Nokia’s N-Gage game service has just been declared dead, well dying anyway. always been a concept that has under-delivered painfully. In its first iteration, the device, it was a gutsy but maybe not entirely thought-through attempt to combine phone and dedicated handheld gaming device (it was always going to lose as one simply looked outright silly even when putting the thing towards ones ear to make a call – even when stood at a Star Trek convention, and that is telling). The “new” iteration, the software platform, struggled to take off. Nokia tried mightily to produce showcases demonstrating the superior gaming abilities of the platform compared to “regular” feature and smart phones but the efforts were thwarted from a number of angles:
It was a costly affair to deliver a game optimized for the N-Gage platform. When there is no proven distribution model that can guarantee decent returns, there would always be limited uptake from developers and publishers.
Too small a niche
N-Gage was always geared towards dedicated gamers. All marketing was directed this way, the positioning was distinctly high-end, no non-game applications were shown (or even contemplated, I guess). The power of the platform thus was funneled into a niche of a niche, i.e. high-end gaming. I would suggest that one could as easily have positioned it as a powerful media platform full stop. One that allows for beautiful execution of any number of simple or complex apps (and a game is basically “only” one app category).
There’s an app for that
The iPhone then was arguably the final punch. In spite of developer frustrations growing over discoverability within this pile of 100,000+ apps, the platform has spurned exceptional games galore, and not only casual ones either. Real Racing is as punchy a racing title as one will ever get one on a handheld. And with people flogging to the app store in drones (rather than visiting it once to rarely if ever return), it appeared a less risky (and certainly more fashionable) move to leave it at that. Notably, Apple got the positioning piece (see above) right: even though it is a powerful gaming platform in its own right (anecdotally, the good folks at Firemint managed to string Real Racing to up to an impressive 82 fps), it never looked at this as a sole or even the main focus of the platform. There is a good reason why their already famous moniker says
there’s an app for that
there is a full 3D, 60+ fps, multi-player, high-end, Bluetooth and WiFi-enabled fighting game with dedicated combo mode for that.
And Mark Ollila, Nokia’s Director of X-Media Solutions and a games and general industry veteran, nails all of this down when he says that
One lesson is the complexities of offering rich games content on a global scale. [...] How do you handle the billing, the local marketing intricacies and the type of gaming experiences that work in different markets? And what do consumers actually want – is it the high-end games with connected features that N-Gage was delivering, or a much broader catalogue?
At the heart of it is the conceptually different approach of monolithic, super-rich and highly integrated platform versus a more modular approach: in Apple’s app store ecosystem (or in Android’s for that matter), you can integrate most if not all of N-Gage’s features, too: multi-player gaming, communities, trial versions, etc. But you don’t have to. The former lacked flexibility, which made it susceptible to the nimbler, faster moves of a modular system.
Well then. It at least gives Nokia the opportunity to focus solely on building out the Ovi platform and fix the bugs it has been plagued with at the start. Nokia clearly feels the pains of the rapidly changing market place and it struggles to adapt swiftly (which is – and one should appreciate this – much harder when you are running a product portfolio that has a market share of well double your nearest competitor and stretches all the way from the most basic feature phones to the most advanced smart phones) but it has people that should be capable to turn it around. Not easy, mind you but they’re a mighty player that has shown its ability to innovate numerous times, never forget that.
The conference formerly known as Symbian Smartphone Show (or something along those lines) is back this year as the Symbian Exchange & Exhibition (or SEE09). It kicks off this Tuesday in London’s Earl’s Court Exhibition Grounds and boasts a rather impressive line-up:
Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia Founder and one of TIME’s 100 most influential people) will be the headliner. There will be keynotes and panels with senior executives from the world’s leading vendors and carriers, including Nokia, IBM, Sony Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung, as well as application pros from the BBC, Guardian, GetJar, Navteq and many, many more.
SEE09 is the world’s largest event for the Symbian platform, which is – even if recently often maligned – still the largest smartphone platform anywhere!
Attendance is FREE. You can register here (it’s not too late…).
I’ll be there, too, so please drop me a line if you want to meet for a coffee (or beer at the party – attendance of which is also FREE). See you in London this week then!
However, at least in revenue terms, they seem to be doing OK: according to reports, Deloitte has put them at #129 in the fastest-growing US technology firms in their “Technology 500″ list. The results, alas, are based
on fiscal reports between 2004-2008, during which time Glu grew by 1,000 per cent.
All good but let us remind ourselves what happened in those years: Glu acquired Macrospace (which was founded by Kristian Segerstrale, now of Playfish fame), iPhone, Superscape, MIG (did I forget anyone?). They went public, splashed out on licenses (much to the dismay of competitors who often felt priced out of the market) and only just managed to achieve positive cash-flow in Q2/2009 (i.e. not in the period covered by Deloitte and on decreasing revenues and with negative US-GAAP results).
What does it tell us then? That this strategy worked in terms of revenue growth? Yes, certainly. And I have often paid tribute to that. That it is a good company in terms of putting its working capital to good use? This is – although I truly and sincerely wish them really well – at best doubtful. What more? Ah, well, that Deloitte’s Technology 500 list is probably as trustworthy as the banks they audited… Ouch, did I just say that?
The Carnival of the Mobilists is hosted this week over at “A Consuming Experience” and deals with handsets, learning, Amazon’s recent entry into mobile payments (on which I also blogged here) as well as an excellent post from Ajit Jaokar expanding on a talk he gave at CTIA (which I sadly missed). Go there, read it and become a better person… It’s here.
A couple of weeks ago, I pondered Spotify’s impact on music business models and suggested that mobile may have a role to play in the monetization end of it (which is, unless you’re Twitter, an inherent part of a business model indeed). It didn’t take them long:
Today, the UK arm of 3 – always one of the more creative carriers - announced a handset (and not a bad one either) to be bundled with Spotify Premium (i.e. on the go and no ads): users will pay £99 up front, and then £35 a month for 24 months for a tariff including a Spotify Premium subscription covering both PC and mobile, 750 minutes voice calls, unlimited texts, data and Skype-to-Skype calls. Listen up: all bandwidth included. For a streaming service. Now we’re talking!
3 said that the Spotify Premium service was
which suggests that they might want to stick to the £9.99 price point (which would surprise me). But then it is hard to tell which bit of such announcements is marketing and which actual price-setting for the sake of royalties and such like…
3 also said
that the deal with Spotify would extend to other products in the coming months, including 3′s mobile broadband service.
Again, I am curious about the price point: the way it is, it would be a nice marketing deal for Spotify but it could be said that not much was going for taking exactly that offer vs just signing up as it is already. A little discounted however (with the difference paid for by 3′s marketing department) might change the ball game altogether…
It’s all good though: I for one am truly intrigued by the prospect of having more than 6 million tracks (equating to, what?, 6 terabyte or so of music) on my phone!
And one little thing on the side: it is – again – an app and not the mobile web that they choose – in spite of bandwidth apparently not being an issue at all. It is thus another argument for the superiority (for the time being) of apps over mobile web when it comes to UI and input constraints.