GDC: Nokia's Sauter Talks Next Generation N-Gage

After a strategic withdrawl from the handheld arena, Nokia director of publishing Gregg Sauter outlined the future of the N-gage that it hopes will transition the company as one that "makes hardware to one that provides experiences," in his GDC session.

Two years ago, at E3, Nokia announced a strategic withdrawal from the handheld arena; in place of a discrete handheld platform, future N*Gage hardware would be incorporated into Nokia's full line of mobile devices. Today, Nokia director of publishing Gregg Sauter elaborated on the plans.

Sauter expressed concern that the mobile game industry, in its current form, is “immature”. As the largest manufacturer of mobile devices, in particular “convergent” ones, Nokia feels in a position to revolutionize the industry in this regard. “We really need to evolve this industry,” said Sauter, explaining that Nokia is in the middle of an essential transition from “a company that makes hardware to one that provides experiences.”

The problem with the mobile industry right now, as Nokia sees it, is its overly proprietary nature; every platform has its own demands, and none of the the typical “convergent” features - MP3 players, wireless networking - can speak to each other.

The next-generation N*Gage device addresses this issue by, in fact, existing as a software layer -- a sort of a C++ virtual machine -- sitting on top of Symbian hardware, and designed to access the various convergent features of modern mobile devices. The principle is to provide a hardware-independent platform for developers.

Sauter described three key components to Nokia’s strategy: “great converged devices” (that is, complicated phones), “great end-to-end experience” (a transparent user interface), and “great games”. “We figure if we hit the first two,” Sauter said, “the developers and publishers will be there.”

“When we go live,” Sauter continued, “There will already be dozens of platforms that are N*Gage compatible.” Nokia intends the platform as a fluid entity, with scheduled improvements over the years. “It’s not static," he said, "It grows. We’re gonna keep adding features.”

As suggested, also being streamlined are distribution and community features, turning N*Gage into more of an overall user service. Games can be purchased online, on external media such as discs and flash devices, or through the N*Gage store. Visitors to the store can also download demos and read or post reviews, to make shopping a somewhat less painful experience.

Users will be able to keep friend lists, develop their own personal online profiles, and play against friends online.

The new N*Gage platform is scheduled for release this autumn.

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