Nokia N-Gage QD
The second generation of the N-Gage hardware is here. and we’ve spent a couple of days putting it through its paces in order to bring you a full hands-on report on Nokia‘s second effort at getting it right in the games market.
John Riccitiello, Electronic Arts’ former president and COO who departed from the company only last week, may well have put it most succinctly. “When I picked it up I knew it was a dog,” he said of the original N-Gage game deck, “it just feels stupid.” However, he wasn’t entirely damning in his condemnation of the platform. “Nokia will figure it out,” he predicted. “It’s just that they haven’t figured it out yet.”
With the unveiling of the N-Gage QD, Nokia has its second stab at figuring it out. a chance to implement changes based on a year’s worth of valuable, if undoubtedly unpleasant, feedback from media, consumers, publishers and developers on a device which is widely considered to feature some of the worst design decisions the games industry has ever seen.
We’ve already spent substantial time with the N-Gage QD, using one of the prototype devices as a phone and game console over the course of a hectic couple of days in Nokia’s home town of Helsinki. Although the device we tested was running a beta version of the operating system, the vast bulk of the functionality was in place and we were able to give the new N-Gage a proper run through the majority of its paces.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the N-Gage QD makes the most of that chance. Unlike its older stablemate, which is designed very similarly to a number of Nokia’s other phones and is even built from the same materials, the QD is quite a unique beast. completely unlike any other phone we’ve ever used, with a chunky, substantial feel to it which is much more becoming of a serious games device than the design of the original N-Gage. The material of the casing feels tougher, the buttons are made of thick, slightly rubberised plastic and stick out prominently from the fascia, and there’s even a soft rubber ring around the edges of the QD which should help to protect it from falls. The addition of tight rubber flaps around all external ports and a well-sealed battery compartment probably mean that the phone is also splash proof to some degree, although Nokia doesn’t seem keen to push that as a feature.
The QD is sufficiently rugged that it feels almost like a piece of military hardware rather than a games console, and we expect that this look will appeal to a lot of consumers. particularly young men in the console’s prime age bracket of late teens through to mid-twenties. Crucially, it’s a design which is very unique without being unattractive or impractical. and the ability to replace the front fascia and keys with new ones will also appeal to the fashion conscious, as well as offering the possibility of game companies releasing new fascias as merchandising for their latest titles on the system.
As you would hope, the two key problems with the original N-Gage system have been fixed in its successor. namely the need to remove the battery in order to change MMC game cards, and the ludicrous “sidetalking” positioning of the microphone and speaker, which made users of the phone look like they were talking into a taco (or a pasty, depending on which part of the world you hail from). The former issue has been fixed comprehensively by putting an MMC card slot on the outside of the console, covered by a rubber flap, while the latter has simply been fixed by moving the earpiece and microphone onto the front fascia of the phone.
In allowing users to hot-swap MMC cards, Nokia has also added software functionality which lets you launch games from the main screen without having to navigate through menus, or even have the game start up as soon as the card is inserted, much like more traditional games consoles. In order to remove the card, however, you must first click on a menu option for safe removal, and we noted that the MMC slot on our prototype unit wasn’t spring loaded, so careful prising of the card end with a thumbnail was required to retrieve it. However, compared to the previous mechanism for game changing, this is near perfect.
The relocation of the earpiece and microphone onto the front panel is also a success, and the QD can happily be used as a phone without the need for a hands-free kit. In fact, it’s very comfortable to use as a phone, as it fits snugly into your hand and the built-in speaker is very clear and quite loud. Our only gripe was that the button for answering calls doesn’t seem large and prominent enough, which is actually a problem with a number of the function buttons on the fascia. However this is probably due to the constraints imposed by the need to make the phone overall smaller than the original N-Gage, and users of the QD will probably get used to the new, smaller positions of certain keys quite quickly.
The other major enhancement to the N-Gage QD is that the screen is now significantly brighter and clearer than on the original model of the device, which makes a number of games. particularly the darker 3D ones. a lot easier and more fun to play. However, the actual size and shape of the screen hasn’t changed, and we still have reservations about both the size and the update rate of the screen. not least because even with the new, sharper screens, some people were complaining of headaches after playing with their N-Gage QD’s for relatively short periods of time.
All in all, then, as cosmetic overhauls go the N-Gage QD has largely been a success for Nokia; they have taken what was frankly an unattractive and inconvenient device and turned it into a genuinely good piece of hardware which should have a broad appeal within the youth market.
However, the reduction in size. and in price tag. has come at a cost, and the QD lacks much of the additional non-gaming functionality of the original N-Gage and the rest of Nokia’s Series 60 phones. In a move which may well have been designed to avoid cannibalising customers from other parts of Nokia’s lucrative mobile phone business, a swathe of features have been removed from the N-Gage. although with a small number of exceptions, they can be added back into the device by downloading third party Symbian applications.
Among the functions which are missing from the phone are the MP3 player (easy to download, admittedly), the FM radio tuner (which cannot be replaced in software as it requires custom hardware) and a number of PDA-style applications which are common on Series 60 phone handsets. Presumably the removal of those functions. particularly the MP3s playback. rendered the USB port on the phone pointless, as it is also missing from the design of the QD.
