Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Panasonic's New Handheld -- "The Fiasco"

Sometimes reality is far more surreal than a Chris Nolan film. When I first  saw this news release from Panasonic via CrunchGear, I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st. When you know the details (the few that exist), you'll be wondering if you're imagining this. I'm pretty sure it's real; Panasonic has job postings for engineers in San Jose to work on this. Ah, but you want to know what I'm talking about, so prepare yourself for the impending introduction of... The Jungle.

Wait, what? You thought I was talking about a new gaming system. Well, I am. That's the name Panasonic has chosen for its new handheld gaming device, no doubt because it automatically suggests cutting-edge hardware oriented towards gaming. Or not. I have rarely seen a worse name for a product. Let me explain why... First, the name has nothing to do with gaming, or technology, or online, or connectivity. It doesn't even have any inherently positive qualities that you would like to adhere to your brand. Second, it's not even remotely trademarkable; it's not an unusual spelling and it's utterly commonplace. Third, it's entirely unmemorable; at least a made-up hi-tech name like Gizmondo or N-Gage is unusual enough so you have a chance to remember it. My suggestion for a name: The Fiasco. Or, to make it trademarkable, The Fiazco.

OK, well what about the device? As you can see from the picture above, it looks like an engineer pumped steroids into a spec sheet and called it a product, right after cold-cocking the designer before they could attempt to make it look pretty. It's a clamshell, with lots of buttons, and a full mini-keyboard, and various ports, all wrapped up in a chunky, ugly shape that looks like a Before picture in an ad for an industrial design firm. From the 1980's. All we know is that it has a high-res screen, and a mini-HDMI port, a micro-USB port, and a headphone jack, and it's built on some kind of Linux kernel.

At this point you're probably wondering if this is a North Korean plot to sabotage Panasonic's brand. You may be right. I wasn't sure how much worse this launch effort could be until I went to the Jungle's web site and watched the videos. Yep, it's a North Korean plot all right. The annoyingly 90's retro-hip web design clashes perfectly with the pseudo-snarky withit-wannabe text. I rate this site NFR (No Finger Required to begin evacuating your stomach contents). It's ugly, it's annoying, it's not compelling or interesting, and it's so lacking in information content it could be a standard political stump speech.

Of course, what hardware launch would be complete without a lengthy list of companies developing for the device, and all the cool titles they're developing, along with screenshots and... You have how many? One? The only announced title is Battlestar Galactica Online, a browser-based MMO from Bigpoint. Bigpoint is a German developer known for browser-based games (think Farmville clones). On the web site is a CGI movie from BSG... no gameplay, of course. That would be telling. The only other content mentioned is a video podcast from Machinima, which looks sort of funny... but how is this content for a handheld device that makes you want to buy the device? Wouldn't you be able to put this on anything that plays video?

Listing all the things Panasonic is not doing would be a very lengthy post. Suffice it to say that this is by far the worst product launch I've ever seen in videogame history, and I was there when the Virtual Boy was introduced, and the N-Gage, and the Gizmondo, and the Phantom... The Jungle wins hands down. You would've thought Panasonic would have learned something from the 3DO experience. I can't figure out why someone at Matsushita (the owner of the Panasonic name) would have greenlit this project. Compromising photos? A huge debt to some yakuza oyabun? I can't wait to see more of this train wreck unfold in slow motion over some period of time... I don't know how long because, of course, no timeline for launch was even hinted at. In any event, keep watching to pick up valuable tips on what not to do with your own product launches.

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