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The Mobile Gaming Mavens on the prospects for Nokia-fuelled Windows Phones

Lumia - a new dawn?
The Mobile Gaming Mavens on the prospects for Nokia-fuelled Windows Phones
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Off the back of Nokia World 2011, we asked the Mavens:

With Nokia back in the frame with a great launch device (Lumia 800), do you think Windows Phone will now move from third place to challenge iOS and Android with respect to mobile gaming?

Alex Bubb from Nokia deserves the first response, given it was his product we were discussing.

Unsurprisingly, he was evangelical, even sending his emails from his Windows Phone.

"There should be no doubt - Nokia is taking a completely new and bold approach here with the Lumia launch," he said.

"That means a step change in best in class marketing both for devices but, of course, also for best in class games. An 'Amazing Everyday'! It's going to be fun!"

Microsoft's Rob Simister (also on his Windows Phone) was also quick to big up the opportunity, calling the phone "the first true alternative for consumers: a fresh, clean, different OS with first class hardware and a great selection of services in support from both Nokia and Microsoft - including Xbox Live social features in a cultivated games portfolio."

Providing a more measured opinion, was Neil Holroyd of operator Everything, Everywhere.

Although initially sceptical about Windows Phone, he said "the gaming experience is often more superior than Android for a large number of the casual games ... some of the so-called HD games ... and the fact it integrates with my Xbox live is a bonus."

Brand management

As for Nokia's Windows Phones, he called the Lumia 800 "not bad" and having "potential", suggesting the key issue was whether consumers would be confused by the two brands.

"I believe the success of Nokia Windows rides on whether it is marketed as next-gen with little focus on the Windows brand," Holroyd argued.

"The Nokia brand can't afford to be diluted. It needs to focus on the fact it still has a fairly respectable market share and claw back a premium position. The OS provides new social features it needs to capitalise on.

"I think for the first time we'll start to see Windows becoming a platform to contend with."

As ever, ustwo's Mills had a unique take on the situation.

"The thought of Nokia - amazing physical handset maker - finally having a proper OS makes me horny," he gushed.'s very own Keith Andrew made his debut contribution to the Mavens, with similar enthusiasm. "I'm personally about as excited for Lumia as I have been any handset for years," he said.

Kevin Dent of Tiswaz was even more positive.

"Simply put, by the end of 2013, I believe that Windows Phone 8 will be the clear number one or two and history will say that it will be at Apple's expense."

Whose Windows Phone is it anyway?

Yet, this excitement isn't universal as mills noted. "It does depress me somewhat that when I asked the team what they thought of the new handset (we have one), they said, 'It's good, but not that good, not as good as iOS...'," he revealed.

As with most of the Mavens, he couldn't see any platform overtaking iOS.

Joony Koo of mSonar was interested in would existing iOS or Android consumers switch. "It'll be quite a struggle to churn existing iPhone or Android users," he said, suggesting those users on feature phones would be most likely to adopt the phones.

"It needs to compete with iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S II in the top tier, and 3GS in the free market," he pointed out

Back in the game

Providing a different perspective was game developer turned analyst David MacQueen of Strategy Analytics.

"The thing about Windows Phone is that it's a really tightly defined platform, plus the XNA/Xbox Live development tools, and this seems to have made a huge difference in terms of fragmentation," he said. pointing out "that developers looking for a decent ROI really want to be taking a close look".

He was also impressed with the line-up of games already available. "I'm browsing the Marketplace as I type this and the games on that, already, include Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Sonic, Pac-Man, Doodle Jump, Super Monkey Ball, Pro Evo Soccer 2011, I (heart) Katamari, Assassin's Creed, Guitar Hero 5, Need for Speed…"

It wasn't all positive, MacQueen suggesting some elements of the UI would be unintuitive if you had lots of app installed, but overall, calling the Lumia 800 the "best Nokia smartphone in years," although that's faint praise given recent devices, he was nevertheless happy to say Nokia's "back in the game."

Developers speak out

Perhaps the most significant discussion of the entire thread came from three veteran Europe-based mobile game developers.

HandyGames' Christopher Kassulke argued that Windows Phones was still in the chicken and egg situation of having to gain a large games portfolio to attract consumers and a large volume of devices to attract developers.

