Q&A: Nokia's handset gurus

Cell-phone maker's Kamar Shah and Marcus Huttunen explain where mobile games are at and where they're headed.

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BRIGHTON, UK--Although most of the games that get people talking are PC, console, or handheld titles, a lot has been predicted regarding the future growth of the mobile-games market. Whilst the subindustry has found it hard to break into the mainstream world, there remains a massive potential for growth.

To find out more about the current state of mobile gaming at the Develop Conference in Brighton and what needs to be done to realise this potential, GameSpot sat down with Kamar Shah, head of industry marketing at Nokia Multimedia, and Markus Huttunen, business development manager for the company's games business unit.

GameSpot: Where do you think mobile gaming sits in the industry at the moment?

Kamar Shah: First of all, you have to look at the handset itself. Computers have evolved a great deal since the '60s, but it's still not a true multimedia device--it's not always with you, it's not always on, and it doesn't always support out-of-the-box voice communication.

If you look at the Nseries phone, this has become the true multimedia computer, because you can download and listen to music, look at your e-mails, play games--and it's always with you, always connected. So technology has evolved, and it will continue to get smaller and cheaper.

Then you need to look at how people are using a device--people are talking, texting, and maybe going through what I would call a shopping-mall experience, in other words, they may go in, browse a few things, buy a few things, and that's been fine.

But where do we go from there? The big thing at the moment is user-generated content. MySpace has been huge, Three Mobile is doing My Reality TV, there's AirG, Helio...so technology has evolved, consumer behaviour has evolved.

So how does that relate to mobile gaming? We've had analysts say that the industry will be worth $7 billion by 2010, but how do we get to this Holy Grail? Games are a revenue driver, because they're entertainment, but we need to grow the market. Therefore, it's not about the hardcore gamer, it's about the casual gamer, and so we also need to improve the consumer experience--how many times have you downloaded a game that didn't work properly or wasn't very good?

To grow the market, as an industry, we need to open up our distribution channels and make content available over the air, over the Internet, and out of the box. To enhance the consumer experience, from each part of the contact with the game, that has to be better. At Nokia, we're working on an application that enables you to trial games, look at reviews of games, and it opens the whole thing up.

After that, the real crunch comes with the developers--they're the core of the business, they make the games. So we'll tell them to make a game, and we'll handle the rest--we'll make sure it's consistent across the range of handsets, we'll help you with DRM solutions, hosting, connected gaming--we'll give you tools, developer support, and prototypes of new handsets. And that's how we can improve things.

GS: If that's now, when does the future that everyone talks about actually become the present?

KS: Our commercial launch to consumers will be in the first half of next year. We're working with our first-party partners, EA, and GameLoft, to bring content to the next generation of N-Gage. By the end of this year, we'll also have a full developer offering, with tools and workshops, and then it's a solid platform.

GS: We've seen a lot of consolidation in the mobile-games industry in the last couple of years--where has that gotten us?

KS: In any growing industry, you'll get that--it's just business. As long as the quality of content is there, it doesn't really matter who's making it.

Marcus Huttunen: One good thing about mobile-phone games is that the development budget for the teams is still relatively small. So you can still have the grass-roots innovation with teams of just a few guys, who just make the most beautiful game concept, make the first reference build, then go to a publisher and get it distributed that way. I can't see that happening with the PlayStation 3.

GS: Is the mobile-games arena the last playground for originality that remains, then?

MH: I wouldn't say it's the last playground if you look at what Nintendo is doing, but it's certainly a very good playground. Actually, if you look at the PC side, a lot of the originality there is happening around the nongaming segment--it's more like playing than it is gaming. People who play these flash games, who follow e-mail links, probably wouldn't classify themselves as gamers.

There's an interesting statistic from the Nokia Games Summit last year, talking about the number of people seeing Pogo and comparing it to other entertainment properties in the US. It was bigger than any hit movie, any hit TV show, and none of these people are recognised as gamers. This is an area where innovation is happening, more than the traditional gaming platforms.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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