When Nokia launches its new mobile gaming platform next year, it won't just be available on a couple of handsets, and you might not even need to change phone to get it.
This is according to Jaakko Kaidesoja from Nokia's Play New Experience division, who's in charge of the next-gen N-Gage, and who's due to speak tomorrow at the Nokia World conference in Amsterdam. I grabbed him today for a quick primer.
"We are planning to support something like 5-7 devices when we launch," he says. "Some of them are already being sold today, in fact. So if you have one of those devices, you'll just have to go to our website, download the application to your phone. It's like any Series 60 application, and it works."
Nokia isn't announcing which mobiles will run the new N-Gage app yet, as they're still being tested. However, seeing as Kaidesoja was demoing it to me on an N93, it's safe to assume it's one of them.
Besides spankingly-attractive 3D games, connectivity will be one of the key selling points of the new platform. You'll be able to post high scores, write your own reviews of games, and do a host of other community-related stuff.
"On N-Gage, the N-Gage Arena community was one of the early success stories," he says. "There was a handful, well, a small amount anyway, of people who really loved that. And now if you look at Web 2.0 and what's going on there, more and more people are sharing different kinds of experiences with each other – photos, videos, blogging. So why not games?"
The community features of the next-gen N-Gage platform sound similar to Xbox Live, which Kaidesoja admits, although he points out that Nokia and Microsoft reached the same conclusions about what makes a good gaming community separately, rather than one cribbing from the other. The key difference, he says, is that full online multiplayer will take longer to grow on mobile than it has on console, particularly when players are on mobile tariffs with pricey data charges.
That said, Nokia's recently-conducted survey into mobile gaming found that multiplayer is growing faster in countries like India, where mobile phones may actually be a console substitute for people who can't afford a PS2, let alone a PS3. As he says this, he swizzles his N93 round to show the TV-out port, pointing out that you can plug it into your TV and play games on a big screen – a feature that may come into its own once the new platform launches with its whizzy 3D games.
So what else is happening chez Nokia in the realm of games? Kaidesoja says that the company is focusing on building a decent catalog of games for the new platform, and particularly ensuring there's lots that will appeal to casual gamers, as well as the hardcore types. So far, Nokia has signed up EA and Gameloft and a bunch of developers, but Kaidesoja says more publishers are on the way, while Nokia will continue to publish its own games too.
"It's good to have franchises, but it's good to have innovation as well," he says. "It's about quality. If you look around at the mobile gaming world, there's definitely room for more quality. With the kind of 3D hardware and accelerated graphics that we'll have, along with the difference in screen size, there's miles of difference between this and N-Gage already. But above all we have to remember that these games need to be made for mobile. It's not a PS3 or Xbox 360."
That does raise a question though, which is whether a mobile phone – which has to be good at making calls, sending texts and, increasingly, taking photos, accessing the internet and listening to music, too – can ever be a great gaming device. Isn't the compromise too much? As you'd expect, Kaidesoja says not.
"First of all, it's about basic game design ergonomics," he says. "You don't want to design games with five multiple key presses and all that, so developers have to keep that in mind. But then we can work with various form factors, we can have landscape gaming with extra buttons on the phone, and we can work with accessories."
It's at this point that Kaidesoja whips out a little Bluetooth gizmo that's been designed to be used with Nokia's N91 music phone, to let you skip songs, turn the volume up and so on without taking the phone out of your pocket. You can see a picture of it here, actually. Anyway, his point is that it wouldn't take much imagination to make a gaming version.
"These are some ideas we are thinking about, in order to improve the gaming ergonomics," he says. "You have to be careful with accessories. People don't want to carry round an Xbox 360 type controller in their pocket! It has to be handy. But the main thing is to work on the ergonomics on the keypad itself."
Rumour has it that there are some of the next-gen N-Gage games being demonstrated at Nokia World. Rest assured, if there are, I'll sniff them out and bring you news tomorrow.