In the Balance
For customers who are actually interested in the PDA and music playback functions of the device, the N-Gage QD isn’t going to look as attractive as to others. which is presumably why Nokia is planning to leave the N-Gage in its range rather than replacing it entirely. However, we tend to agree with the bulk of the design decisions made here, not least since standalone MP3 players and PDAs have become so completely ubiquitous and offer far more functionality and quality than a multi-purpose device such as the N-Gage could ever hope to. Nokia claims that its customer feedback suggested that people were happy to sacrifice the extra functions in order to gain a smaller device and a smaller price tag; the truth of this one will presumably be seen in public reaction to the new device.
In terms of playing games on the deck, not a lot has changed since the original N-Gage. unsurprising, since the actual innards of the device are exactly the same as its older sibling. All games will continue to be compatible with both consoles, meaning that owners of the original N-Gage who wish to continue using it won’t be hung out to dry over new releases. One thing which has improved slightly, however, is the control layout. Keys are now far more significantly raised and easier to locate with the fingers, as well as having a far more positive action when pressed, and the company has wisely removed the “click” action from the D-pad, moving it onto a small button next to the pad instead in order to avoid players hitting the click at an inopportune moment during a game.
Nokia claims to have boosted the battery life of the system significantly also, and cites up to ten hours of playtime for the device. We were unable to test that claim, but certainly the phone appeared to be losing its charge a lot more slowly than an original N-Gage. and if the ten-hour claim is true, the device will be on a par with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance SP for usability in this specific department.
That’s more like it.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the N-Gage QD is a vast improvement over the original N-Gage, as it fixes a number of major showstopper problems with the first generation hardware and introduces an attractive, functional and comfortable-to-use design which makes the QD into arguably one of Nokia’s most desirable Series 60 phones from a pure aesthetics point of view. Obviously, the design won’t appeal to everyone, and we expect it to polarise opinion to some degree. but barring any major hitches, when we finally get our hands on a QD for a proper extended testing period, we feel safe in saying that Nokia finally has a games console which could be a winner with the general public. Now it’s just down to the Finnish company to provide the compelling software reasons that people will need to buy one.
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Nokia Next Gen: Learning the lessons from N-Gage
Published by krisse at 12:58 UTC, February 6th 2007
How can Nokia make its Next Gen games platform a commercial success? What lessons has it learned from its experience with the original N-Gage?
There has been an endless amount of text written about mobile gaming and the original N-Gage smartphone, much of it driven by personal taste (“I never use phone games” or “I never use games consoles”) rather than a balancing of the facts.
In order to cut through all the ideological hot air, this article will just look at the problems and successes of the first generation of N-Gage as if they were many individual targets to be hit or missed: to succeed with its Next Gen Games Platform, Nokia must deal with the failures of the old N-Gage whilst preserving the things that worked.
When console maker Sega left the hardware world after the Dreamcast stopped production, they sold their online division to Nokia along with many members of staff and a gaming network called SNAP. Nokia turned this bundle of talent and infrastructure into their greatest success so far in the portable online gaming world: the N-Gage Arena. What Xbox Live is to home gaming, N-Gage Arena is to mobile gaming. It features a single login for all games and community functions, truly mobile online gameplay wherever the phone works (no need to be tethered to hotspots), and one of the most well-motivated and intelligent group of moderators and forum participants on any gaming site.
Nokia First Party Games
Despite their hamfisted launch of the N-Gage itself, Nokia managed to prove itself a very capable first party games publisher. After a slightly shaky start with Ashen, most Nokia titles proved to be the finest smartphone games ever created: Pathway To Glory, System Rush, Glimmerati, High Seize, Mile High Pinball, ONE, Rifts and Snakes all received excellent reviews.
The Promotion of Kingdom
The promotional drive for Kingdom (a Massively Multiplayer Online game from Sega and exclusive to the N-Gage) somehow managed to generate a huge amount of positive publicity for the system, even winning the support of the ever-cynical game site Penny Arcade. The publicity surrounding Kingdom managed to come closer than anything in turning around the N-Gage’s reputation with the professional gaming media.
N-Gage was a great smartphone, but it was seen as a disappointing console
Despite the claims of Nokia’s publicity machine that the N-Gage was a games console with a phone built into it, the N-Gage hardware contained absolutely no gaming-oriented features and was almost identical to the Nokia 3650 smartphone. The only thing genuinely gaming-oriented about the N-Gage was its horizontal casing and button layout.
Nokia’s botched marketing meant that smartphone fans (who would have appreciated the device’s features) didn’t really know about the N-Gage, while console fans (who just wanted a console, not a smartphone) were disappointed by things such as the one minute boot-up time, which was normal on smartphones but unheard of on consoles.
The N-Gage seemed expensive at 300 because handheld consoles cost less than half that
The N-Gage’s 300 launch price was actually very low by smartphone standards and the hardware was actually a real bargain if you wanted a smartphone in 2003. Unfortunately many console gamers just wanted a console, and couldn’t see where their 300 had really gone on the N-Gage because it was mostly spent on non-gaming features they never used.
