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Nokia to sell ‘several million’ N-Gages in 2004

Launches midnight tonight

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Nokia's N-Gage phone-cum-handheld games console goes on sale at midnight tonight in more than 30,000 stores in 60 countries around the world.

The way Nokia talks, you'd think there has never been a portable games console before, but N-Gage is a risky venture for the Finnish phone maker, so it's not surprising the company is hyping the launch as much as it can.

For example: the company told Reuters it expects to sell "several million" N-Gage units next year. In the meantime, a "very promising order intake" indicates strong sales momentum from tomorrow's launch through the Christmas sales period to the end of year, the company said.

N-Gage provides both solo gaming and multi-player action across a Bluetooth connection. Nokia intends to offer networked games across the handset's cellphone connection, but not until next year. Gamers will be able to access the web-based N-Gage Arena, but competing against other players through this medium is limited to downloading characters uploaded by their opponents.

And while N-Gage Arena is free now, Nokia's is describing that as a trial offer, so expect it to introduce charges in due course, probably when it enables multi-player gaming by GSM/GPRS/CDMA.

N-Gage will launch with a version of the first Tomb Raider title, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and a number of other titles. More will ship by Christmas.

But at around £250 ($417), N-Gage is expensive and its catalogue of games limited - far less than the £99 ($165) Nintendo GameBoy Advance (GBA). Mobile phone networks are expected to subsidise the handset to gain competitive advantage over games resellers, though given Nokia's keenness to push the device as a game console first and a phone last (behind even its radio and MP3 player features), it can't be too happy about having such giants squeezing out the entertainment market players it's courting.

O2, for one, is expected to offer N-Gage for £99.99 alongside a £20-50 monthly airtime package.

Nokia's forecast for 2004 is interesting, given it will be pitched against not just wireless networking add-ons for the GBA, but Sony's handheld PlayStation, the PSP. However, neither of these has a phone component, allowing Nokia room to build sales on the back of its status in the handset business.

It may ultimately fall back on this side of the story, re-positioning N-Gage as a phone that plays games, rather than a games console that happens to be a phone. "Several million" N-Gages is a long way short of the 450 million handsets sold each year, and if a gaming device doesn't sell on its own merits, it might just be enough to persuade handset buyers that they should upgrade their existing handset to an N-Gage. ®

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