* Sees no growth in overall mobile gaming market * Sees growth in preloaded games, emerging markets, platforms * N-Gage service takeup strongest in Europe * Touch screen version of N-Gage service due in 2009
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By Tarmo Virki
HELSINKI, Oct 29 The global economic slowdown will hurt the mobile gaming market this year and next after it already suffered an unexpected slump last year, the head of gaming at Nokia said on Wednesday.
"This year is as tough or even tougher. There are hiccups in Western Europe, North America," Jaakko Kaidesoja, head of Nokia's gaming operations told Reuters in an interview.
According to research firm Informa the mobile gaming market did not grow in 2007 after years of double-digit growth. Kaidesoja said wider economic problems would likely hurt the market also in 2009.
"We expect challenging times to continue. The overall gaming market is likely not growing," he said, but he said some parts of the market -- like pre-loaded games, emerging markets, N-Gage and iPhone -- would grow.
After its first, much-maligned foray into mobile gaming in 2003 Nokia, the world's top cellphone maker, relaunched N-Gage as a gaming service six months ago. So far it has grown slowly as users themselves have to install the service on their phones.
Kaidesoja said pre-installing the software in phones before they are sold and having a local billing system in place, beyond credit card payments, were the keys to reach wider takeup of the service.
The service has been so far the most popular in Britain, Italy, Germany, Australia and Spain, as local billing systems through operators have been available in those countries.
"We expect Asia to pick up next year," Kaidesoja said.
In China, Nokia expects to sign a local billing deal by the end of this year, while in India it has decided to build up a retail presence to reach customers -- it aims for N-Gage games to reach 15,000-20,000 retail stores in the first quarter.
Nokia said players have created 400,000 personal profiles on the N-Gage Arena since the relaunch, and said there were more than 20 million N-Gage capable phones in use, but did not say how many people have bought N-Gage games.
Kaidesoja said the firm will decide within a month whether to expand N-Gage support to a relatively old model, the N73. The phone has limited computing power, but Nokia has sold 20 million of them, making it the world's most sold smartphone.
He said the firm was also working on touch screen support for N-Gage, and plans to roll out such software next year.
Kaidesoja said there would be close to 30 N-gage titles on offer by the end of the year, almost half of the amount planned when the service was launched six months ago.
Electronic Arts ERTS.O said on Wednesday it will launch hit titles EA Sports FIFA 09, Spore Origins and Monopoly Here & Now for N-Gage in time for Christmas sales, while Gameloft (GLFT.PA) will bring its Real Football 2009.
Nokia's own mobile fishing game, "Creatures of the Deep", is currently the top selling title for the platform. (Editing by Paul Bolding)