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N-Gage Arena: Nokia's Tomi Huttula

Following our earlier Nokia coverage, in this second interview with a Nokia executive, Games On Deck talks to Tomi Huttula, Head of Product Management for N-Gage at Nokia, about the new incarnation of N-Gage Arena.

Title Following our earlier Nokia coverage, which included an interview with Nokia's director of games publishing, Gregg Sauter, and an editorial from Dr Mark Ollila, Director of Technology and Strategy and Head of Games Publishing, in this second interview with a Nokia executive, Games On Deck talks to Tomi Huttula, Head of Product Management for N-Gage at Nokia, about the new incarnation of N-Gage Arena.

GamesOnDeck: Describe the new N-Gage Arena to us.

Tomi Huttula: N-Gage Arena is the virtual place where the N-Gage community goes to play with each other, discuss in the message boards and live chats, share user created content and participate in activities, like tournaments and hosted events. Community players can also send/receive messages and game invitations, build up their profile page and share with their friends and other community players. By playing the games and participating in the N-Gage Arena activities, users can gather points and compare each other, all based on their level of activity and their interests. The Arena will soon be much more open and easier to access due to the many devices that will support N-Gage.

GOD: What does the new N-Gage Arena mean for mobile gamers, both those familiar with the original and not?

TH: he N-Gage Arena will be new in a sense of added functionality and ease of entry which is tied to the new N-Gage platform, but the core of it stays the same. It is still about community and about bringing the fun with the social aspect of the games for the customers. With the new N-Gage platform we are reaching millions of users around the world and therefore have focused on easing new users into the community and making it easy to be involved at whatever level you wish. We have a very loyal and active core community on the current platform. I believe those members will find it exciting to be able to keep their current profiles and the existing relationships when moving to the new platform. We will provide ways for the old members to be recognized by others as the real veterans of mobile connected gaming.

Friends Friends
The N-Gage Arena Friends List

On the other hand, for the new members I expect it will be interesting for them to see that there is a real history of the N-Gage community in the form of the veteran members, who will be willing to share some stories from the trenches and hints & tips about mobile connected gaming. On the other hand we fully expect casual fans to utilize the community - for example it would be great to see a parent playing a multiplayer game with their child when they are apart, or comparing high scores. This is a community for the masses.

GOD: What lessons would you say Nokia has learned from the previous incarnation of N-Gage Arena for the new Arena?

TH: With the N-Gage Arena we can get really close to our end users which has created a valuable opportunity for us to listen, and serve them better. We have succeeded in building a really personal connection with a lot of our customers. Most of our community activities are hosted events. Some of them are scheduled virtual play dates, where players and our community personas come together to play a certain game and chat in between the game sessions. These events are run by our community personas like "redrum", "congested" and "ikona". In real life they are natural born gamers who really enjoy bringing the social aspect to the platform. The N-Gage Arena is run from our San Francisco office, and I can tell that the work desks there look pretty different from a typical Nokia employee's desk. Our personas have gathered a loyal fan base and that is really working both ways by getting N-Gage planners and our customers closer to each other.

The other related topic is that we have been able to turn the community into a great customer care tool. It is really different for people to get help from other community members or "congested", than from an automated voice answering service.
GOD: Which game titles use the new Arena, and how?

TH: All next generation titles will support a common minimum N-Gage Arena feature set. For example, these features include in-game notifications like received messages and friends logging in. Supporting the rest of the wide online feature set is for game developers to decide, but we are confident that the features we are building will only serve to enhance the game and will be naturally included.

GOD: Is online multiplayer going to be a big factor of the new Arena?

TH: N-Gage Arena and connectivity are definitely part of the key differentiators of our platform.  We do have the leading, tried and tested solution for creating the best online multiplayer mobile games. We built the next generation N-Gage platform so consumers can decide on and build on their level of involvement in the community and the online game play. The games are developed by leading mobile publishers and developers in native language (Symbian C++), squeezing out the best performance from the already powerful mobile devices. The games are easy to get and find via the pre-installed N-Gage application over the cellular network or from your internet connected PC. These are very strong reasons for many players to come and enjoy the N-Gage platform.

N-Gage
An N-Gage Arena Handset


When our players discover the Arena community, we are able to provide a really fun compelling experience you cannot get with standard game consoles. This experience is always with you, lets face it, no one leaves their phone at home!! Not only can you play online anywhere, but you can see what is happening in the community, and join in on the go.
With consoles people have to make a bigger investment of setting the time. For example, the TV has to be free from other usage. You need to switch it and the console on, and you need to be in the specific room for it. Once this arrangement is complete, people will play online (if that's what they were after) independent of if their friends are online or not. With N-Gage, people can very easily pop in to the service just to check what is happening. The device is in your pocket already and it is switched on. If your friends are online or there happens to be an interesting event or chat going on, people can just jump in. If at that particular moment there is nothing that catches their interest, they can send a message to their friends, join the chat rooms, or continue doing something else until they want to pop in again, or they get a reply from their friends.


GOD: Do you expect casual gamers to use the service?

TH:
As said, the easy game discovery and great offline game play are already attractive differentiators for everyone enjoying mobile game play, but I think it is wrong to assume that casual games should not have great graphics and not be connected. On the PC there are several examples of very casual but connected games. What we are looking for is that game developers start innovating on how to create games really fitting the mobile space and learn to take advantage of the connectivity as the natural element in mobile devices. Consumers definitely understand the connected nature of the phones, so this is not an unfamiliar concept for them. We just need to offer the connectivity in the right way, and not try to copy directly what connectivity means in the game consoles. Our role with the N-Gage platform is to provide the tools for mobile game developers to do this.

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Browsing Downloadable Titles

GOD: What do you consider the N-Gage Arena's competition to be?

TH:
Our objective is to be the biggest and the most active mobile gaming community. Our strengths lie in the facts that we operate globally, will have a pre-installed community enabled application in devices, have well defined consistent community functionality across games, and are the leader in the richness of existing online features in mobile games. Right now we have 690 000 registered members in 190 countries and 320 carriers. With the next generation N-Gage platform we will have access to a greater number of Nokia devices, instead of two dedicated devices and this will boost our community growth enormously. Although this is a strong set up in itself, we are also looking for ways to co-operate with other gaming communities to support our partners and to maximize the end user experience.

GOD: How do you see N-Gage Arena developing in the future?

TH:
There will be a natural feature evolution, based on our community strategy and direct feedback from our members. As an online service with a capability to update the software dynamically, we can do even small changes frequently. I expect user created content to become more and more important. We are already publishing photos and comics sent by users, but there are many more opportunities available. All N-Gage ready devices will include camera functionality, so you can just imagine the huge possibilities for consumer creativity as we continue to integrate the functionalities of the phone and the games.

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