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Home / Features / Nokia N-Gage at 20: the mobile gaming revolution that wasn’t

Nokia N-Gage at 20: the mobile gaming revolution that wasn’t

Is it a phone? Is it a handheld console? Is it destined to be landfill due to being terrible? Definitely at least one of those.

Nokia N-Gage

These days, millions of people play games on their phones. Nokia’s N-Gage saw where things were going 20 years ago – but not how best to get there.

What’s this horror? The mutant offspring of a Nokia 3310 and a Game Boy Advance? 

That’s what Nokia was aiming for, perhaps minus the ‘mutant’ part. Loads of people at the time carried around a phone and a GBA; Nokia reasoned it would clean up by combining the two. On paper, the signs were good. The N-Gage had a vibrant backlit display, online multiplayer support, enough face buttons to satisfy a Street Fighter II fan, and the clout to run games that (if you squinted a bit) looked like PlayStation fare. Big publishers lined up to support it too.

Actually, that sounds great. Top work, Nokia. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything else. Nokia did understand the importance of gaming on mobile, but not how to make a device people would want to play games on. The N-Gage suffered from load delays and could chew through its battery in just a few hours of play – not ideal, since it was also your phone. Those visuals were only great until they started moving. The buttons were stiff. Worst of all, to swap games you had to remove the cover and battery to get at the MMC slot, and then reboot the phone. Not much fun on a crowded train.

I’m starting to get a sense of why I’m not now playing AAA games on my N-Gage 15.

It got worse. Nokia’s reputation was further shaken by the admission sales claims were based on units shipped to retailers, not actually sold. When the dust settled, the N-Gage was a confirmed flop. Nokia tried launching the N-Gage QD, a smaller device with a more accessible MMC slot, but it was too late. The N-Gage brand was absorbed into other Nokia blowers before winking out of existence in 2009. Finland later got its revenge on mobile gaming as a whole by inflicting Angry Birds on us all.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.