Causeway Bay retailers selling Nokia's much hyped N-Gage multifunction gaming device were last week inundated with enthusiasts eager to try out the world's first phone to enable wireless, multiplayer gaming over mobile networks. The Java-enabled handset, which includes MP3 audio, FM radio, 3D gaming and GPRS browsing, went on sale in 30,000 stores worldwide on Wednesday. N-Gage was launched in four countries in the Asia Pacific, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. The device sold out in Australia on the day of its launch and Nokia's flagship store in Causeway Bay reported fast sales last week. Ten English-language games from well-known PC game publishers are available on the gadget, and Nokia expects 100 game titles to be available next year. According to an earlier report, Nokia mobile phones spokesman Kari Tuutti said the company hoped to sell several million N-Gage units in 2004. Timo Toikkanen, Nokia vice-president of sales for South China, was more reticent about making sales projections. 'I don't really want to give a projection but we've had a very positive response from carriers and retail outlets with promising order intake, so we are expecting good sales in Hong Kong and three other Asian countries where we launched N-Gage,' he said. The appeal of N-Gage is the multiplayer gaming. But the existing version does not allow for real-time multiplayer gaming over mobile networks due to bandwidth limitations. Mr Toikkanen said: 'You will definitely see future versions of N-Gage approach real network gaming over higher speed Edge or 3G networks.' Instead, gamers will be able to play against each other via Bluetooth and by saving and uploading their played games on N-Gage Arena - a virtual community for gamers. Other players can then download these games and play against a shadow of another gamer. The media and analysts in North America have been quick to criticise Nokia's first attempt at wireless gaming. They say the HK$2,688 device is expensive and the gaming experience is inferior to Nintendo's GameBoy Advance. Frederic Diot, analyst at research firm Datamonitor, said N-Gage's chances of success in Asia-Pacific looked slim due to the poor choice of games. 'Although this line-up includes Tomb Raider, Tony Hawk, and Sonic [the Hedgehog], we believe the N-Gage game catalogue is currently ill-suited to match the expectations of gamers in Asia Pacific. N-Gage lacks certain game genres, which are very popular in the Asia Pacific, like role playing and fighting games,' said Mr Diot. He said Nokia needed to convince more Japanese developers. At present, only two Asian developers - Sega and Taito - had pledged support to the N-Gage. Mr Diot also voiced disappointment about the hardware. 'On paper, the N-Gage is an appealing handset ... while Nokia is known to have built some of the best mobile phones, its expertise in designing gaming platforms is limited and unfortunately it shows when examining its features. The game storage is badly designed, forcing players to take out batteries to swap games, which is impractical for a console played on the move. It also lacks analogue controls, hindering gameplay, notably in 3-D games. Volume control is accessible only through internal software control.' However, early buyers of the N-Gage are not buying the device solely for gaming. Tristan Meeks, a 19-year-old student who bought the N-Gage one day after its launch, said: 'It's cool. I can play games on it, I can play against my friends, it's a phone, there's SMS and MP3 player. What more could I ask for? 'I think the games are quite expensive, though, and there aren't many titles to choose from. But I've been told there will be lots more coming.' Nokia said the games, which are stored on Multimedia Cards (MMC), will not be easy for pirates to copy. 'It's not impossible, but it will not be easy. And the cost of MMC cards is still high, so it won't be cheap for pirates either,' Mr Toikkanen said. Another N-Gage buyer, Sam Cheung, a businessman in his forties, said: 'I'm a gamer. I just have to have it. The titles are a bit old, the screen could be bigger and brighter, and there could be an easier way to swap games. It's not perfect, but it's still cool.' N-Gage's pricing, he said, was 'affordable because getting the latest mobile phone is like a sport in Hong Kong'. Competition for the N-Gage will come from the Portable PlayStation (PSP), a Wi-Fi gaming console Sony plans to roll out around Christmas. 'The technical specifications of the PSP are quite impressive,' Mr Diot said. 'Already, many in the games industry have welcomed Sony's announcement and have mentioned their willingness to support the console, which could undermine Nokia's efforts to woo developers and publishers. 'Considering Sony's weight in the games industry, and the fact that the PSP will be competing directly against the N-Gage in terms of functionalities, Nokia can expect even more hardship next year when the PSP launches.'