The skeptics were right to dismiss Panasonic’s Jungle, a handheld gaming device that surfaced in previews last October. With development cancelled and no launch in sight, the Jungle is down in the deadpool alongside Panasonic’s failed 3DO.
The Jungle was designed as a Linux-based handheld with a high-resolution display, a physical keyboard, touch pads and a niche focus on massive multiplayer online games. Battlestar Galactica Online was supposed to be a launch title.
Panasonic won’t say why it aborted the Jungle other than “changes in the market and in our own strategic direction,” but I can make an educated guess that smartphones — and to some extent tablets — are to blame.
As smartphones have grown in popularity and capability, the games you can play on them have become more complex. Angry Birds might be the biggest phenomenon in smartphone gaming right now, but we’re also seeing RPGs with rich graphics, polished adaptations of home console games and straight ports from the PSP and Nintendo DS.
Inevitably, massive multiplayer online games have become part of that mix — games like Pocket Legends, Aurora Feint 3 and Haypi Kingdom. Even PC-based MMOs are starting to go mobile. World of Warcraft has a companion iPhone app, and Vendetta Online, an MMO that launched for Mac and PC in 2004, is coming to Nvidia Tegra 2-powered Android tablets, and eventually phones.
Maybe Panasonic decided to cut and run after looking at the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s NGP, but I doubt it. Nintendo’s still taking a cautious approach to online multiplayer — the 3DS requires 12-digit codes to remotely befriend other players — and Sony’s software plans for the NGP are still unknown. And besides, those handhelds are equally endangered by smartphones.
What we do know is that phones and 3G tablets are already equipped with the data connections, app stores and existing customer bases that MMOs need to thrive. For the Jungle to have a shot at success, Panasonic needed to build all those things from scratch. I don’t blame the company for chickening out.