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GDC 2007: Nokia's Gregg Sauter calls on game developers to support N-Gage

The goal of the next N-Gage is to connect people through play

GDC 2007: Nokia's Gregg Sauter calls on game developers to support N-Gage
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If there's one company out to rule GDC Mobile, it's Nokia. The reason, of course, is its next gen N-Gage Gaming Platform, and no (as every Nokia speaker points out), that doesn't mean N-Gage 2.

Instead, the company is setting out its stall with numerous talks covering the various aspects of how the new N-Gage service will work.

The clearest explanation came from Gregg Sauter, Nokia's director of publishing. In his talk, N-Gage Next-gen Mobile Gaming, Sauter detailed the main three components.

The first is the N-Gage client software itself. This will be embedded on the company's Series 60 handsets when the technology launches during the autumn. It will also be available for users to download onto their phones, although you'll have to have at least the third edition S60 handset, and not all of these will be compatible.

The reason for this is that the service is aimed at high-end multimedia devices, or what Nokia calls its 'convergent phones'. Sauter said over 40 million of these Nokia devices are already in the market and this figure is predicted to be well over 100 million by the end of 2008.

As well as handling the running of the games, the client will link into other Web 2.0-style features Nokia is rolling out. These include aspects such as gamer profiles, friends' lists, chatting features, the ability to send game invites, and read and post reviews.

"And you have to remember the platform will be dynamic," Sauter added. "We'll be adding new features continuously."

The second part of the picture is the digital distribution of games.

"This is a bigger challenge for the mobile games industry than fragmentation," he argued. "At present, the channels are only for selling ringtones and wallpapers."

Instead, Nokia hopes to make shopping for games as fun and simple as shopping for physical objects such as clothes. Options will include try-before-you-buy, rental, pay-for-play and subscription models, while content will be available as Over The Air downloads, download onto PCs, being embedded into phones, or even via physical media such as disks.

There won't be a standard physical format such as N-Gage game carts, however.

Nokia seems to gaining support from publishers and operators. It's already announced deals with the likes of EA, Gameloft, Glu and THQ.

Sauter didn't talk in detail about how the digital distribution would work, but it's thought Nokia will operate the system much like console vendors such as Sony and Microsoft, handling issues such as compatibility testing and standards for UI and billing centrally, and charging a licensing fee.

The final aspect of the talk covered the tools that will provided for gamemakers (after all, this is the Game Developers Conference). Nokia's tool will enable them to work with one version of their game (developed using standard C++ tools), with the fragmentation of the different features of the S60 devices and versions of the Symbian operating system handled automatically.

In some respects this was Sauter asking GDC to give the company a second chance. "We're not perfect. In some areas we have to improve," Sauter admitted. "But Nokia is a company that touches every piece of the mobile gaming ecosystem on a global scale. Who else is taking mobile games to the next level?"