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  • Video Games for the "Next Billion":The Launch of the Zeebo Console
  • Ben Aslinger

At first glance it may not look like much. Weighing under 0.9 kilogram (approximately 2 pounds), it is lighter than an Xbox 360 power adapter. The Zeebo gaming machine, which measures 157 x 215.4 x 44 millimeters (approximately 6.18 x 8.48 x 1.73 inches), sports a 1GB hard drive, running on technology developed by the U.S. firm Qualcomm. Using only 1W of power, it is-unlike other consoles-energy efficient. Games can be downloaded over a free 3G connection and are released digitally in the BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) platform, with each game needing between 5 and 50 MB of memory space on the console. The Brazilian version of the console ships with three games in memory: FIFA 2009, Need for Speed Carbon, and Brain Training (all in Portuguese). Purchasers also receive credit for three more downloads: Prey Evil, Quake, and Quake II (Flatley).

While it may not boast the postmodern look of the PS3, the sleek lines of the pure white Wii, or the raw computing power of the Xbox 360/PS3, the Zeebo has stirred up critical debates in the gaming and tech blogosphere, the business press, and games publications such as Edge and Game Developer about the globalization of video games, piracy, and the dominance of the big three console manufacturers and major publishers. Described by corporate leaders, gaming journalists, and bloggers as the console for the "next billion" gamers, the Zeebo's July 2009 launch in Rio de Janeiro sparked hopes that consoles will enter new homes around the globe.

A partnership between U.S. firm Qualcomm and Brazilian firm Tectoy, San Diego-based Zeebo is hoping not to follow in the footsteps of the Phantom gaming system-a system that tried and ultimately failed at digital distribution-and the Sega Dreamcast-a system that never achieved an install base large enough to prompt publishers to release many titles for the console. As Zeebo CEO John F. Rizzo states, "Launching a new console is not for the faint of heart" ("Game Console").

At first, this venture seems daring because new gaming ventures, especially in a global recession, would seem to raise eyebrows. However, the return to a plug-and-play style-along with the fact that Zeebo's emergence provides another point of industrial resistance to the big three console manufacturers-excited bloggers and journalists. Shortly after the announcement of Zeebo's launch date in Brazil, Richard Conrad wrote for Australia's Herald Sun, "Zeebo's back-to-basics attitude and easy plug-and-play setup may well make it hip enough to carve out a niche elsewhere" (Conrad 4). Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz writes: "Just when you thought nothing could happen in the console gaming world beyond Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, here comes the cheap and colorful Zeebo and launches in Brazil with actual titles from some big labels." In addition to Conrad and Diaz, other observers also hope that the Zeebo will stimulate local game development and help counteract video game piracy by competing head-to-head with the gray and black markets.

While global flows of film and television texts have received significant attention from political economists and cultural policy scholars (Schiller; McChesney; Miller et al.), there has been less attention from media and cultural studies scholars to the devices on which these texts have been viewed (some notable exceptions can be found in the work of Spigel; Mayer; and Paredes). Considering that gaming studies is still a nascent field, much more needs to be said about the machines and the games.

The management of global gaming flows has been in the hands of the major console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and, for a time, Sega) and the dominant publishers Ubisoft, Activision, Namco, Konami, Sega, and Electronic Arts. The developing world has primarily been figured as the site of hardware production and [End Page 15] the site of game piracy. This article seeks to deepen our understandings of transnational gaming flows by moving beyond the global North in order to think about how the discursive categories of the game player, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4251
Print ISSN
0149-1830
Pages
pp. 15-25
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-27
Open Access
No
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