Nokia just announced their plans to support N-Gage Games across their smart phones starting next year, essentially turning "N-Gage" into a brand rather than a specific device. Just like I predicted... W00t! I love it when I'm right. Well, I was right on the details, but my predictions of timeframe still need some work. But that's okay, I've learned a lot more about the speed of handset manufacturers since November of 2003 when I wrote this:
I forsee a retreat and retrenchment on Nokia's part. This is what I predict: N-Gage the device will become "N-Gage compatible" the logo on future phones. In other words, I predict that within 6 months we'll see a phone from Nokia that can run N-Gage based cards. The investment in marketing and subsidies to game-makers will be spread out across the new devices and the disaster that is the N-Gage device will be de-emphasized in a big way. This could be a winning strategy, since which phone are you going to buy, the one that plays wimpy Java games, or the one with all the cool peripherals you can buy like 3D game cards and snap-on Joypads? They would also be smart to "license" the N-Gage capability to other S60 licensees as well. Imagine what Panasonic or Siemens could do with it?
... When the Sony PSP arrives - or even months before as the wait begins, it'll scorch the earth for any other handhelds out there. Nokia, however, could still win the portable gaming wars by making sure that it has cool-ass 3D multiplayer games available on millions of handsets already. But in order to win the war, Nokia needs to first lose a battle and make a complete retreat now. Drop kick the N-Gage yet, convert all that money on brand-building and awareness into a massive win for new "N-Gage capable" phones. Sell a zillion of them and make a bundle off of licensing to other S60 manufacturers and peripheral creators. Then suddenly there'll be little oxygen left out there for Sony to use when it launches its console and ends up only attracting "high-end gamers"
Yep, I call that a decent prediction if you ask me. (In case you're not convinced, I repeated the prediction in April 2004 and again this past March as well). Nokia quoted the 25 million existing Series 60 phones and the potential for an order of magnitude more being sold over the next three years as reasons for the move. It's a no-brainer if you ask me, there's already 1.5 million PSP's out there, and there'll probably be another few million sold by the end of the year, but Nokia will be cranking out that many Series 60 phones in a month - no reason for them not to be N-Gage capable. It'll cost them virtually nothing, and be great for the publishers who signed up for the original N-Gage, and be an attractive feature for future S60 owners as well. Everybody wins really (except Sony and Nintendo).
The next step is downloadable games. Nintendo is going to open up this world first, I think, with their next-gen Revolution gaming console, and I could see N-Gage games coming quickly after that. Distributing games on cards is just dumb and so 20th century. With broadband either to a desktop client (like iTunes) or via 3G wireless connections there's no reason in the world why I can't pay for and download a 10MB game to my memory card and install it on my phone that way, rather than trucking over to a retail store for it. It's more convenient for me and cheaper for the producer.
Actually, while I'm on the topic, the Nintendo GameBoy Micro really shows how miniture gaming can be without losing any of it's compellingness. I wonder who'll be the first mobile phone manufacturer to approach Nintendo about putting GBA games on their phones? Think about it, if Nintendo has the capabilities already to buy/download console games to the Revolution, it'd be even easier to do for GBA games, no? Well, like I wrote in my N-Gaging Piracy post a while ago, this is already happening whether Nintendo wants it to or not (you can find every GBC and GBA game that exists out on the P2P networks), so they might as well provide the service for a fee and let honest gamers pay them for the same functionality and convenience.
Morning Update: Wow! Jody Fanning just pointed out the N-Gage Next Generation E3 Site! Looks like Nokia is way ahead of me on the downloads through the phone (updated pic above) or via the PC - here's an image of a desktop app downloading "Pathway to Glory"! That's what I'm talking about! Very, very cool.