Panasonic, Welcome to the Jungle

Making videogame consoles is not for the faint of heart. It’s a high-risk, high-reward business that can often leave the losers awash in red ink. So it was surprising to hear that Panasonic Corp., the company making a lot of noise about how it plans to focus on green energy businesses, is developing a new handheld videogame system for online game players.

The videogame industry is littered with the corpses of failed portable game systems. Anyone still using a Nokia (NOK) N-Gage? How about a Sega Game Gear or a TurboExpress?

We got a first peek at the new device, which is called the Jungle, via a Web site that appears to be part of a very un-Panasonic like guerrilla marketing campaign. In a jokey tone, the Jungle’s Web site calls the device’s display “kick ass” and then tells visitors to “stay very closely tuned unless you’re tone deaf.” (For those curious, the Jungle looks like a shrunk-down portable DVD player with a built-in keyboard.)

If Panasonic (PC) needs to know how tough the handheld game market is, all they have to do is look at the struggles facing the current market leader. Nintendo Co.’s DS handheld has been one of the best-selling game systems of all time since its debut in 2004, but demand for the device has recently slowed. It’s been plagued by piracy and a challenge from simple games played on mobile phones.

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