Nokia has given us a glimpse of the future of N-Gage at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose.
And 'glimpse' is the word: the N-Gage demo was just a three-minute video in the middle of a rather vague slideshow.
Nokia confirmed that there will be no more N-Gage phones made for games. Instead, N-Gage will become a games 'platform', a set of software for handsets, to be accessed like any other from the menu, running on Nokia's upcoming smartphones.
Smartphones boast game-friendly features like big screens, better graphics and soon, Nokia claims, wi-fi. Nokia expects to have sold 250 million of them by 2008, which is important, as that will determine whether it's worth games creators making new N-Gage titles for them.
The new N-Gage platform is expected to launch in 2007 with, says Nokia, "a variety of games and devices". It has two main aims: making it easier for you to learn about and buy games, and to play with and share your achievements in the games you already own.
Upon firing up N-Gage, you'll be able to read news about upcoming games and get access to the N-Gage Arena for multiplayer gaming, as well as to buy new games.
Wedded to this will be a 'Games' area, a visually-inviting way to see all the games and demos you own. For reasons not really explained, links between N-Gage and your PC are promised.
The video also briefly introduced an N-Gage 'gamer profile' and revealed how you'll be able to have your own game-playing identity, such as taking a photo of yourself with your phone's camera, for instance, so other gamers can see who you are. It also introduced N-Gage Points, which you'll earn in different N-Gage games to build up your overall ranking. Both features seem clearly inspired by Microsoft's Xbox Live system for its home consoles.
So, we now know the N-Gage brand will live on, that Nokia remains committed to games, and that N-Gage will be a nice multimedia menu system for managing our games.
But if anything, the demo raised more questions than it answered. For instance, by enabling game buying, the new N-Gage seems to take mobile phone operators head-on; will they even allow Nokia to include it with their phone bundles?
Also, as one game developer told Pocket Gamer afterwards, mobile games creators already have enough on their plate without having to implement the N-Gage Points system. If N-Gage is a success, they will make time, certainly, but how will Nokia encourage them to start?
Nokia did confirm that extensive behind-the-scenes support will continue for developers working on N-Gage games. The big question is, will the mobile games industry support N-Gage?