Nokia plays to win mobile-gaming market share

Nokia has tweaked its mobile gaming strategy, transforming its N-Gage device into a software platform and signing up games publishers

Nokia has tweaked its mobile gaming strategy, transforming its less-than-successful N-Gage device into a software platform and enlisting the support of several games publishers to deliver popular content.

Gameloft, which develops and publishes video games for mobile phones, will provide seven games for the N-Gage platform, including Brain Challenge, Dogz and Midnight pool, the company said Wednesday in conjunction with the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The mobile phone games publisher joins Glu Mobile and Indiagames, which earlier this week also announced plans to bring a number of their games to the N-Gage platform.

The deals add weight to Nokia's ongoing attempts to add value to its handsets by offering customers a wide variety of mobile games, in addition to digital cameras, MP3 players and a string of other integrated features.

At the same time, by entering into partnerships with games publishers and developing games of its own, Nokia hopes to carve out a chunk of the mobile-gaming market, which according to Juniper Research Ltd., is expected to increase from US$3 billion today to nearly US$17.6 billion by 2011.

The move to establish N-Gage as software and not hardware is a key component of the company's new mobile-gaming strategy and one which some analysts believe will help develop the nascent mobile-gaming market.

"The N-Gage platform not only cuts one of the key costs of mobile games development -- handset porting -- but also provides the kind of user experience we have long been advocating," said Jonathan Arber, an analyst with Ovum in a report. The platform will allow consumers to easily try games before they buy them, increasing the likelihood they'll come back for more, he said.

But Arber added that for all of Nokia's "laudable intentions," N-Gage software is restricted to Nokia handsets and, in particular, only those running the Symbian S60 3rd Edition operating system. He warned that the company risks the danger of "getting stuck in a niche."

Arber referred to N-Gage as "another non-interoperable technology platform" sitting alongside Java and Qualcomm's Brew and questioned whether it wouldn't be a wiser move for the industry to agree to a set of mobile gaming standards to reduce fragmentation and thus development costs.

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