N-Gage QD arrives in US

[UPDATE] Nokia gives game deck a second chance at success; enlists wide array of retailers to offer rebates.

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Nokia announced today that it has finally sent its N-Gage update, the QD, to retailers. The new model is an updated version of the original N-Gage model released in October of last year. It corrects a number of design flaws that hampered sales of the original N-Gage. As an added incentive, the game deck comes bundled with a copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

The game deck/cell phone hybrid is now available at a slew of retailers, including most EB Games and GameStop outlets and online at EBgames.com, Gamestop.com, Walmart.com, and Buy.com. Almost all are offering the device with either an instant or mail-in rebate (with activation) that brings the QD's price down from an MSRP of $199.99 to $99.99. Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier that supports the phone, but Nokia says customers will have the option to tap into the AT&T Wireless network "soon."

In a statement, Nada Usina, Nokia's general manager of games business for North & South America, said, "The N-Gage QD game deck shows that Nokia is fully committed to the N-Gage platform." After the device suffered from critical reviews and tepid sales when it launched last year, Nokia quickly began reworking the N-Gage. Since then, Usina and other Nokia staffers have assured media and industry reps that the QD will not suffer the same fate as its predecessors. Now, it’s up to the consumers whether or not that happens.

[UPDATE] GameSpot spoke with industry analyst Billy Pidgeon of Zelos Group to get his view of the relaunch.

GameSpot: Do you think the revised and upgraded N-Gage is ready for prime time? Can it best the performance of its predecessor's model?

Billy Pidgeon: The new N-Gage QD is a huge improvement on the original N-Gage. Playing games on the previous model was a frustrating experience, but gameplay on the QD is satisfying.

GS: What do you see as impediments, if any, to the QD's success?

BP: The QD still needs exclusive triple-A software and a higher ratio of quality to mediocre or worse software. Nintendo and Sony's announcements of impending DS and PSP handheld devices also helps create a tough environment to excite consumers about the QD.

GS: What are the key specs that will make it a viable product this time around? What is it still missing?

BP: Nokia corrected one of the worst design flaws--software can now be hot-swapped in and out of the device. Nokia also greatly improved the feel of the device for gameplay control. The QD is smaller and better looking than the previous N-Gage. The QD has decent battery life and with carrier subsidization is now competitively priced. The QD could still use a larger, horizontally oriented screen and a 3D chip. Lack of quality software remains the biggest problem.

GS: In a case where a product is so heavily discounted, is it usual that the manufacturer is compensating retailers, or is it the carriers who are behind the pricing strategy?

BP: With dedicated game devices and software, retailers usually get compensation for placement and comarketing initiatives. Deeper subsidization is normal with cell phones, where carriers offer more aggressive price cuts on handsets in return for long-term service contracts with consumers.

GS: Six months from now, will the QD be a viable SKU in the Nokia product line?

BP: Yes. A year from now, it may not be.

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