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Nokia Still Can’t Get It Right

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Last year’s launch of the N-Gage hybrid cell phone, MP3 player, handheld video game system was an unmitigated disaster on all levels. The user interface was unnecessarily complicated, the battery had to be removed to change a game cartridge, you looked like a complete idiot using the phone, and there were very few games available.

Additionally, the $300 price tag was about what you might expect to pay for a cell phone, MP3 player, and Game Boy Advance separately. A price reduction and other incentives weren’t enough to spur sales, and Nokia’s entry into the gaming market fizzled.

Today, however, the Finnish electronics company announced the next generation of its gaming device, the N-Gage QD.

On the surface, many of the issues with the original model appear to be addressed. Side-talking is gone, and games now load via a hot-swappable drive in the bottom of the unit. The $179 price tag, while significantly higher than the Game Boy’s $99 bargain price, could come down as cell phone service providers sign on to support the system.

Nonetheless, this system will likely meet the same fate as its predecessor due to one fundamental flaw: a stunning lack of software support. The three major players in gaming hardware (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) thrive not on the power of their systems but on the strength of their software libraries. That’s why consoles are sold as loss-leaders and the hardware manufacturers collect royalties on each game sold by the software companies.

Nintendo’s GameCube in particular has thrived based almost solely on the strength of its three core franchises (Mario, Zelda, and Metroid). Microsoft’s initial launch of the X-Box was driven exclusively by one must-have game (Halo) that was unavailable on any other system. Likewise, the continued domination of the Playstation 2 is due in no small part to the success of that systems exclusive titles, such as Final Fantasy and, until recently, Grand Theft Auto.

But what does Nokia have to offer? As of the QD launch date, only 15 games are available for the system, almost none of which are exclusives. Without an extensive library or a single got-to-have-it game, there’s really no reason why any gamer would pick up the new N-Gage over a Game Boy Advance, or even a home console.

While more games are planned for this summer, its doubtful their release will buoy sales of Nokia’s handheld. In short, the QD is DOA.

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