Nokia trades console model for mobile flexibility

Company says N-Gage-enabled phones will have digital distribution by 2006.

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Nokia's Games Business Unit director, Gerard Wiener, made an unexpected announcement this week--the mobile console, which is undergoing an image makeover into "the phone for gamers," will soon expand its support of downloadable content to include retail versions of N-Gage games.

The revelation came as part of Wiener's presentation on the N-Gage's near-term future, which will also include an expansion of the N-Gage platform onto a family of compatible Nokia mobile phones.

According to Wiener's timeline, N-Gagers will enjoy the benefits of digital content distribution by the middle of 2006, from both over-the-air and Internet-based vectors.

He demonstrated a mock-up of an N-Gage mobile portal on a Nokia 6000-series smartphone, scrolling through various games (the options included Pathway to Glory: Ikusa Islands and Rifts, among others) before settling on a free 60-minute demo of the original Pathway to Glory.

The mock-up accelerated through gameplay to arrive at a screen asking whether the player would like to purchase the full version of the game; this option was also available from the base level of the catalog.

Although he didn't specify exactly how this over-the-air distribution will work, Wiener did say the N-Gage storefront would be offered through cellular operators, implying the existence of some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement.

Whether the storefront would be based on an N-Gage-specific design or through an operator's existing download deck was unclear. Wiener went on to mention that N-Gage games will also become available over a Nokia Web site. Gamers will be able to purchase a game online and then transfer it to their N-Gage via Bluetooth or USB cable.

Nokia plans to continue distribution of content using MMC cards, alongside the downloadable options. Still, this announcement--coupled with the dissemination of N-Gage technology to a range of handsets--signals a move away from the traditional console retailing model.

It appears as though the N-Gage has made up its mind to join the much more free-form mobile gaming market, where heterogeneous devices and convenient, ubiquitous game downloads are the norm. Considering Nokia's past and present difficulties in securing retail space for the N-Gage, this would seem to be a very wise move.

Wiener indicated that the company is gathering all of these elements together for the next-generation platform's fall 2005 launch event. "Everything has come together perfectly for the launch of this platform," he told reporters. "We're going to target the N-Gage where mobile consumers are heading--toward the advent of the mobile computer."

The presentation rounded off with a picture of a boxy concept multimedia device that featured a spring-loaded gamepad for N-Gage play, as well as a demo video that purportedly demonstrated the rendering capabilities of Nokia's cutting-edge, 3D-accelerated chipset. No device was on hand to corroborate the performance.

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