GamesBeat

Zeebo ships game consoles to stores in Brazil

Readying its launch of a new game console, Zeebo said today that it has shipped game machines to retailers in Brazil. That’s the beginning of a test as to whether there is room for a bargain console in emerging countries.

The Zeebo console will be available in 200 stores throughout Rio de Janeiro this week and then will reach the rest of the country later this year. It comes with three pre-installed games and lets users download three more titles at no charge over a 3G wireless connection. We highlighted the console at our GamesBeat 09 conference.

More than 15 titles are expected to be available for download by the end of June. The console will sell for $249 ($499 Brazilian Reais). That’s about a third of what you have to pay for a Nintendo Wii in Brazil, mainly because of import taxes on foreign-made goods.

Fernando Fischer, chief executives of Brazilian game store chain Tectoy, said that his store chain is handling the distribution and marketing of the Zeebo console in Brazil. John Rizzo, chief executive of San Diego, Calif.-based Zeebo, said that the wireless 3G broadband connectivity (made possible by Qualcomm’s chips) makes it easy for people to shop for games from home and prevents piracy associated with packaged goods games. Qualcomm and Tectoy have both invested in Zeebo.

It will be interesting to see if gamers will embrace the vintage graphics technology. Zeebo can display games in a standard definition format, with a screen resolution of 640 x 480. The quality of the images is somewhere between PlayStation and PlayStation 2 quality.

The pre-installed games include Electronic Arts’s FIFA 2009 and Need For Speed Carbon, and Gameloft’s Brain Challenge. Free games for download include 3D Realms/Machineworks Prey Evil and Id Software’s Quake I and Quake II. No wireless calling plan is required.

I saw a full demo of the system in March at the Game Developers Conference. The system is easy to set up and attach to a TV. You can buy credits for games using a variety of payment systems such as prepaid cards, credit cards or debit cards. You can actually get the Zeebo prepaid cards in stores. The games can be downloaded quickly, even though the connection takes place via an EDGE wireless data network. The console consumers only a watt of power and can be powered with something resembling a cell phone charger.

The system uses a Qualcomm 3G MSM7201A chip set as its central processor and graphics. That the same kind of chip set used in high-end smart phones. It has two universal serial bus ports (USB) in the front and one in the back and a slot for an SD flash memory card, which will not be used to move games around. (In the future, it can be used to store pictures or music). It comes with a game controller, a wall charger, a gigabyte of flash memory (enough for 50 games), and 256 megabytes of dynamic random access memory. It’s essentially a small computer.

Rizzo said that the company hopes to go national in Brazil by October and it will launch at some point in Mexico and next year in China and India. The company was founded by Reinaldo Normand (pictured above)  and it got support from Mike Yuen (right), Qualcomm’s head of the gaming business. Since Qualcomm chips were being considered for netbooks, or small laptops, Yuen figured that it was only a matter of time before the phone chips became powerful enough to run a console.

Founded in 1987, Tectoy pioneered the game market in the region by manufacturing and selling Sega’s older game systems in South America. Over a couple of decades, Tectoy sold more than 5 million Sega consoles.

Zeebo doesn’t make the consoles itself; it licenses the design to partners such as Tectoy. Clarao, a Brazilian cell phone carrier, provides the 3G network access. Launch titles include id Software’s Quake, FIFA soccer from Electronic Arts, Brain Challenge from Gameloft, Super Action Hero by Com2uS, Need for Speed Carbon from EA, and Prey by Machine Works. While Quake is a 50-megabyte game, the average storage required for a game is about 20 megabytes. The goal is to have 50 preloaded games available by the end of this year.

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