is something that the development community has been waiting for and Nokia is delivering it.
Antoine Doumenc is head of games global sales at Nokia. Interview by Matt Martin.