Greatest video-game tragedies of the last decade

 Zeroes from the Aughts
By LASER ORGY  |  January 20, 2010

7. The Gizmondo platform launches, mafia-connected company goes bankrupt (2005)

Gizmondo Handheld Review

Who could have guessed the aughts would be the decade that the Swedish mafia (aka Uppsalamaffian) would decide to stick their noses in the handheld gaming market? Moreover, who'da thunk they'd make such a total hash of it? Right from the start, the Gizmondo was steeped in sleaze: a lot of its major players had historical links to organized crime, especially Uppsalamaffian head honcho and Gizmondo co-developer Stefan Eriksson. Early buzz on the device was cautious but excited. Tiger Telematics touted the device with ahead-of-the-curve, buzzword-heavy concepts. It had a camera. It had built-in GPS (sorta). It played MP3s. It was on cellular networks so you could text with it. As ship dates kept stalling, the whole thing smelled a bit fishy, but the Gizmondo did actually launch and was on the market for four months -- with 8 games available in the US, including the infamous Sticky Balls -- before the whole endeavor collapsed into bankruptcy. Not surprising, considering that up to that point, the company was a paragon of wretched excess: They spent £2 million leasing sports cars for execs. Sting, Pharrell, Busta Rhymes, and Jamiroquai performed at the launch party. In what was widely described as a perfect cap to the company's history, Eriksson crashed a $2 million Ferrari, traveling at 199 mph, splitting the damn thing right in half.

For sheer sordidness, though, the Gizmondo was perhaps rivaled only by the Phantom, a game console announced in 2002 and finally cancelled in 2006. Conceptually, it was intriguing: it would have no disks (you would download the software and pay a subscription fee), and it could play modified PC games so software wouldn't need to be totally rewritten for it. However, after details kept getting sketchier and sketchier, a game website finally did an investigation of the company and found that their supposedly bustling R&D hive was pretty much just an empty room. Then the Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in, accusing CEO Timothy Roberts of running a "pump and dump" scheme.

So why is the Gizmondo a tragedy and the Phantom not? The Phantom was dodgy from the very beginning, and became a near-instant laughingstock. (The very name of the console was Phantom, fer chrissakes.) It never progressed beyond the vaporware stage. The Gizmondo, on the other hand, was an actual physical product that worked with actual playable games. One has to wonder if the Gizmondo could have been a real, viable business if it had some genuine industry savvy behind it. (Then again, considering that Gizmondo director Carl Freer tried again in 2008 with the Gizmondo 2, and failed just as miserably, we're probably better off not knowing whether the third time's the charm.)

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