On paper, the Gizmondo looked like an ambitious product when it was launched by Tiger Telematics way back when in March 2005, being billed as a games console, PDA, a sat-nav and a camera all in one. Why was it the case then that it ultimately ended up shifting less than 25,000 units worldwide and is considered one of the biggest failures in video gaming today?
The story of the Gizmondo begins with the founding of Tiger Telematics, following the bizarre merger of Eagle Eye Scandinavian, a small Swedish electronics firm created by Carl Freer, and Floor Decor, a carpet retailer based in Jacksonville, Florida. The merger aimed to create a handheld GPS tracking device for children to keep, so parents knew their whereabouts at all times. However, this seemed dodgy and wrong on a number of levels, so to make the tracking device become more appealing to children, Tiger Telematics, now with fellow Swede Stefan Eriksson on board, would now be placed inside a games console. The Gizmondo was born, albeit under a different name.
Tiger Telematics' all-new GameTrac console/tracker would receive a flurry of hype, including a sponsorship deal with Eddie Jordan's Jordan F1 team. However, the GameTrac name didn't last long and following its unveilings at both CES in Las Vegas in January 2004 at German electronics show CeBIT in March 2004, had changed to the more familiar Gizmondo, showcasing features such as GPS functionality on the TomTom stand. The British firm would set up shop in the pretty humdrum town of Farnborough, and in bids to capitalise on journalists’ expectations and build its media profile, Tiger Telematics would run extravagant events ranging from celebrity-filled parties at London’s Park Lane Hotel and running in the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari 360 GTC car with Gizmondo branding emblazoned across the car. In addition, a Gizmondo branded store would open in Regent Street in London. All of this was done without having sold a single console, meaning the British firm were already making a massive loss and putting a lot of eggs into a very small basket.
Even when it did launch in March 2005, the Gizmondo took a massive hit. Having been touted to sell 4,500 units on the first day, it only sold around 1,.000 and these all came in the first hour. There were minimal television adverts, and even then, the two that ran made little to no sense at all. The point was that the random buzzing black and white bee was meant to fit in with the console’s tagline “I Can Do Anything.” . In a weird sort of way, it made sense, although when the units reached the previously hyped-up journalists, the Gizmondo took a battering. Engadget in their summary called it “A disappointing product with a lot of problems.” and with respect to the console, even just on looks, it didn’t stand up to its competition from Sony and Nintendo. It looked to be five years too late to the party, mimicking some of the later Gameboy variants, and that wasn’t the only problem. On launch, it was considerably more expensive than Sony and Nintendo’s offerings. Whilst the Gizmondo launched for £229, the PSP 1000 from Sony cost £50 less at £179.
The price differentials and problems become more apparent following the Gizmondo’s delayed launch in the USA in October 2005. It was priced at a high markup of $400, where a PSP 1000 would cost $249. In terms of promotion, the Gizmondo had little to none and the advertising on the other side of the Atlantic was even placed in the likes of Nintendo’s official magazine, Nintendo Power. With no promotion and a high price predictably came low sales, not least helped by the lack of major tech retailers to stock the Gizmondo. Across the pond it was only sold on shopping mall kiosks and only 8 of the planned 14 games launched, switching potential customers off immediately. Problems were compounded further with the lack of Co-Pilot GPS, one of the features the Gizmondo prided itself on at launch just over a year ago.
Everything came to a head with the firm filing for bankruptcy in February 2006, less than a year after the Gizmondo launched. The firm had been challenged in high-profile lawsuits from both Jordan F1 and MTV over unpaid advertising money, which, as well as the extravagance of the console’s launch and other factors, would cause Gizmondo to report losses of $382.5m. Following this, all manner of hell broke loose. It’s at this time that the questionable previous actions of CEO Stefan Eriksson were uncovered, following his crash in a Ferrari Enzo at 199mph in Malibu, California due to intoxication. This car crash would open up an insanely large can of worms, including the fact that the Enzo was the property of the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as the finding of a Glock-18 magazine in the wreckage. In the wake of the incident, Eriksson had claimed to be a deputy police commissioner of an anti-terrorism police unit, who actually turned out to be the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority, a local bus provider. Their owner would later be arrested for perjury in connection to the car crash. This was only the start of the downward spiral for Eriksson, who would also be uncovered to be a central figure in the Swedish mafia, going down in prison for drug smuggling, having served previous sentences in 1981, 1988, and 1994 and then, following an extensive police investigation, be placed back into jail on charges of embezzlement, grand theft auto, drunk driving, weapons charges and possession of cocaine with a sentence of 14 years. This would be reduced to a plea bargain of 3 years and deportation and signal the beginning of the end for the former Gizmondo executive.
With all this in mind however, the Gizmondo was, and still is, the biggest commercial failure in the handheld gaming industry, even surpassing the likes of the Nokia N-Gage and the Neo Geo Pocket. For a handheld console though, it was way ahead of its time, especially with the proposed offering of sat-nav, as well as media playback and cellular data connection. By modern standards, it's not exactly a million miles away from a modern smartphone, although a primitive version when compared to today's offerings from Samsung and Apple, amongst other firms.
As a commercial entity, Tiger Telematics and the Gizmondo were an absolute failure. It remains as one of the biggest laughing stocks that the gaming industry has ever produced and nothing is likely to surpass it in terms of lower units sold, especially with such an outlandish PR campaign. For nerds though, it's the holy grail of an interesting console and one that's rare to find, so if you find one online, snap it up. It might just be one of the most interesting stories in gaming history.