N-Gage’s screen was vertical, while all other gaming platforms used horizontal screens
The N-Gage’s vertical screen was a completely standard feature on smartphones, but seemed completely wrong when marketed as a console feature. The screen shape meant that ports of games from consoles just didn’t work as well on the N-Gage as they were originally designed for a horizontal aspect ratio.
Changing games involved switching off, removing the cover, removing the battery, changing the gamecard, replacing the battery, replacing the cover, switching back on and waiting for the phone to boot up.
The memory card slot of the original N-Gage was buried deep inside because that was standard practice on smartphones at the time (and still is on many models). Blank memory cards are like smartphone HDDs: they have relatively large capacities, are designed to hold dozens or hundreds of applications and games at a time, and aren’t intended to be removed very often.
Unfortunately on the N-Gage the memory card slot was used like the cartridge slot on a console, resulting in a disastrous mismatch between what the slot was designed for and how it was actually used.
Most of the N-Gage’s launch games were poorly implemented ports from other platforms
The launch games on any gaming platform are always weak, but N-Gage’s lineup was particularly bad being entirely mostly dull ports from other systems. The N-Gage’s first genuinely impressive and well-reviewed exclusive games didn’t start to appear until a year later at the end of 2004, and although they won many reviewers over it seemed to make little difference to the N-Gage’s sales.
N-Gage Games weren’t widely available after the disastrous launch
The combination of low-selling hardware and low-selling launch games meant that lots of game retailers abandoned the platform within a few months. By the time the first genuinely good exclusive N-Gage games started appearing it was relatively difficult to find them in bricks-and-mortar retailers, even the ones that still stocked the launch games. By the end of the N-Gage’s life it was impossible to find new releases in any physical shops.
N-Gage Games were really expensive compared to other smartphone games
N-Gage games cost about 40 at launch in America and 60 in Europe. These were very high to pay compared to other smartphone games (which is what N-Gage games were), and made people naturally compare them to console games rather than phone ones. This comparison didn’t do N-Gage any favours, especially when the next generation of handheld consoles appeared in the form of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.
N-Gage didn’t sell well, and so didn’t have much support from third party game manufacturers
Former N-Gage executive Gerard Wiener said during an online chat event that third party support was crucial to N-Gage, but it was made difficult to obtain because the userbase of the platform was relatively low (N-Gage sold one million phones in its first year and another million the year after that).
N-Gage games were only officially available to one or two gaming-oriented models
An irony of the N-Gage’s low sales is that the hardware itself sold incredibly well. just not with N-Gage printed on the cover. The N-Gage was a standard S60 smartphone, and S60 smartphones were and still are the most popular smartphones in the world. Annual sales of S60 smartphones are several times greater than all handheld consoles put together, and by rights the userbase of N-Gage games should have been the biggest in the world.
Unfortunately N-Gage games (which were technically just S60 smartphone games) had a DRM lock placed on them so they would only work on the N-Gage or QD. Pirates were able to get the games running on other S60 smartphone models by removing the DRM, but this option was never available legally and few people even realised it was possible. Those who wanted a normal-looking smartphone but also wanted N-Gage games were completely ignored by Nokia, even though it would have been incredibly easy to cater to them and would have greatly expanded their userbase.
The N-Gage name became a byword for bad games
Due to its poor launch sales, most of the gaming world seemed to make its mind up there and then that anything with the brand “N-Gage” on it wasn’t worth looking at. These rather bigoted attitudes proved remarkably resilient, and the overwhelmingly positive reviews that the later N-Gage QD model and games of 2004/2005 received seemed to make no difference. The N-Gage name itself became a liability rather than the neutral or positive label it ought to have been.
The combination of high game prices, very poor distribution to retailers and difficulty changing gamecards on the original N-Gage made pirated games very tempting even to people who would normally purchase a legal copy. In most countries you simply couldn’t buy the latest N-Gage games after the launch because shops didn’t stock them any more. For most people it became far easier to obtain pirated N-Gage games than legal ones.
In late 2003 Nokia floated the idea that people might want to talk into their phones edge-on rather than flat against their face, with the N-Gage being first and only model to implement it. Sidetalking, as it became known, was not a popular option, and was touted by critics as yet another problem with the N-Gage. The later N-Gage QD model removed sidetalking, but the damage had been done.
Idiot Salespeople in Games Shops
There was much anecdotal evidence from the N-Gage Arena boards that people who went to buy N-Gage games in physical shops in the years after the launch were criticised by the shop assistants instead of just being served. Immature, irresponsible behaviour by shops? Yes. Bad for N-Gage sales? Definitely.
So, how well does Nokia’s Next Gen Gaming Platform manage to hit these targets? Let’s see!
Shot One: The Next Gen gaming platform will be available on a wide range of the latest S60 smartphones at launch, with the number of compatible models increasing over time.
