The Zeebo is the newest game system you will probably never own. The console is aimed squarely at gamers in developing countries. It's about the size of a Wii, won't cost very much, and features hardware that would've been decent about ten years ago. The quality of games lies somewhere between the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2.
The game's unique innovation: It's powered by basically a cell phone chip. All Zeebo games are downloaded through the 3G network. There aren't any discs or cartridges. That means no piracy, a definite selling point for game-makers and distributors.
The system is launching in Brazil this year with plans to expand to other emerging countries (China, India, Mexico, etc.) in 2010. Seems like a good idea, right? Maybe not. At least in India, where Sameer Desai of website Gaming Indians predicts failure for the system.
Console makers looking to tap into the huge potential Indian gaming market need to navigate some treacherous cultural waters. And here's how the Zeebo may crash on the Rocks of Fail:
Price: The system is the equivalent of $174. Maybe not that much to you, but you're probably not some guy in India. Indians can buy a PlayStation 2 for $125, so Zeebo's price is pretty steep. Which brings me to the next point:
Software: The Zeebo's unique download-only game library is an awesome idea, unless you want to play pirated games. I'm no expert on the Indian gaming scene, but according to Gaming Indians, pirated games are much more accepted there than they are here. Pirated software is relatively cheap, too.
Digital Downloading: The system's main innovation and easy-to-download games apparently doesn't jibe with the average Indian's sensibilities. As Desai puts it, "It’s going to be very hard for a retailer to explain to a working class parent why his store has the console for sale, but no games on store shelves to go with it."
Brand: Launching a new brand anywhere is tough, but in India, it might prove even harder than in other countries. The PlayStation 2 is so universal in the land of Ghandi, all game systems are referred to as "PlayStations." That's a huge marketing and brand awareness mountain to climb.
Content: Not matter where you're from, games sells systems and the Zeebo will be competing with the PS2 and its deep, nearly 10 year backlog of some of the greatest games ever made. Unless there's some Zeebo specific title that people will have to have, they're likely to stick with the tried-and true console.
The idea of the Zeebo seems pretty solid: A workhorse, piracy-proof game system at a cheap price-point for people in developing countries, but the history of each individual nation in which the system is released will determine its ultimate fate. What do you think, reader? Are we on the verge of Zeebo revolution? Or is the whole thing going to fizzle?