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Nokia sets sights high as N-Gage rolls out

Finnish mobile giant Nokia has stated that it hopes to sell between six and nine million units of the N-Gage in 2004, but the company may face an uphill struggle to achieve credibility for the device.

Finnish mobile giant Nokia has stated that it hopes to sell between six and nine million units of the N-Gage in 2004, but the company may face an uphill struggle to achieve credibility for the device.

Speaking to news agency Reuters, a spokesperson for the company said that Nokia's targets call for an installed base of six to nine million N-Gages worldwide by the end of its first year on sale - which would make the device into one of the biggest selling games platforms in the world, significantly outselling the Xbox and GameCube.

However, the phone manufacturer has massive hurdles to overcome before it can start to realise those kind of figures - and yesterday's UK launch, which might be kindly described as a bit of a damp squib, demonstrated a key hurdle, namely the widespread lack of support from traditional games retailers for the device.

Although Nokia attempted to compensate for a lack of pre-launch marketing activity with significant TV presence on Monday night, several games retail outlets we spoke to reported little consumer interest in the device, and N-Gage point of sale materials were thin on the ground at game retailers. Worse still, the promise of ten games at the device's launch has evaporated into thin air - with only PSone remakes Tomb Raider and Pandemonium, along with the N-Gage version of Super Monkey Ball (widely criticised for being poorer than the GBA incarnation of the game), available in stores this week.

Adding to the console's woes is the fact that the subsidies so confidently predicted by some analysts and journalists have simply failed to materialise, with only O2 offering any form of subsidy on the device in the UK (a limited edition offer which drops the price to £99 in return for signing up to an expensive tariff for a year). To the average consumer, the price they see at retail for the N-Gage is £229 - a massive £80 more expensive than the PlayStation 2, which is the most expensive console on the market at the moment.

It's hard to say whether this represents a lack of confidence in the N-Gage from retail and the mobile telecommunications industry, or a more fundamental lack of confidence in the device from Nokia itself. The game deck has taken a critical hammering from most sides, and while Nokia has angered many in the industry by failing to respond to any criticisms of its hardware in time for the launch, there's a strong belief that N-Gage is only an interim product, with an updated version of the hardware likely to appear within as little as six months.

What direction Nokia will take with any further revision of the hardware remains to be seen. Until now, Nokia has been aggressively touting the N-Gage as primarily a games device, but several industry commentators have suggested to us that the company may well pull back from this line in the near future, and begin pushing the system as a phone with enhanced gaming capabilities instead. Nine million units, after all, is a vast number in the world of gaming - but in the mobile phone market, which shifts nearly half a billion units each year, it's a drop in the ocean.

That change in direction, however, would almost certainly spell the death knell for Nokia's efforts at providing boxed games for the device. Indeed, many developers who started working on N-Gage titles have already gone back to working on Java titles instead in the belief that these cheaper, more accessible games will be more popular on the platform than the expensive boxed games.

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.