Targets Hit: Problem 1, Problem 2, Problem 8, Problem 9, Problem 12
Why: If the new games run on normal-looking smartphones marketed as smartphones, Next Gen titles will be compared with other phone games and look pretty darn good. The price of the smartphones won’t seem unreasonable, and indeed many people will get them as “free” upgrades from their phone network operators. And because the latest S60 phones are already very popular, the games will receive a far larger userbase than they ever had on the N-Gage or QD right from day one, which should make third party support much easier to obtain. And of course if the games are available on many different models, people will be able to pick the phone model they like best instead of having to commit to a gaming model.
Targets Left: Problems 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 13
Shot Two: Next Gen games will be available to buy as downloads directly onto the phone (thorugh 3G or Wi-Fi) or onto a PC and then transferred onto the phone (like music is from iTunes onto the iPod).
Targets Hit: Problem 4, Problem 6, Problem 11, Problem 13 and (probably) Problem 7
Overall: By selling games as downloads, the problems of changing games and finding games for sale are instantly wiped away. All games will be available on their release day to anyone who has a compatible phone, and they can store many games on a single memory card. The Next Gen games will be as easy to buy and obtain as Java games which will greatly reduce the significance of piracy (although Java games are very widely available on the internet as pirated copies, their legal sales have remained high thanks to them being far more convenient to obtain legally than illegally). With no retailers involved in selling the games, the problem of snotty shop assistants is gone, and because there’s no packaging or shelf space to worry about the of the games will almost certainly be significantly lower than the 50 level at the N-Gage’s launch.
Targets Left: Problems 3, 5 and 10
Shot Three: Several Next Gen-compatible models will have horizontal screens.
Targets Hit: Problem 3
Overall: With the S60 smartphone platform moving to its 3rd Edition, the screens of S60 smartphones now have far higher resolution and far more flexibility than in the days of the N-Gage, and horizontal models and games will be available on the Next Gen platform. The latest S60 3rd Edition smartphones can support a wide range of screenshapes such as horizontal, rectangular and square while still being compatible with the majority of applications and games.
Targets Left: Problems 5 and 10
Shot Four: There will be exclusive First Party games available at the launch.
Targets Hit: Problem 5
Overall: Having had their fingers burnt with the 100% ported launch for the original N-Gage, Nokia has a lineup of four to six first party games which will be available at or near the launch of the Next Gen platform. This is perhaps the best example of them learning from the original N-Gage, as they’ve gained experience making good, well-reviewed smartphone games.
Targets Left: Problem 10
That’s almost all of the targets hit!
Problem No. 10: The Name
The above hail of bullets hits virtually every target, and the Next Gen gaming platform should go a long way to resolving many of the problems of the N-Gage, largely by allowing smartphones to be smartphones instead of pretending to be consoles, and allowing people to choose an up-to-date smartphone that suits their needs without having to sacrifice its ability to play Next Gen games.
But this leaves one problem still to be resolved by Nokia: the N-Gage name.
The N-Gage brand has a very very low reputation in the gaming community. Ironically enough this is by far the easiest problem to deal with, Nokia could simply use a different name for its Next Gen gaming platform. It would cost very little to do and could be done virtually overnight.
Of course it may be that the success of the Next Gen platform doesn’t really depend on the gaming community at all. The gaming community as a whole is far far smaller than the phone-using community: there are over 1000 million phones sold every year, of which about 350 million are Nokia models, both of which dwarf the 25 million handheld and home consoles sold annually. If Nokia’s Next Gen platform reaches just 2.5% of phone users as a whole, or just 7.5% of their own customers, the platform would become bigger than the entire home and portable console userbase of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo put together.
But it’s unlikely that anyone would buy the Next Gen games because of the N-Gage name, at best they would be either unfamiliar with the name or have no strong feelings about it.
As a brand the N-Gage name is worthless at best, and a severe liability at worst, and many people will unfairly make fun of the platform or its games purely because they have the N-Gage name attached to them. It’s difficult to see why Nokia are willing to risk what is a potentially excellent gaming platform with potentially excellent games by using a spoilt brand name.
Even if the Next Gen platform rescues the N-Gage brand name and restores its good reputation, why make life difficult by setting yourself such a task? Why not just start with a clean slate and a new name?
If anyone in charge of the Next Gen Gaming Platform is reading this article, please ask yourself whether it’s worth risking all the excellent and difficult work you’re doing purely for the sake of the following logo:
This article or section does not cite its references or sources. Please help improve this article by introducing appropriate citations. (help, get involved!) This article has been tagged since August 2006.
The Nokia N-Gage is an unpopular mobile telephone and handheld game system based on the Nokia Series 60 platform. It was launched on October 7, 2003. The lack of quality games for the platform (not a single N-Gage title has above a 90% rating on Metacritic) sealed the machine’s fate. Attempting to lure gamers away from the Game Boy Advance by including cellphone functionality proved disastrous: the buttons, designed for a phone, were not well-suited for gaming, and when used as a phone, the N-Gage was described as resembling a taco. 
In the late 1990s, gamers increasingly carried both mobile phones and handheld game systems. Nokia spotted an opportunity to combine these devices into a more handy unit thus calling their new handheld the “Game Boy Killer”. They developed the N-Gage, a device that integrated these two devices. Instead of using cables, multiplayer gaming was accomplished with Bluetooth or the Internet (via the N-Gage Arena service). The N-Gage also included MP3 and Real Audio/Video playback and PDA-like features into the system.