"The platform war just started. Let's see which companies have the biggest warchest to convince developers and win the hearts of the consumers," he said, no doubt with a big grin on his face.

And more strategically Kassulke also looked deeper into Nokia's announcements during the week, suggesting that its release of four new Symbian phones under the Asha brand for emerging markets meant that "Java/Symbian is still an important platform".

Paul Farley of Tag Games, agreed with Kassulke, although like a Tourette's sufferer, couldn't stop himself mentioning N-Gage, knowing Bubb would read it.

More seriously, he was impressed with Windows Phone as an OS, but pointing out, "On one hand, I'm very excited by the prospect of having another high quality market to bring our games to, but on the other just how much we commit to it (especially in the early stages) will be determined by the commercial potential."

Great expectations

In this context, Farley was interested in how Nokia and Microsoft approached developer relations.

"Do they aim to compete with Apple/Google in the mass market by trying to attract as much content to the platform as possible, Or do they take a more focused, perhaps high-end, approach?" he pondered.

"Having some kind of simple gate keeping to ensure content is of a certain quality might make this more appealing to both publishers and consumers."

The most positive response, however, came from Thomas Nielsen of Progressive Media.

Recalling the way Microsoft took on Sony in the console market, he thought "the Microsoft/Nokia partnership is ... insanely potent. These guys want it, they have muscle, and they are in full control of all aspects of their product."

Breaking down the partnership, Nielsen pointed to Microsoft's expertise in terms development tools, UI and online services, while Nokia's good at hardware. - the "cost per feature has always been amazing.

"It will take time, but I honestly believe Windows Phone will make a huge mark. The hardware will be great, undoubtedly.

"The OS feels really good to me, with a potential to be great. Nokia has great distribution, and Nokia Marketplace has unparalleled carrier billing, which opens up a huge market iOS/Android cannot tap."

Of course, this wouldn't mean instant success, but noting that "it only takes a few screw ups to set you way back in this market", Nielsen was happy make a wager: "Here's $10 on a 25 percent worldwide handset market share in three years".

Not over there

Unsurprisingly, given Nokia's lack of presence in the US in recent years, the Americans were much more downbeat.

"We hear very few developers excited about the WP-Nokia play at OpenFeint right now. In my opinion, this is mostly due to lackluster revenue stories on the Windows Phone platform," said developer relations VP Eros Resmini.

So while noting, it would be best for the industry to have multiple successful platforms, he also pointed out, "As someone who lives in the bay area I don't know a single person who wants a Nokia phone."

Bolt Creative's Dave Castelnuovo was similarly unimpressed.

"I honestly don't think Nokia has much of a pull as a brand anymore," he said. "Sure, its phones may be incrementally better designed than the other Windows Phone counterparts but I don't think it will be enough to set the WP world on fire."

Show me the money

As Resmini had suggested, Castelnuovo was also one of the developers who's yet to see decent revenues on Windows Phone.

"We have a Windows Phone game that is fairly highly ranked and sales are so-so... well less than Android and Android is so-so," he revealed.

Hence, while he was sure Nokia would expand the market and therefore sales, he wasn't sure it was a game changer.

"The only way any of us would know is whether Nokia can sell a couple million devices in the first weekend - sell-through, not just to retail," he argued.

This led David MacQueen to suggest that "so far it seems the people in the US don't like it, while people in the rest of the world think it's OK".

Maybe the Nokia-Microsoft tie-up is the opposite of the international popularity for Hershey's chocolate bars, he queried.

"I would like to set the record straight. I do not like Hershey's. I do not wear a cowboy hat (nor boots). I do not like Budweiser and I don't eat MacDonald's," replied Castelnuovo, before casting assertions on mills' dress sense (or lack of).

In the wild

So, the last word went to David Helgason of Unity.

"For a tools company, hardware is a little like the weather: we'll live with it and make our businesses successful with what's out there," he said, somehow not venturing to open the native/C# can of worms.

Instead, he ended with an appropriate anecdote.

"A friend who'll remain unnamed visited Redmond. Said friend is an actual Windows Phone user. After first being mistaken for a Microsoft employee because of the phone, he was rounded up by excited Microsoft staff, photographed and may for all we know have gone viral on Microsoft's internal network.

"A customer!"