Qualcomm backs Zeebo, a new game console

Chicago (IL) – A new startup company called Zeebo is marketing a game console which only utilizes a wireless 3G network for downloading new games. The console, called simply Zeebo, was unveiled on Monday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and will be available to Brazilian retailers at a price of $199 with plans for a price reduction to $179 and potentially $149 next year. The target market for the device will be Russia, Brazil, India and China, the so-called “Next Billion” markets.

The Zeebo console is designed around Qualcomm’s cell phone technology, and is based on Qualcomm’s Adreno 130 processor. It contains an unnamed embedded graphics chip. The device renders operation in a maximum of 640 x 480 resolution across both NTSC and PAL displays. The unit measures 157 x 215.4 x 44 mm (6.25″ x 8.5″ x 1.75″), and has three USB ports on the outside.

Each individual console has a unique ID and purchased titles will only work on the one console for which it was purchased. Games will not be portable and cannot be moved between consoles using media cards, making this console extremely immune to piracy.

The console is not meant to compete with high-end devices like the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox. The company’s goal is to prevent piracy and provide a product capable of competing with the growing availability of pirated and online games. The game titles will be sold for only slightly more than the gray market titles. Consumers will be able to purchase games directly from their console at low rates.

“The Zeebo console will deliver a truly engaging and entertaining gaming experience to a potential billion new consumers around the world, many of whom have never experienced gaming in the home,” John F. Rizzo, chief executive of Zeebo, said in a statement. He continued, “The system provides an intuitive, quick, and easy-to-use home shopping user experience featuring popular, culturally optimized content from leading game publishers and developers around the world. It also delivers high value and warranty protection compared to gray-market products with no need for a separate wireless access plan.”

Users will be able to update content via a 3G network subscription whereby the console accesses “Zeebnet” with its built-in quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA radios.

In an effort to minimize the amount of bandwidth needed for downloading new games and to eliminate high costs which typically come from the utilization of high-end graphics chips and CPUs, Zeebo claims their console will specialize in older games or those which are not graphics-intensive. The company claims each game will take up 40 to 50 Mbytes of console space and will be stored on a flash chip which is 1GB in size. The device has 256MB of RAM for the game.

Technologically speaking, the device is similar to the original PlayStation in abilities — meaning it’s not up to modern gaming standards.

The console will ship with four titles: Need for Speed: Carbon, FIFA Soccer ’09, Brain Challenge and Prey Evil, which is a version of the Prey PC game. Users will also be able to download both paid and free titles. The games can also be purchased utilizing a points system similar to the one offered by Xbox Marketplace.

Publishers like Electronic Arts, THQ Inc, and Activision Blizzard have agreed to make their games available for Zeebo.

Editor’s note

It’s nice to see game makers being interested in creating lower-graphics games again. In this man’s opinion, the game is not determine by the quality of its graphics, but rather the traits of its games.

I’ve had an idea for a long time to make old, classic games more interesting. The idea is to have their limited size screens rotating on a modern 3D graphics engine presenting a cube face with the game which, while rotating, constantly faces toward the screen. Such a rotating feature would change perspectives, moving the game from a straight right-angle playing experience into something harder as the joystick motion requirements would also move. In addition, the idea of playing several games on a cube whereby every so often the current game on one face of the cube is halted mid-game, and another game rotates around and to pick up from wherever it was left the last time it switched.

The computer would randomly presents you with up to six games whereby you play each one for a random amount of time (maybe 20 seconds max per game) before rotating again. At each turn the player has about 1/2 second to bring their focus back to this game, adapting their mind to wherever they were when last it changed.

I can see playing several relatively boring games this way for more spice. Games like Pac Man, Asteroids, Pong (pong on a rotating board would be amazing, especially when the movement of the joystick must match rotated angles), Centipede, Tempest, etc.