I know you’re reading this purely out of curiosity. What the heck is a Gizmondo and what’s that got to do with The Mafia, Ferrari’s and Sticky Balls? All will be revealed forthwith. It’s as bizarre a tale as it sounds.
What is a Gizmondo?
The Gizmondo was a handheld gaming system created back in 2005. Developed by Tiger Telematics, it was released in the UK, Sweden and the United States. Tiger Telematics is a Swedish company and is not affiliated with Tiger Electronics, the American toy makers famous for their handheld LCD games from the 90’s. Tiger Telematics has now been declared bankrupt.
The Gizmondo sold fewer than 25,000 units worldwide (ouch!), making it the worst selling handheld of all time according to GamePro. To put that into context, the Gizmondo was created to rival the likes of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. The PSP sold 82 million units worldwide, whilst the Nintendo DS sported a cool 154.02 million units worldwide. Why did the Gizmondo flop? Aside from the dumb name, there’s a wealth of reasons which we’ll get to soon.
The Original Concept
The original concept for the Gizmondo wasn’t a handheld games console at all. It was originally intended to be a child tracking device. Inspired by the tragic events of the Soham murders back in 2002, Tiger Telematics wanted to develop a means to help keep children safe from harm. The device would utilise GPS tracking technology to help successfully locate missing children. It’s an admirable concept indeed, but not everything that glistens is gold and Tiger Telematics weren’t quite 24 carats.
But why would children want to carry around a GPS tracking device? That’s where gaming came in. On face value, kids aren’t big fans of GPS trackers. What they do love, however, is games! The concept made sense to Tiger Telematics and so, they pushed forward with the development of the Gizmondo; their first (and last) contribution to gaming.
The Gizmondo! A Technological Marvel?
It didn’t just stop at GPS and gaming, the Gizmondo did everything (in respect to 2005). It was relatively cutting-edge for the time. The system had capabilities to…
- Connect to the Web – There were free videos available on the Gizmondo website, but the spread wasn’t great. A few music videos, some tv clips and movie trailers etc.
- Play Movies – It utilised a Windows CE operating system. By connecting your Gizmondo to a PC via USB it was possible to download and view movies in an MPEG 4 format.
- Play Music – The same process applied for listening to music on the handheld, which supported MP3 and WMA files. It had headphone support and you could even purchase music directly from the Gizmondo website. The website was poorly made and a nightmare to navigate mind you.
- Send Messages – Via a GPRS network, it was possible to send messages to your friends (providing you had a topped up Vodaphone sim card that is). You could also send picture messages taken directly from the Gizmondo’s built-in camera.
- Take Pictures – As mentioned, the Gizmondo had a built-in camera. 0.3 megapixels to be exact, which could take pictures at a 640×480 resolution. Not the best camera, but it beat the GameBoy camera in specs (as it should have, 7 years after). Sadly, it wasn’t possible to take videos.
Smart Adds – “A Quick Word from Our Sponsors”
No, we didn’t spell that wrong, Tiger Telematics did. Although they claimed it to be an intentional misspelling. They copyrighted the term “Smart Adds” at least. Smart Adds were a means to subsidise the cost of the hardware by voluntarily sacrificing yourself to advertisements. You do the same today with Facebook, except now you do it for free.
The concept behind Smart Adds was that Tiger Telematics would take £100 off the purchase price of the Gizmondo if you agreed to be advertised to. The handheld would show a maximum of 3 adverts per day.
It was pretty good by today’s advertising standards. Nowadays, you’re rewarded with memes for watching adverts. Speaking of, Like us on Facebook.
Gizmondo Games – Explaining Sticky Balls
“Sticky Balls” was the top-selling game on the Gizmondo. What did you think it was?
In total, the Gizmondo had a whopping library of 14 games! That’s 8 less than the Virtual Boy. I’ve never tried completing the set, but it’ll probably be harder than you think. After all, the system had an incredibly short lifespan (less than a year). Since there were so few games, I’ll name them all here…
- Classic Compendium.
- Classic Compendium 2 (14 games and Classic Compendium got a sequel).
