The last time we met Jaakko Kaidesoja was at the Nokia World event in November 2006, when he filled us in on progress on the all-new N-Gage platform.
Since then, that progress has obviously continued – N-Gage will go live sometime this November, after all. And with new info on the service revealed at Nokia's Go Play event this week, we sat down with Jaakko again to get an update.
Pocket Gamer: How are things going?
Jaako Kaidesoja: Really well. It's been a lot of work, but we've got our first devices that we are supporting. I'm really happy about getting the N73, because it's got a massive install base. N93, N93i, N95 – another real success of our devices – and now with the new devices like the N81… it's cool.
Especially if you try out the landscape gaming – it looks really good. It's not supported for all the devices, but once you have it, it's great.
Also, we now have ten publishers including Nokia publishing games for N-Gage, and we have good vibes for giving the tools to the industry to innovate, and devices with enough horsepower and big screen sizes…
And then you have the hardware-accelerated graphics in there, which allows some developers and publishers to do even more immersive content. It doesn't necessarily apply for every game, and you don't have to do that. But you can do that, and we can offer developers and publishers the tools to do that.
Actually, about hardware acceleration – it won't be in all the N-Gage handsets, will it?
It works on the N93 and N95 and their variants. Next year, you'll see more devices supporting hardware acceleration as well.
So how does that work from a developer's point of view – do they create one version of an N-Gage game for hardware-accelerated phones, and another for the others?
If you want to take full leverage of it, yes, you'll make an extra SKU [version] for your game. But we're trying to introduce the SDK [software development kit] so that the game will understand when it's running on hardware acceleration and be able to use it. So you might not need to do a separate SKU. But, yes, we have several games in development that use hardware acceleration, but not all.
How are you feeling about the publisher and games line-up, now you've announced more partners and titles?
I'm reasonably happy about the balance now. You have some more immersive games like FIFA 08 and Asphalt: Street Rules 3. But then you have the casual line-up, like the Mile High Pinball type games; and then we're looking at some unannounced games using some of the original N-Gage franchises.
And then getting into girly games, like Sims 2 Pets. We can't ignore the female audience! So we're getting a good balance.
So we have Gameloft now developing seven or eight games, with a casual line-up plus Brothers In Arms and Asphalt. Then EA has The Sims franchise, and Tetris. The thing is, can we do something new with Tetris? Well, we are in discussions with them about that.
Yes, but all the games will have connected elements. So we are in discussions with all the publishers about how to bring their games to N-Gage and make best use of the platform.
And of course, this isn't the end of the line-up. We are talking to other publishers.
You're working with the mobile divisions of console publishers. Is it important that you're working with the guys who (in theory) already understand mobile gaming, as opposed to the console sectors who might be seeing N-Gage as a chance for lazy ports?
Yes, it is important. You need to understand mobile elements when designing a game, and take into account ergonomics and form factor and all the rest of it. But it's also interesting to talk to the console publishers – there are some great franchises that you could make a mobile leg for, and it would make sense. So we are looking at PC connectivity and mobile connectivity.
Is that Project White Rock?
Yes, it's still running, and it's hitting the streets early next year, but we're not saying too much about it for the moment! Our role as a publisher is not to do me-too stuff, it's to innovate. Let's use the hardware capabilities and let's do some new cool stuff.
Of course, things like music… you have music features in your handsets now, so why not integrate it into the game? And why not use GPS or maps to look at location-based games? Why not use the camera?
How close is this stuff though? Developers always look a bit downcast when we ask them how easy this kind of feature is to put into games.
Some of these things will appear sooner, and some will take time. So you'll start seeing the real value of the platform by the middle of next year, which is what happens with every platform. You know, Xbox 360 was out, and the first game line-up was okay, but then they went beyond. It takes nine months to a year to really start getting the most out of a platform.
So the main thing is to get this into people's pockets, with a good line-up of games. And we have got a good line-up of games, they look really great. It's no matter if they aren't particularly new. FIFA is a FIFA, but it's a multiplayer FIFA and looks much greater than any of the other…
As in multiplayer over the network?
Yes, and all that. So it's already a great thing that we can offer, and then we build the community and create new things as time goes on.
I'm really counting that we can address new people, who have not been into playing games before. And we can do that with embedded games, which people do play, and then through the viral effect through the N-Gage Arena community.
Tell us about the N-Gage game pricing, which was announced as EUR 6-10 for a full standalone game, plus rentals and demos. What's the thinking behind that?
Yes, we have different pricing for developed markets and growth markets, so the EUR 6 price point is more for the emerging markets, and the EUR 10 price point is for the developed markets. And, of course, you have weekly rentals, daily rentals and the free trial.
Clearly, the reference market is the mobile game market. We don't want to compare it with DS and PSP. They're doing a great job on their turf, and our turf is the mobile gaming market. Our closest competitor is the VCAST service in the US where they're charging $10 for games.
Of course, we're always talking to publishers about pricing. We can decide pricing on the Nokia store, but this is an open distribution platform. If operators would like to start retailing the games, or if EA would like to start retailing games themselves, they can do that and set the pricing.
Do you see a lot of that happening then, with operators and publishers selling N-Gage games directly?
It's an evolution thing. The strongest distribution is in your pocket, and the shop will be in your pocket. But having complementary websites and distribution channels will be great, because it underscores that the games are available. And with the demos, you can distribute them in many interesting ways.
For example, you can easily use CD distribution: if you sell a console game, put in a mobile game variant, which is a free distribution mechanism. These are concepts of the sorts of things we are thinking.
So, the launch now has a date…
There will be localised services for certain European countries, but there will be a global website that anyone can use with a credit card. We'll have 15 games roughly in the launch window up to Christmas, and then more coming along next year.
We're talking about exclusivities at some point in time. Of course, the Nokia games are exclusive to the N-Gage platform, but really this is something that will get the ball rolling once the platform is out there.
What you get in November this year will look entirely different in November 2008. A lot more games, a lot more devices, a lot more features. It's a growing thing, and a very exciting time for us.