Nokia's games and plans

Next gen mobile gaming.

It wasn't just the consoles that were outlining their next gen incarnations at this year's E3. With barely more than two years as serious players in mobile games market under their belt, Nokia is already unveiling their plans for the next generation of phone-based gaming.

Not unlike the big boys' aspirations, Nokia is also seeking to make mobile gaming accessible to a wider audience of casual gamers, creating an environment where, according to Gerald Wiener, Nokia's General Manager for games, "The mobile gaming barriers are broken down.

"We need to make top quality gaming available to everybody, we need to push the 'always on' connection to the next level and create a world where everyone plays."

Nokia has identified what it believes to be the main problem areas currently plaguing mobile games development and its potential expansion. One of the main issues, Nokia says, is that although we maybe incessantly bombarded with the latest ways to download the annoying ring tone de jour, many mobile phone owners simple don't know where to find games for their phones, nor are they aware of the range of games available to them. Consequently, the consumer experience is very unpredictable - another significant problem area.

While developers all over the world are taking big gulps and looking for loose change behind the sofa in anticipation of huge next-gen budgets, mobile gaming suffers mainly from pure platform diversity. There's just too many of the damn things!

When it comes to refining the consumer experience Nokia also outlined plans to continue expanding the ways that gamers can get their grubby mitts on the latest mobile entertainment. New online portals will allow you to download a game or game demo in a few easy clicks while an updated phone menu will make sure you're kept up-to-date about the latest products.

There's no hiding the fact that Nokia's gaming hardware, in the form of the N-Gage and the much-improved N-Gage QD, has been somewhat rocky, but nevertheless the two platforms have sold 1.6 million units worldwide.

We can't quite decide whether Nokia's announcement that they will be bringing their games to a new range of Nokia smartphones that will start rolling out in 2006 will mean the eventual death of the N-Gage or not. But the fact that Nokia is bringing out a rather tasty looking silver version of the chubby QD (along with an MMC expander for multi games, dual headset and snap-on speaker) suggests that it's not going anywhere soon.

Undoubtedly a gaming platform that covers multiple handsets will be a godsend to developers. Nokia itself had a great games line-up on show at E3 that included Pathway to Glory: Ikusa Islands (a follow-up to the original), which features brand new AI, new weapons and loads of voice dialogue. Other highlights included Rifts: Promise of Power (based on the Rifts tabletop game and novel universe), the swash buckling strategy game High Seize (ho, ho, ho) and a mobile version of Sid Meier's Civilization.

All in all it was a nicely rounded show from Nokia, with interesting announcements for all aspects of their platform and its future. There weren't any smartphones on show, but if a mocked-up prototype is anything to go by, then they look likely to make mobile gaming platforms much more stylish and intuitive in the future, especially when it comes to controls. The commitment to making things easier for developers as well as creating a new set of phones for those who don't really fancy a QD is a wise move. It should ensure that Nokia continues to push mobile gaming and provides even more ingenious ways to make us miss our stops and walk into lampposts.

Reporting by Rhianna Pratchett

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