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No new N-Gages until 2007

The end for the phone/gaming console?

From the UK’s leading games blog - Games Digest, from the makers of Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny.

Nokia disN-gages

Nokia N-gageAntti Vasara, Nokia's VP for Corporate Strategy, says its short-term strategy doesn't include mobile gaming handsets. Until 2007, there'll be no new N-Gage, or any other mobile handset designed specifically to play games on. Instead, next year is all about mobile music and mobile TV. While it's a smart move for Nokia to quietly kill off the N-Gage, it's not such a smart move to leave mobile gaming alone at a moment when it's set to become one of the key battlegrounds for videogames growth.

The N-Gage was launched in a fanfare. But the weight of critical opinion soon started landing a shower of brown stuff on it. The first handsets were incredibly-badly designed. You had to hold the phone side-on to your head, like some solitary Mickey Mouse ear to talk into it. And remove the battery to change games. The second generation N-Gage QD fixed those issues. But was still some way more ugly, big in size and small in features than the better smartphones already out. Even for gaming it was still a dead loss. There were hardly any N-Gage specific games, and most were simply not very good – due to screen limitations, lack of processing power, or simply bad game design. On top of that, even the best games were rendered difficult to play by the awkward keypad and overly hard-to-click direction pad, shoulder buttons and keys.

While Nokia are right to RIP the N-Gage, they're foolish to leave the mobile gaming market now though. With the DS and PSP, Nintendo and Sony are mounting one side of an attack on mobile gaming. Wi-fi Internet connectivity mean both handheld consoles are more connected than any other before. If you're on a train, you can play people in the same carriage as you, even in the tunnel, or pass hours in the airport using a wi-fi router to take on the world. Both the DS and the PSP are powerful, dedicated handheld games consoles, from companies with excellent gaming heritages. On the other hand, mobile gaming on traditional handsets is a booming market. As phones get more powerful, games are getting better and simpler to download. Other handset manufacturers and operators are grabbing the gaming market. For Nokia to drop games now cedes the one good thing they built with the N-Gage – first mover advantage

Nintendogs: praise and criticism

Sometimes you just can't win. While Nintendo announces sales of more than one million in just over a month for its handheld Nintendogs puppy simulator, it's simultaneously criticised for targeting women at the expense of its core audience – kids. An analyst at BNP Paribas has said Nintendo's fall in profits has been because of it pushing the DS handheld console and games to adults – both male and, a new one for the games industry, female. While the DS apparently hasn't gone down a storm in the US, the analyst conveniently ignores sales figures in Europe and Japan.

Xbox 360 overheating?

Bloggers in the US have been detailing the twists and turns of the Xbox 360 launch. And one hot potato issue is that some consoles (not many, say Microsoft) have been crashing frequently. It turns out when we say hot potato, we mean it literally. The large power supply for the Xbox 360 is, according to many now happy gamers, the source of the problem – it's overheating so much you could bake a spud on it. By placing power supplies on top of cardboard boxes, or in one case suspending it in the air by wires, gamers are stopping the crashes.

Gamers tired of sequels

Analysts at Wedbush Morgan Securities blame a dip in the expected financial health of the games market on: "Xbox 360 shortages, the lack of price cuts on now-generation hardware and consumer indifference to the proliferation of sequels." Other recent analyses show that sequels and established franchises sell on average over 20 per cent better than new, original games. Let's hope this could mean a shift in the way gamers view and buy games.

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