Zeebo: Gaming for the next billion

24 03 2009

During GDC Mobile yesterday, Qualcomm’s Mike Yuen and Zeebo’s John Rizzo officially announced the launch of the Zeebo console. Given that I work at Qualcomm, with Mike and Dave Durnil, two of the people that initially came up with the idea, I’ve known about this for a while and was glad to see it finally go officially public.

Rather than attempting to compete with the Big 3 on technical level, Zeebo is targeting a niche, albeit a rather large one: middle class families in emerging markets, such as Brazil, India, and China. The console was designed with the following factors in mind:

  • The target audience has never owned a game console before, so cutting edge technology isn’t needed
  • The target audience can’t afford one of the existing consoles, so the much lower price (around 1/5 the cost of a Wii) will make Zeebo much more appealing
  • Piracy is rampant in the target markets, creating little incentive for publishers to develop for those markets. Zeebo addresses this by distributing games (at prices slightly higher than pirated prices) exclusively via their 3G network, using BREW

Zeebo features an 528MHz ARM 11 processor, Qualcomm Adreno 130 graphics core (OpenGL ES 1.0+), 1GB of NAND Flash, and 128 MB DDR SDRAM + 32MB stacked DDR SDRAM. Being based on cellphone technology, Zeebo also draws very little power, further reducing the cost to own.

Publisher support of the console is already strong. The console will ship with 4 titles embedded, and another free to download. More than 40 titles will be available either at launch or within 90 days of launch. The console will launch initially in Brazil, with other markets to follow.

It’s of course difficult for me to evaluate Zeebo without some kind of bias. I was skeptical of the idea at first, but it does seem like it has the potential to open a whole new segment of the market that currently isn’t being reached at all. As one developer pointed out, it seems like the tendency is going to be for publishers to just port their back catalogs, rather than create new titles. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing: it’s cheaper for them, and the games will be new to Zeebo owners anyway. I do think it’ll create opportunities for smaller, local developers to create games tailored to the culture.

Regardless, I’ll be watching with interest to see how well Zeebo is received.

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