The N-Gage was not as commercially popular as Nokia estimated, having sold, by the end of 2005, less than half of the minimum six million units that had been Nokia’s target for the end of 2004 despite asserting that they shipped one million N-Gages to retailers rather than consumers.  The poor sales performance can be attributed to the poor selection of games compared to its competitors and its cost at launch; it was more than twice as expensive as a Game Boy Advance SP on release day. Poor sales were also amplified by game media being standard MMC memory cards without any hardware mechanisms to prevent piracy, indeed rival firms boasted that the N-Gage’s games could be played just as easily on their phones.
Besides its gaming capabilities, the N-Gage is a Series 60 phone, running Symbian OS 6.1, with features similar to those of the Nokia 3650 (it does not have an integrated camera, however). It is able to run all Series 60 software, and Java MIDP applications as well. Its main CPU is an ARM Integrated (ARMI) compatible chip (ARM4T architecture) running at 104 MHz, the same as the Nokia 7650 and 3650 phones.
The original N-Gage was considered to have a very clumsy taco shaped design: to insert a game, users must remove the phone’s plastic cover and remove the battery compartment as the game slot was behind it. Another ‘clumsy’ feature is the speaker and microphone being located on the side edge of the phone. This often resulted in many to describe it as if one was talking into a “taco phone”  or “Sidetalking”, where the user holds the edge of the phone against the cheek in order to talk into it. The comfort factor of lengthy calls was also called into question. Despite the criticism, it is thought that the Sidetalking is there for a practical reason: if placed elsewhere, the screen would get in contact with the cheek and become smudged. However, almost all other cell phones have the screen against the cheek when the user is talking. Despite the questionable practicality, gamers still were unwilling to talk in such an awkward manner.
When considered from a video game point of view, the N-Gage is known for its unique screen orientation, a vertical one as opposed to a horizontal one (which is more popular with other handhelds). The reason for this is that the underlying operating system, Series 60, did not support horizontal orientations at that time (only supported since S60v3 ). Some felt this to be a negative feature, feeling that ‘unconventional’ does not necessarily mean improvement. Possibly due to this screen feature, as well as the public’s luke-warm reception to the device, the game library is far from extensive. Despite this, the N-Gage did managed to garner some rather well known franchises such as Tomb Raider, Rayman, Red Faction, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, among others.
From a cell phone standpoint, the N-gage also faced problems. Besides the clumsy form factor, it was initially sold primarily through specialty game outlets instead of through cell phone providers, which only called attention to its high pre-subsidy price, lack of games, and clumsy interface compared to other gaming devices (thanks to the Series 60 interface and unusual face button layout). Once cellphone retail outlets started carrying the phone, which wouldn’t become a widespread practice until well after the release of the N-Gage QD, it still faced problems. The N-Gage and its successor, the N-Gage QD, worked only on GSM networks, meaning that it is incompatible with the then-largest US cell service provider, Verizon Wireless, as well as all of Japan’s cell networks. Interestingly enough, even though it was compatible in other areas, with major cell phone networks (such as Canada and the UK), it still has not fared well in the market.
The original N-Gage though still has many benefits to developers and end-users. It had a large amount of executable RAM memory compared to Series 60 devices (the 668x series) ; it has MP3 decoding in a dedicated hardware chip as Nokia 3300 (other Series 60 devices, including the N-Gage QD, rely on software decoding); it has stereo output from a standard 2.5mm jack plug; and it can be mounted as a USB Mass Storage device on any compatible computer without requiring the Nokia PC Connect software.
The N-Gage QD is Nokia’s successor to the N-Gage and was released six months after the first N-Gage, placing it in 2004. It revises the device’s physical design, being smaller and rounder. It corrected the previous perceived ‘flaw’ of the cartridge slot with a more convenient one on the bottom of the device. This design also moved the speaker and microphone to the face of the device, rather than on the side, as in the previous model. Despite the revision, many were quick to criticize the unit, just as they did the original N-Gage. Some note that the rubber fitting side that closes the gap between the device top and bottom casing can be easily loosened over a few months if it is dropped regularly, although this is hardly a recommended practice in taking care of the unit. Once the rubber piece is removed, the device becomes more vulnerable to water or particles entering the internals unless the fitting is replaced. The fitting is available at the Nokia’s service centers, and is also available in a variety of colors through various third-party sellers via online electronics suppliers or eBay.
The device retails at a lower price, further aided by the fact that it is generally sold with a pre-paid cell phone service contract and the corresponding subsidy. In the United States, the N-Gage QD was available as a prepaid phone offered by Cingular for 99.99 at retail games stores such as Electronics Boutique and GameStop. This is no longer the case. Some feel the device is reaching the end of its lifespan and see discontinuation by the above mentioned stores as evidence. There are still N-gage QDs available at some retailers, but this is only the case in stores where there was left-over stock.
