TechCrunch and Mashable are two of the biggest tech blogs in the world. Known for knowing their onions when it comes to Web 2.0 and consumer technology. Big guns.
So it's instructive that when both reported on Nokia's N-Gage shutdown in recent days, neither seemed to realise that N-Gage had been relaunched since the days when it was a pasty-shaped gaming handset.
"We’re still going to miss making fun of Nokia’s Taco Phone," said Mashable's post, blithely ignoring the fact that most people stopped making fun of the Taco phone when it was decommissioned in 2005.
"The phone didn’t work, the games didn’t sell, the competitors had better ideas. Then that Apple phone was launched and Nokia’s N-Gage project was deader than a zombie in the vacuum of space," says TechCrunch's effort.
Which is accurate in parts, but the story's use of an image of the original N-Gage shows that here, too, N-Gage's relaunch as a service just before "that Apple phone" took the games world by storm appears to have passed the writer by.
The fact that two of the world's biggest tech blogs have half-arsed obituaries is just one sign that outside the mobile gaming world N-Gage's demise isn't really registering as a big deal. Even so, it deserves a better send-off.What went right
Nokia did some great things with N-Gage Mk. II. For example, it made every game available for free download, allowing players to try titles before paying to unlock the full thing - a model that's about to become a lot more common on iPhone following Apple's changes to its in-app payment rules.
Nokia's N-Gage team recognised that mobile games needed a leap in innovation and imagination, and funded some of the most talented independent developers to create new games for the platform. Reset Generation stands out, but Creatures of the Deep, Dance Fabulous, the two Dirk Dagger games and ONE all stand out.
N-Gage also made a decent fist at bringing Xbox Live-style community and achievements to mobile gaming, through its N-Gage Arena - itself one of the few bright spots of N-Gage Mk. I.What went wrong
Summing up N-Gage's demise as 'it was shit, then iPhone came along' isn't quite the full story. However, it has to be said it suffered from some pretty major problems.
Right from the start, it seemed simply putting the N-Gage client on a range of handsets was more of a technical challenge than Nokia had anticipated. The slow initial rollout served to dampen the excitement around the new platform rather than managing expectations.
Some handsets - the N73 and N93 - never did get N-Gage, as it proved too much of a struggle.
Another fault was the lukewarm support from the big mobile games publishers. In stark contrast to the resources they're now piling into iPhone, for the most part the publishers simply ported their Java games to N-Gage while wrapping N-Gage Arena connectivity around them.
Why? Because they weren't enthused by the platform. In fact, many had serious reservations about N-Gage, including the revenue share they got for selling games through it, the too-fiddly certification process for getting their games approved, and technical issues with the SDK.
These issues - explained most succinctly at Nokia's own games conference by EA Mobile - combined with less-than-stellar sales for the first games to be released in those early days when the rollout was in softly-softly mode, created an unvirtuous circle of shovelware.
The fact that most N-Gage owners seemingly just wanted to play Tetris didn't exactly act as a spur for the publishers to push the boat out on expensively innovative games.
Meanwhile, Nokia - the company as opposed to the N-Gage team - seemed to wash its hands of its second-generation gaming platform awfully quickly. In 2009, N-Gage has been little more than a footnote even on handsets where its client was preloaded.
Music, maps, social networking... pretty much every other service took prominence, indicating a loss of confidence from those higher up the company food chain.And then there was iPhone...
TechCrunch's article does identify one key nail in N-Gage's coffin: iPhone. The App Store launched a few months after Nokia's games service, and provided a stark reminder of its flaws.
N-Gage was built around 3D games and multiplayer/connectivity, but iPhone had both of those plus touch and tilt. N-Gage had a select catalogue of games - 48 by the end - while iPhone had thousands.
N-Gage billing varied depending where you were, but Apple took everyone's credit card details when they activated the device. Nokia had one community that remained relatively static, feature-wise, whereas iPhone had a group of Xbox Live wannabes going toe-to-toe, innovating by the week.
And, most crucially, iPhone was the big buzz among developers and publishers, flinging ideas, innovations and resources into a constant succession of high-quality games. Quantity over quality? There was far more rubbish on the App Store, but far more great stuff too.In conclusion
Sadly, that's the real obituary for N-Gage. Nokia spent two years working on its second-generation games service only to be completely upstaged by Apple, which wasn't really trying to be the next big thing in mobile gaming until it saw games take off in the App Store.
Look back at the What Went Right section of this piece: try-before-you-buy, great own-IP games, connectivity. N-Gage WAS ahead of its time. But just months after its launch, another platform took those concepts and ran with them.
iPhone didn't kill Nokia's games initiative. N-Gage's own flaws were quite enough to do the deed. But the success of the App Store and iPhone gaming magnified those flaws and sucked industry support away from N-Gage.
Last week's announcement was inevitable, but N-Gage at least deserves a decent explanation about why.