Nokia fails to impress with N-Gage

Exact details of the launch plans for the console were unveiled for the first time at the conference, with the system confirmed for a global launch on October 7th along with 10 games. The system will cost $299 at launch (no European pricing has yet been announced), a price point which makes it over three times as expensive as Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance SP, as Nokia refuses to subsidise the cost of the hardware in the way that other console manufacturers do.

Nokia is promising to double its portfolio of software (which will be priced at between $30 and $40 per title) to 20 titles by Christmas, thanks to its third party partners – but the roster of third parties has not grown much since the console was shown off for the first time in London several months ago, with only Ubi Soft’s GameLoft division signing on since then.

Ubi Soft will be contributing Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, Rayman 3 and Pro Soccer to the platform, while previously announced partner Activision now plans to release Tony Hawks Pro Skater on the N-Gage. Nokia has also announced some details of its first first-party published title, which will appear in early 2004 and is a multiplayer wartime strategy title called Pathway to Glory.

Reaction to the company’s announcements from those present at the conference was overwhelmingly negative, with most of those we spoke to drawing attention not only to the price – which is completely out of the league of normal game console pricing, regardless of what other functions the device performs – but also to the dubious quality of the software on show, with the gameplay footage of the titles showing serious issues with frame rates and graphical quality.

For its part, Nokia refuses to address comparisons between the N-Gage and the Game Boy Advance, never mind Sony’s PlayStation Portable, which was announced only hours before Nokia’s conference. The Finnish giant claims that the N-Gage occupies a unique new market segment, overlapping multiplayer, online and mobile gaming, and as such has no direct competitors.

It’s a distinction which makes for great spin or marketing speak, but with senior analysts and executives at game publishers openly describing today’s N-Gage announcements as disastrous and the prevalent belief here at E3 being that Nokia’s ambitions are dead before the console even hits the shelves, it seems unlikely (although still possible) that the company which boasts that it invented mobile gaming (Nintendo might take issue with that claim) and claims to “own mobile” will surprise the entire industry with a successful platform launch.