Some of the ‘bulky’ features of the system such as MP3 playback, FM radio reception, and USB connectivity were removed from the device, presumably to cut size and cost. The QD does not support MP3 internally; however, it can still play MP3s with third-party software, albeit only in 16 kHz mono. The audio output is a Nokia mono earpiece (with microphone) instead.
Instead of using the N-Gage with generic USB removable drive drivers, a user would use either Bluetooth or a separate MMC card reader to transfer files (for example, pictures, movies, or mp3s) onto an MMC card for use in the N-Gage QD.
Another change from the original unit is the “Orange-and-grey” theme of the face of the unit as well as the GUI. Some feel this was an unwanted change from the ‘more colorful’ GUI of the original N-Gage. Even then there are some third-party applications that enhance the interface or replace the system shell.
As for the telephone portion, it no longer supports the three GSM frequency bands 900/1800/1900; instead it now comes in several dualband variants, one each for the American, European, and east Asian markets. (Each dualband variant comes in different colors, to aid in identification).
The rest of the N-Gage QD hardware specification is otherwise the same as the original N-Gage; same horizontal screen layout, button configuration, etc.
N-Gage QD Silver Edition
Announced in August 2005, the N-Gage QD Silver Edition can be seen as an exercise in extending the life of the N-Gage product range while new N-Gage devices are developed and the N-Gage gaming range is integrated into the mainstream Series 60 product range. Apart from cosmetic changes, there is no difference in the N-Gage QD Silver Edition to the regular N-Gage QD.
It was made available in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets on September 1, 2005.
Before the launch of Nokia’s first in-house N-Gage title, Pathway to Glory, a one level demo of the game was released to journalists to allow them to sample the game, and understand the concepts behind the turn based wargame. This demo was subsequently placed on the N-Gage.com website as a free download. Undaunted by the 16mb download size, fans jumped on the Pathway to Glory demo. The success of this demo probably led to both the sales success of Pathway to Glory, and proved to Nokia that this was a valid marketing route for future titles.
As of November 2005, there are thirteen N-Gage titles which have publicly available demonstration versions. These are:
- Asphalt Urban GT
- Colin McRae Rally 2005
- Pathway to Glory
- System Rush
- Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
- Worms World Party
- X-Men Legends
- Rifts: Promise of Power
- Asphalt Urban GT 2
- Mile High Pinball
Hailed as one of the best games on the N-Gage when released in January 2005, Snakes saw Nokia take an innovative route to promoting the N-Gage platform. Likely spurred on by the success of the demonstration versions, the full version of Snakes was made available online. It also featured an option that allowed the game to copy itself to another N-Gage unit using bluetooth as the carrier.
As of September 2005, it is estimated that Nokia has shipped more than two and a half million N-Gage game decks whereas many have been pulled from several Gamestops and related stores. The “N-Gage” brand name still has a very poor reputation, due to the weakness of the system’s first games and the original model’s limitations. Many gamers are unaware of the later QD redesign and still consider the N-Gage as a joke (see Penny Arcade’s N-Gage Strip). The situation has not improved either with the arrival of the Playstation Portable and Nintendo DS handhelds. As of September 2005, Nokia has more than 50 games available for retail on the system, with at least 10 more expected up to and including Q1 2006. The remaining games from the 50 Nokia has promised has yet to be revealed and plans to do so have not been stated at this time due to the N-Gage’s poor sales.
While the N-Gage hasn’t had any significant financial successes, it does have a handful of critical successes. Kingdom: 0wn the W0rld received a handful of glowing reviews when it was released, and Pathway to Glory is Nokia’s first self-published success. These games haven’t seemed to have had much effect in improving the perception of the N-Gage hardware itself in the eyes of consumers or press.
While the N-Gage QD hardware itself, sold unlocked and without a SIM card, has held steady at 250-300, the price with a contract in the US has continued to decrease. In the US, T-Mobile initially offered it for approximately 200 with contract, then sold it for between free and 150, depending on the promotions and contract. As of April 2005, the N-Gage QD retails for 99 at EB Games without the contract requirement.
In January 2005, UK sales-tracking firm ChartTrack dropped the N-Gage from its regular ELSPA chart, commenting that “The N-Gage chart, though still produced, is of little interest to anyone. Sales of the machine and its software have failed to make any impact on the market at all.” Although only directly reflective of the UK market, this was interpreted by some as a serious blow to the N-Gage as a viable gaming platform. Despite this, Nokia has reaffirmed their commitment to the N-Gage as a platform, to the point where a new version of the hardware was rumored after GDC 2005.
February 2005 saw Nokia appoint Gerard Wiener, formerly of Sega Europe, to the post of Director and General Manager for Games at Nokia. Wiener has steered Nokia away from looking at the N-Gage as primarily being a games console to “this is a mobile phone that is great for playing games on.” This strategy, along with targeting niche franchises such as the table-top Warhammer 40,000 series, the Rifts RPG series, and the Settlers of Catan board game, has kept sales of the N-Gage healthy and given the platform a modicum of respect from some quarters of the media. It should be noted that this change coincided with the initial releases of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.
