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Ilkka Raiskinen on N-Gage, and more

Nokia's games supremo tells all

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Interview As Finnish mobile communications giant Nokia unveils the second generation of N-Gage hardware, GI.biz's Rob Fahey speaks to Nokia's head of games, Ilkka Raiskinen, about the company's plans for the future - and lessons from the past year.

You might reasonably expect Raiskinen to be somewhat guarded around the games press. It's been a tough year for the ambitions of the Finnish company in that sector, after all - one in which the firm has been repeatedly savaged in the media, first in the specialist press but later in mainstream newspapers and magazines, for a series of disastrous decisions related to the launch of the N-Gage console.

From the deeply flawed design of the system, through the cringe-worthy press conference at E3 last year, to the damaging post-launch dithering about sales figures, Nokia has had a tough time of it. And, of course, the press has been there every step of the way to make sure that their failures are highlighted. You could understand, then, if the man at whose desk the buck for the company's entire gaming operations stops was unhappy to see games media representatives on his doorstep.

Nokia N-Gage QD

The opposite is true. Raiskinen was honest, open and talkative when we met him in the icy Finnish capital of Helsinki to discuss the company's new update to the N-Gage platform, N-Gage QD, its forthcoming portfolio of software and online services, its plans for the future and - perhaps - the lessons it has learned from the past year.

Raiskinen embodies the attitude of every Nokia executive we met at the company's stunning headquarters building - although there's some obvious trepidation at showing the QD to the games press for the first time, he, and the company as a whole, exudes a quiet confidence that is very different from the brash, self-assured and arrogant brand of confidence which was in evidence from the firm at the original N-Gage launch in London in February of last year.

Then, Nokia assured us that it was entering the games industry with a product which would quickly grab an enormous slice of the marketplace that the rest of the platform holders had completely ignored. It would take over this new "mobile online gaming" sector, become a major player, and even the might of Nintendo's Game Boy Advance was inconsequential. Nokia wasn't a company used to losing battles in the mobile space, and it showed.

A year later, the mood has changed - there's a tacit admission that a battle was lost (although how badly is a matter of argument), but a quiet determination that the war will be won. Lessons have been learned; Raiskinen, and Nokia, are now confident not because of the company's past successes, but because they believe that in the QD and their forthcoming software line-ups, they have a genuinely excellent combination of platform and titles. Lessons have been learned, and with them humility - and Nokia is no longer an outsider barging into the games industry without understanding what it's getting into, but rather is a games industry company with the experience of an exceptionally tough product launch behind it.

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