Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Game Console for the Developing World

John F. Rizzo, CEO of Zeebo, was on the "digital distribution" panel at the the MIT Sloan Business in Gaming Conference last Friday. The Zeebo is a game console designed for the developing world.

It was launched recently in Brazil, and they plan to follow-up with launches in other developing countries, such as India and Russia. It operates on a card slightly larger than for a mobile phone. The idea is that it will download games over the 3G network instead of distributing by disc.

Here's a video on YouTube of the Zeebo:

In Brazil it costs about $200 (US), and they plan to reduce the cost to about $149 (US). You may think that is a lot for a product aimed at a developing country, but you need to consider that consoles such as the Xbox cost as much as $1000 (US). Contributors to the high price include high taxes to begin with, plus the fact that the same product is taxed at each point in the distribution channel. (for example, it is taxed when the importer imports it, then when he sells to the wholesaler, and when the wholesaler sells to the retailer.) Additionally, the $1000 price generally means that the store built in financing charges and you can pay over time, say $100/month for ten months.

You may ask, as my girlfriend did, what's so important about getting gaming consoles to the developing world? Well, probably benefits in at least three categories:
  1. Education. Educational games can be played on this, which is important for teaching skills not available. For some people this (and their phone) will be their main contact with a computer. This could be a great platform for teaching programing, language, or anything else that requires a skill-set and is hard to teach in a developing country.
  2. Work creation. Like the iPhone apps, this provides a venue for independent developers, at least for now.
  3. Proof of concept. If a project such as this is profitable, then it encourages others to develop technology for the developing world.

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