After E3 2005, Nokia announced their intention to make it possible to play unspecified certain N-Gage games on their next wave of smartphones. (At E3, games were demonstrated on the Nokia 3230, 6680, Nokia 6630, and N90, but Nokia has not yet announced what phones will be compatible with this as-of-yet unnamed service.)  These phones won’t be compatible with the games sold on MMC in stores, but will be able to download games over the cellular network, or play games downloaded on your computer. All of the details of this scheme have not yet been stated, but this network/scheme should be in place sometime in 2006.
In July 2005, retailers began trying to clear out the N-Gage from their stores. Many game stores, such as EB Games and GameStop, have dropped for N-Gage games significantly. For the few stores that still have N-Gage games left, they are priced at 6.99.
In November 2005, Antti Vasara, Nokia’s vice president for corporate strategy, stated that the N-Gage will be discontinued until at least 2007. “N-Gage is still being sold but it was not a success in the sense of developing a new category,” he said. He also indicated that the gaming capabilities would be folded into the Nokia Series 60 phones and that the 2007 date was targeted as when screen size and quality would be more conducive to mobile gaming.
A New Version of the Ngage game System Rush is now included as standard on the Nokia 93 now titled System Rush Evolution and an improved version of the Ngage game One was demonstrated on the Nokia N93 during E3 as well, both games demonstrate improved graphics.
The system will continue to be sold in the Chinese and Indian markets.
The last game to be released in the US for the system was Civilization on March 2006 according to Metacritic.com.
Categories: Articles lacking sources from August 2006 | All articles lacking sources | 2003 introductions | Computer and video game flops | Handheld game consoles | Nokia mobile phones | Sixth-generation video game consoles | Smartphones | Video game console remakes (article section)
The N-Gage: History, Launch, and Failure
One of the cool things about owning a smartphone is that you can download and play games on it. Candy Crush Saga has nearly 2.75 billion downloads, PUBG Mobile has topped over a billion. The success of these mobile games is abundantly clear. However, not every game has a successful run. Just look at the N-Gage, Nokia‘s attempt at combining a cell phone with a mobile gaming console. While the idea would have seemingly spelled success, its sales numbers tell a different story.
How did this hybrid device come to be? Why wasn’t it as successful as Nokia thought it would be? How did the N-Gage stack up against the GameBoy Advance? And what kind of games were available to play on the N-Gage? You’ll find answers to these questions shortly. Let’s deep dive and explore the history of the N-Gage, paying attention to the buzz around its launch and the lengths Nokia went to reverse the device’s poor run.
Must-Know Facts About the N-Gage
- Released in October of 2003, the Nokia N-Gage lasted just 28 months before being discontinued.
- than 50 games were available for the N-Gage, including Spider-Man 2, Super Monkey Ball, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
- The N-Gage’s design led to the unfortunate (and unshakable) nickname “taco phone.”
- Nokia reconceptualized the N-Gage as a mobile gaming platform included in its Series 60 smartphone lineup.
- The GameBoy Advance outsold the N-Gage by 100 to 1.
|Release Date||October 7th, 2003|
|Type||Gaming console, mobile phone|
|Versions||N-Gage Classic, N-Gage QD|
|Popular Games||Kingdom: Own the World, Pathway to Glory|
|Units Sold||3 million|
|Discontinued||February 24th, 2006|
The History of the N-Gage
At the turn of the century, handheld gaming consoles were all the rage. Several different iterations of self-contained video gaming systems took the market by storm. Atari had the Lynx. Bandai had the WonderSwan. Nintendo had the GameBoy. NEC had the TurboExpress. Sega had the Game Gear. And Nokia had what is perhaps the most unique of all: the N-Gage. Part cell phone, part handheld gaming console, the N-Gage hit shelves in October of 2003.
Nokia saw the success of these rival consoles and knew that cell phones were growing in popularity at the same time. So, they did the most logical thing: Combined the two into one unparalleled product. The N-Gage brought together an MP3 player, a cell phone, a PDA, a radio, and a gaming console into one taco shell-shaped device. It borrowed from the look of the Nokia 5510 mobile phone, which resembled the sideway look of a cell phone.
Priced at 299, the N-Gage’s slot was beside the battery pack. To access the game slot, users had to remove the back of the phone, take out the battery, and insert or remove the game. Needless to say, this wasn’t the most practical design in the world. Rival handheld consoles had the game slot right out in the open. What’s more, the screen was taller than wide — not unusual for a phone, but weird for video games that are usually played on screens wide screen. Its aspect ratio was an awkward 11:13.
Early Signs of Failure
While the hype surrounding N-Gage was palpable in the months before its release, its post-release performance told a very different story. During its first week alone, it sold under 5,000 units. People were curious about the gaming console–cell phone hybrid, but not interested enough to buy the thing. The device had only been out for a week, and already Nokiawas staring at an impending failure.
Not wanting to admit the console was dead on arrival, Nokia held strong to the N-Gage. They went as far as claiming more than 400,000 units had been sold in the first two weeks, yet insiders reports put the sales figures at 5,000. Nokia later admitted they lied, choosing to advertise the number of units shipped instead of units sold.
