About two weeks ago, Jolt Online Gaming announced a browser-based MMO with a large, well known IP behind it: Playboy Manager. News sites dutifully carried the press release, then it sank without trace. It received less serious attention than the latest regionalised version of a Korean F2P title. No-one really cared.
There are a number of reasons for no-one caring about this title. Firstly, it is a pretty obvious attempt from Playboy to try and remain relevant in the Internet Age. The original success of Playboy as a brand wasn't the naked women - though they helped - nor the articles - which helped people pretend they were buying the magazine for something other than the naked women - but the lifestyle it portrayed. In short, Playboy stood for classy sleaze - you could be as debauched as you liked, but provided you finished off with caviar and champagne, you would still have style.
Cut to 2009, where the Playboy is in financial trouble, being primarily part of the print media category that could potentially face "unending losses". Online media delivers more than print media can, faster and in a (generally) more convenient and private format. This leaves Playboy, which used to trade on being a little bit naughty to drive its subscriptions, left out in the cold as people can now get things that are a lot (and again: A LOT) naughty very easily. And for free. The only real thing Playboy has left that has any real value is the brand - I'm sure that Playboy logo shifts a lot of mechandise - but they are desperately looking for another way to survive. A MMO is one attempt to grasp at another revenue channel and I'm sure "World of Warcraft" and "rolling in money" was said more than once during discussions between Jolt and Playboy.
It is, however, a grasp that is bound to fail. Sure, browser based titles with mini-games are increasingly popular, but the very name 'Playboy' is going to work against it - your IT manager might let Free Realms through, or your mother might not know what that is, but both will know exactly what a Playboy game will have in it. Now, your particular IT manager / mother might not care, but there are a lot who will. Plus there is the basic fact that the internet provides a lot more than even the extensive Playboy back catalogue to go and see without having to play through any mini-games.
Also, the game itself has you as a "crack talent agent" managing the careers of Playboy models. So, basically, you get to play as Eric Roberts circa "Star 80". Hmmm.
Eric Roberts as Paul Snider in "Star 80". Classy.
A Playboy MMO is a wild gambit for once great media brand and one that will probably work in Jolt's favour as Playboy picks up development costs (but might not survive long enough to collect any revenue from them). Also, it is interesting that Playboy have even made this grab, as ill-fated as it is bound to be. But I can't see it working. What Playboy was - a lifestyle magazine - has been superseded over time by others who do it better and by technology that undermines both its core appeal and entire media channel. All that is left is a brand desperately trying to find relevance - something, anything - in today's market place.