E3 2003: Nokia N-Gage
October 7th, $299... how much?!
October 7th 2003 is the date that Nokia will unleash its N-Gage 'Game Deck' across the world, at the suicidal price point of $299. The price in Euros is also expected to be 299, with a UK SRP expected to be around the £249 mark.
The gaming phone will launch with a ten strong line up (20 available in total before Christmas) with versions of Sonic, Tomb Raider, Rayman 3, Pandemonium, Red Faction, Super Monkey Ball, Splinter Cell, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Virtua Tennis, Ghost Recon, Bust A Move and Marcel Desailly's Pro Soccer all confirmed. Prices for games are expected to retail for $30 to $40, which translates to roughly £25 to £30 for UK consumers. Again, not a price that equates to mainstream acceptance.
On the face of it, Nokia's debut entrance into the gaming market has plenty going for it. Its Bluetooth/GPRS connectivity theoretically enables unprecedented online multiplayer action, displaying 3D visuals a world away from the 1970s era gaming that's currently embedded into our Nokia handsets. Indeed, the demonstrations of Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk confirmed that challenging other gamers over the network could be a straightforward and hassle free affair.
Add to that the other excellent functionality - the MP3 player, FM radio, email capabilities device and tri-band mobile phone capabilities, and it's easy to see why Nokia has decided to stick its neck out and launch this ambitious product. The firm already has partnerships with the likes of Sega, Activision, THQ, Eidos, Ubi Soft, and Taito, and has more to come.
But for all the positive aspects of the N-Gage, the firm managed to cause unintentional hilarity throughout the majority of its crucial pre-E3 press briefing. Kicking off with an overenthusiastic body popping Kids From Fame-esque dance troupe ensemble, the audience was 'treated' to the sight of supposedly 'street' dudes getting groovy with their N-Gages, before launching into a spirit crushingly awful rap penned about the joys of N-Gaging. Nokia has made noises about including an E3 webcast of this soon-to-be-legendary event on its www.n-gage.com website, but alas at the time of writing there was nothing but a picture of Steve Boxer to keep us company on its E3 page. If it shows up, watch it. It's up there with Steve Ballmer's antics a few years back.
If being greeted by a bunch of rapping, break dancing loons wasn't enough, a newly shorn John Romero nervously took the stage, looking uncannily like a short version of Huey from the Fun Loving Criminals. But after a spectacularly unconvincing demo of the jerkathon that is Red Faction, Romero managed to inspire one of the longest periods of silence in gaming history. It was as if at the point of applause, the audience went into a stunned state of mourning, suddenly recalling the travesty that was Daikatana. Sometimes past sins are just too unforgivable. Romero was visibly shaken by the abject lack of enthusiasm, and you had to feel for the man.
And that's not all. As with the N-Gage's public unveiling back in February, the frame rate for nearly every game seemed to be restricted to single figure unplayability. Tony Hawk, Tomb Raider and Super Monkey Ball all looked mighty fine, graphically, but the jerkiness just had to be seen to be believed. Meanwhile, the Nokia crew were repeatedly undermined by embarrassing technical hitches that threatened to send one of the hapless Finns into an exasperated rage. Even the pointless Q&A session descended into farce when every question was greeted with a level of PR babble that would have done Max Clifford proud.
While Eurogamer is more than happy to see a strong contender like Nokia shake up the handheld sector, the company needs to think long and hard about several aspect of its strategy. Firstly its pricing model had everyone sporting disbelieving stares, unable to grasp the concept of a handheld device costing nearly triple that of a next gen console, while Nokia is expecting gamers to part with way too much for the games themselves. And what of the woeful performance issues with the games? Nokia surely can't expect the public to be even remotely interested in ageing games that run at half the smoothness of the original? All the elements are there for a device that could really take off, but as it stands, it looks more than a little ill-conceived in fundamental areas. The bottom line is if we can't get excited about N-Gage, then it's an uphill battle trying to convince Joe Public.