N-Gage Users Enraged Over Device Lock-In

Customers of Nokia’s re-launched N-Gage mobile gaming service are lashing out at Nokia as they realize purchases made through the service are locked to a specific Nokia device, and cannot be transferred to a new handset when a user upgrades. According to the N-Gage terms and conditions, “All Content shall be subject to the End User Software License Agreement (“EUSA”) and limited to one private installation on one N-Gage compatible Nokia device only.” Although users can re-install a purchase as often as they need to on a particular device, the activation codes are linked to that device. If a user wants to move on to a newer or more sophisticated phone, they need to purchase their N-Gage content all over again.

Needless to say, current and potential N-Gage customers are not particularly pleased. The issue was first brought to light by the All About N-Gage Web site.

The current N-Gage service is actually the second incarnation of N-Gage: Nokia attempted to jump-start a mobile gaming market in 2003, but the devices and service never took off. The re-worked N-Gage service launched last month.

The policy of binding purchases to a particular handset is apparently designed to curb piracy, but may backfire on the company as consumers attempt to work around what they view as unduly restrictive policies: the result could be widespread piracy of N-Gage games if the restriction could be cracked. However, perhaps more importantly, the limitation discourages N-Gage customers from anything but the most limited purchases through the service, since they won’t be able to take content with them. When a customer buys a game, they typically expect that game to be “theirs” for as long as they like; however, with mobile users replacing their phones every 18 months or so, some potential N-Gage customers may steer clear of the service since they won’t be able to keep the content very long. The fiasco could also further sully the N-Gage brand, which is trying to (ahem) re-engage with consumers after its false start a few years ago.

[Update 23-May-2008: PC World reports Nokia is working on a way to let N-Gage users transfer games from one device to another, but that the company offered no details and did not explain why no such mechanism was in place at N-Gage’s launch. Nokia reportedly blames the snafu in “miscommunication,” both within the company and with its customers.]