Whichever way you look at it, Nokia had a lemon on its hands. Initial pre-release predictions from the iconic cell phone manufacturer forecasted six million units by the end of 2004. In reality, they’d only shipped a million by this time. Many units remained on shelves, with drastically reduced by as much as 100 to clear stock. Instead of throwing in the towel, Nokia doubled down. Unfortunately for them, ignoring the writing on the wall didn’t reverse their fortunes.
The Ultimate Demise
In May 2004 — just seven months after the N-Gage’s release — Nokia put out the N-Gage QD. A “new and improved” take on the poorly performing N-Gage Classic, the the QD was a last-ditch effort to save the cell phone-gaming console hybrid from obsoletion. Smaller and rounder, the console had a game slot at the bottom. The phone’s earpiece was to the front instead of the side, just like the Classic.
Nokia was making moves to correct everything wrong with the Classic. They even lowered the price and made it available as a pre-paid phone at select retailers. over, the QD cut out the FM radio, the MP3 player, and the USB port. It’s not common for second-generation devices to cut features — typically, most add, not remove — but no one seemed to miss the absence of these bells and whistles on the QD.
At the end of the day, it was just no use. The popularity of the GameBoy Advance was just too great for any rival to overcome. Then, the Nintendo DS hit. Released in November of 2004, the Nintendo DS and its subsequent versions would sell more than 150 million units. By the time the N-Gage Classic and QD were officially discontinued in 2006, they had barely hit three million. Although they gave it their best shot, the N-Gage was an undeniable failure.
The N-Gage Versions: Each Edition
Nokia put out two different versions of the N-Gage throughout its brief, disappointing run.
The N-Gage Classic
After plenty of hype and generous predictions, Nokia released the N-Gage (later renamed the N-Gage Classic) on October 7th, 2003. Games came in the form of SD card-esque cartridges, standard for this era of handheld console gaming. The phone’s OS — Symbian OS 6.1 — was used for both versions of the N-Gage and was later repurposed for Nokia’s smartphone lineup Series 60. It had an internal memory of 3.4 MB and came in one color scheme: orange, green, and gray.
The N-Gage QD
The N-Gage QD came not long after the N-Gage Classic: May 26th, 2004, just seven months following the Classic’s release. This is quite unconventional, as many cell phones today take at least a year between new versions, but the terrible sales of the Classic meant Nokia could either redesign or call it quits. This new-and-improved N-Gage was smaller, rounder, and less colorful — only orange and gray instead of orange, green, and gray. The QD fixed the Classic’s awkward game slot issue by moving it to the bottom while retaining the same OS and internal memory as the previous version.
The Public’s Response to the N-Gage
Judging by the sales figures of the N-Gage Classic and QD, the public’s response to the N-Gage was less than kind. People were certainly intrigued in the run-up to its release, but as we now know, this doesn’t always translate into sales. This is especially true of a 299 device (close to 500 in today’s cash adjusted for inflation). No amount of rebates or discounts seemed capable of fixing this sales issue.
N-Gage wasn’t even all that functional. Critic noted that the cell phone-gaming console hybrid wasn’t very good at either task. The calling function of the N-Gage Classic was too awkward to be useful, and the absurd aspect ratio of the device’s screen made gaming less than enjoyable. In short, this device couldn’t match the optimal experience of the GameBoy Advance and other rival handheld gaming consoles.
Ultimately, the N-Gage’s failure was evident to the public from the day it hit shelves (and maybe even before). 5,000 units were sold in the first week, a clear sign the public responded negatively to the N-Gage. No amount of redesigning, repurposing, or reworking was ever going to fix the flaws of the N-Gage. They were inherent to the very device itself. However, when looking at the success of smartphone games, it’s worth noting that Nokia’s head was undoubtedly in the right place.
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The N-Gage: History, Launch, and Failure FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What was the N-Gage?
The N-Gage was a combination handheld video gaming console and cell phone. The device had high hopes surrounding it before its release, but its abysmal sales figures after hitting the shelves told a different story. It was released in 2003 and discontinued by 2006.
Who invented the N-Gage?
The N-Gage was invented by Nokia, right at the height of their success. Their sales were through the roof, increasing more than fivefold in the later 1990s and early 2000s. The N-Gage’s failure was a bad look for them, but it wasn’t enough to topple them completely.
Is the N-Gage still around?
The N-Gage was discontinued in 2006, with its operating system repurposed for Nokia’s future smartphone releases (such as the Series 60).
What kind of games were available on the N-Gage?
The N-Gage had several big titles including Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Tomb Raider, Super Monkey Ball, and more.
Why was the N-Gage called the “taco phone”?
The N-Gage was called the “taco phone” because it looked like a hard taco shell.
About the Author
Nate Williams is a technical writer based in the Midwest. He frequently covers EVs, video games, space, science fiction, personal tech, cybersecurity, and the history of technology at large. His interests range from the simplest machines to the most complex creations (and everything in between). Outside of writing, Nate spends much of his free time hanging out with his wife and dog, watching movies, reading books, and trying to find the best dessert spots nearby.