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Nokia looks forward
Maker of N-gage gaming cell phone plans next generation announcement for May.
March 11, 2005: 11:24 AM EST
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
The redesigned N-gage QD corrected many of the original version's design problems.
The redesigned N-gage QD corrected many of the original version's design problems.

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN/Money) – If you're keeping score at home, the number of new gaming platforms that will be introduced and discussed this May has now jumped to four.

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will all show their next generation machines in some form or fashion at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the annual trade show of the video game industry. Now, add cell phone maker Nokia to the list.

Despite rumors it planned to exit the business altogether, the company behind the N-gage gaming phone said it is gearing up for a second round.

"We will be making a significant announcement at E3 regarding our next generation," said Gerard Wiener, general manager of Nokia's games business program.

Launched in October 2003, the N-gage has had a rather checkered life. Within two weeks of its retail release, Nokia was forced to cut the phone's price by $100. Hackers soon found a way to run its games on other systems. And the design met with nearly universal scorn.

A redesign correcting many of the design flaws hit the streets six months later, which helped sales, but the damage was already done to the N-gage's reputation.

To date, the system has sold just shy of 1.5 million units

But in the last few months, the N-gage has quietly been earning a modicum of respect among gamers lately with the release of titles that are designed around the system, rather than simply being ported over from other consoles.

Still lacking, though, are an abundance of quick in-and-out games people can play on the run. While the idea of having "Call of Duty" or "Splinter Cell" on your cell phone might appeal to some, the majority of people who play mobile games prefer something that does not require a time commitment.

Wiener acknowledged this has been a problem for the company.

"We need to embrace a larger demographic," he said.

Technology has also worked against the N-gage. The graphical quality of games has never been superior. And it looks woefully outdated compared to the cell phone graphics technology on display at this Game Developer's Conference. To break away from the pack and become the market leader it wants to be, Nokia needs to polish the look of its product.

Wiener hinted Nokia (Research) is ready to face that challenge.

"The technology behind these devices has a lot in common with the computing power in '96 and '97," he said. "In those years, you saw an explosion in technology and we're facing one of those in our industry now."

Click here for more video game stories.

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an emai.  Top of page

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