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Nokia expands N-gage's reach
Phone maker plans to enable gaming functions on most of its smart phones.
May 19, 2005: 9:05 PM EDT
By Chris Morris, CNN/Money

LOS ANGELES (CNN/Money) - While the N-gage has been an also-ran in the portable gaming market, cell phone maker Nokia remains undeterred -- and plans to expand the system's potential user base dramatically by the end of the year.

Starting this fall, the company will begin offering N-gage functionality in a wide variety of its smart phone products. Nokia did not announce which models it planned to upgrade, nor the effect this would have on pricing.

"For us, this takes care of a lot of the strategic reasons we've been pushing on games to begin with," said Gerard Weiner, general manager of Nokia's games business program. "We're targeting many devices. The increase in computer power, the increase in processing power and the increase in graphics power has allowed us to roll this out a little earlier than scheduled."

The N-gage -- and the redesigned N-gage QD -- have sold roughly 1.7 million units since the system's introduction in October 2003. Compare that to more than 5 million Nintendo DS units sold since the system's late November 2004 launch.

Part of the N-gage's problems came with its original design -- which was widely mocked by gamers. Nokia introduced a redesigned model -- the QD -- eight months later, which helped sales somewhat, but many gamers had already given up on the system.

In 2005, though, Nokia will ship roughly 25 million smart phones. While not all of those will be able to play N-gage games, even a small percentage would greatly expand the user base. That could result in increased software sales, which would mean more royalty fees for Nokia and more revenue for its third-party publishing partners.

"Back in 1999 and 2000, I don't think people realized how quickly these devices were going to evolve," said Weiner. "As the gaming market has grown and as these phones' capabilities have grown, we're now seeing some similarities to the PC market of 10 years ago – and it's making us aware that we need to address this market."

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