- Fathammer Classics Pack (The trend continues).
- FIFA Soccer 2005 (Of course FIFA wormed their way in).
- Gizmondo Motocross.
- Hockey Rage 2005.
- Interstellar Flames 2 (There’s an Interstellar Flames 1?).
- Pocket Ping Pong 2005 (Eurgh!).
- Point of Destruction.
- Richard Burns Rally.
- SSX 3 (AKA the good one).
- Sticky Balls (AKA the one with the unfortunate name).
- Toy Golf.
Oh! And only 8 of those got a U.S release. SSX 3 didn’t make the cut, but at least Classic Compendium 1 & 2 did.
What Happened to the Gizmondo?
Here’s where the ride gets bumpy, so hold onto your Sticky Balls. Gizmondo was forced into bankruptcy in early 2006. This was partly due to extravagant spending, but more so due to some questionable connections to organized crime. Yep! This just story just went from gaming to Goodfellas.
Gizmondo & The Mafia
It turns out that Gizmondo’s executive Stefan Eriksson had a very shady criminal past. In fact, he was the head of the criminal organisation “Uppsalamaffian” (The Uppsala Mafia) before Gizmondo. Mr Erikson was even known to the Swedish Police under the nickname “Fat Steve”; could you be any more Mafia?
The Uppsala Mafia had numerous connections to high-profile violent crimes which took place throughout Sweden. They were notorious for their methods of extortion and for their showboating attitude. In 1993 and 1994, Erikkson and Peter Uf (another future executive of Gizmondo) were sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to defraud the Swedish Bank Giro Central of 22 million kronor.
An Almost New Beginning
After being released from prison, Erikson decided to break into the video games industry (because that’s the next logical step for a mob boss). In 2004, his reported salary was £1.1 million which doesn’t include a bonus of £145,000 and a car allowance of £5,000 per month. Clearly being sent to prison didn’t financially cripple him too much.
For a handheld games console that sold so badly, The Gizmondo was promoted in an extravagant and ludicrous fashion. The launch party was huge! It was held on March 2005, at The Park Lane Hotel. Celebrities the likes of Lennox Lewis, Dannii Minogue and Rachel Stevens were in attendance (remember this was 2005). Live acts including Busta Rhymes, Jamiroquai, Pharrell Williams and Sting were booked to perform also. Money, it seems, was no object.
Crashing and Burning
In October 2005 a Swedish newspaper released the story of Erikson’s and other Gizmondo executives’ criminal past. They also reported on the irregular business dealings of Gizmondo. Erikson and the others involved resigned and the company fell into financial disrepair. This would eventually lead them to file for bankruptcy in 2006. They exhausted $300 million (90% in the last 6 months) after being tied up in numerous high-profile lawsuits and a failed U.S launch.
Erikson had been relocated to California to promote the launch of Gizmondo in the U.S; it didn’t go well. Between the company’s financial issues, the bad press and the legal disputes, how could it? Oh! And Erikson made the wipeout of all wipeouts in his Enzo Ferrari, 15 days after the discontinuation of the Gizmondo.
A Multi-Million Dollar Car Crash
Erikson lost control of his Ferrari on February 21st, 2006. The sports car was worth approximately $2,000,000. Calling this a “crash” doesn’t really do it justice. It was torn in half, the high-powered engine flew halfway across the highway. Somehow, Erikson survived. He ended up with nothing more than a split lip.
But his luck would soon run out. Erikson spewed a fountain of lies at the scene of the crash, clearly the words of a desperate man. The crash had put him on the police’s radar. In April, law enforcement raided his Bel Air home. Erikson was arrested on charges of embezzlement, grand theft auto, possession of cocaine, drunk driving, possession of an illegal firearm, hit and run and driving without a license or insurance. He received three years in prison and a deportation back to Sweden. In hindsight, some might call that lucky.
The Wild Tale of Gizmondo
If you stuck around to the end, well done. I hope you enjoyed the wild tale of a handheld console that nobody really bought or remembers. If you ever happen across a Gizmondo, pick it up as they’re in short supply. It might not be very entertaining, but the story that goes with it certainly is.