Published by Tzer2 at 9:04 UTC, October 1st 2008
The new N-Gage platform has well and truly launched with the recent release of the N96, the first device to have N-Gage built in from day one. However, the game demos that also come pre-installed are shockingly poor, and Nokia is running the risk of ruining the platform's repuation when they need to be giving it a good name. In a special editorial All About N-Gage takes a look at what's gone wrong, and how things can be put right.
As has been mentioned many times on AAN, the true moment when the new N-Gage platform launches is when it is available embedded in phones from day one. This embedding is vital because it means that tens of millions of people who've never heard of the new platform or who can't be bothered to install it manually will be just a click away from actually trying it. If the new N-Gage is a success, it will be because of such embedding.
The Nokia N96 has recently become the very first phone to launch with N-Gage on board, so one could say the N-Gage platform itself has now truly launched too. Unfortunately Nokia has spoiled this exciting moment by doing something rather stupid which threatens to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Some of the demos pre-installed on the N96: N-Gage at its worst
As well as the N-Gage app, the N96 includes several N-Gage demos pre-installed, so that the user doesn't have to download these themselves. They can just click on the demo and it will launch straight away, which is a very good way of tempting new people to try the platform. The choice of demos is important, and one would think Nokia would pre-install the very best that the platform has to offer so far, but it seems that they've lost their minds and decided to go in completely the opposite direction.
Here are the games that come pre-installed on the N96 (as far as we know it's the same on all N96s):
To add insult to injury, there's a voucher included with the N96 for a free game, but you can't pick any game, you can only use the voucher to buy Tetris. Who chose this? Did they really think a direct port of a Java game (which itself was a remake of a game from 20 years ago) was showing N-Gage at its best?
The original N-Gage was a laughing stock, and the brand's reputation won't be rescued by including terrible game demos on devices compatible with the new platform.
Picking games and demos for inclusion on a phone isn't that easy of course, because phones aren't necessarily bought by serious gamers. If you look at the sales figures of phone games they tend to reflect a more casual audience than consoles, so more casual games may be appropriate.
There's also the question of demo size. Many of the most acclaimed games on N-Gage are 20 or 30 megabytes, so five of them would take up 100 to 150 megabytes which may be rather a large chunk of storage space on some phones (not on the N96 though, it has 16 gigabytes of on-board storage plus a memory card slot).
However, even taking these into consideration, there are still much better games on N-Gage than Nokia's choice of demos would have us believe. Here are the demos we would bundle with phones (and if Nokia is worried about storage space, just pick one or two of these):
If Nokia feels they have to have some more third party titles on there too, we'd choose FIFA08 or Brain Challenge.
The N96 comes with a free voucher to get the full version of Tetris. Instead, we would have chosen... no game in particular. The voucher should let people choose whichever game they want from the platform, including those which aren't one of the embedded demos.
When this writer bought a Nokia 5320 XpressMusic, it came with a free voucher for any five music tracks from the Nokia Music Store. Why can't N-Gage have the same system? Letting the user decide which game they get free of charge would allow the widest possible audience to get a game they actually want to play. If people get a game they want to play, they're far more likely to then buy more games.
However, if for some technical reason this isn't possible with the N-Gage platform (why not?), if we absolutely had to choose a single game to give away free with N-Gage-compatible phones, we would probably pick Bounce: Boing Voyage. It's a good solid game, it's exclusive to N-Gage, it easily crosses language and cultural barriers, it has lovely 3D graphics which are friendly-looking for a wider audience but also Mario/Sonic-esque for gamers, and the Bounce character has a proven track record in previous embedded games on Nokia phones.
N-Gage at its best, so why aren't these games' demos pre-installed on the N96?
The N-Gage brand itself is pretty low in people's estimations, and it was probably a mistake for Nokia to continue using it for the new platform. However, what's done is done, they've stuck with the name so they'll have to live with the consequences.
One of those consequences is that people who know the brand will almost certainly have heard some very unfavourable things about it. If the demos included on N-Gage-compatible devices are very poor, it will simply confirm those prejudices, and people won't touch the new platform either.
If Nokia wants to resurrect the N-Gage brand and make people think about it in a positive way, they have to make sure that people's first impressions of the new platform are favourable. People should see games which are highly playable, which look good, which sound good, and which they can't get anywhere else. The demos currently bundled with the N96 simply don't fulfil these criteria, and they may actually make people less likely to use N-Gage.