Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE: PLA) and founder Hugh Hefner built an empire not just by finding women who would bare their breasts, but also by creating a vast network of resources for men that focused on their preferred forms of entertainment. To that end, it makes sense that Playboy will be launching a line of video games to cater to its young male readership in the 21st century.
The Playboy video game strategy may sound strange at first, but actually makes sense giving the company’s history. In the ’50s and ’60s, men liked science fiction stories, so Playboy published work by Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. In the ’80s and ’90s, years after Playboy’s real power as a brand had faded away, the Playboy Channel was there with the Spice Network. But now in 2010, the average video game player is a 35 year-old man — so naturally, Playboy Enterprises is starting up a video game label.
Set to launch later this year, Playboy’s still unnamed gaming label will have its own web portal independent of Playboy’s still explicit homepage and their recently created “safe for work” website The Smoking Jacket. Their initial offering is already playable on Playboy.com. An massively multiplayer online game developed by General Electric (NYSE: GE) and its Germany-based Bigpoint Games, Playboy’s first effort to take on the Facebook-dominated web games space is called Poisonville. The game is a melding of the crime-themed action of the Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO) Grand Theft Auto games and social games giant Zynga’s hugely popular Mafia Wars. Even the game’s name Poisonville references Zynga’s other web-phenomenon, the Facebook hit Farmville. As of now, there are no specific plans for the full roll out of Playboy’s label and there is no word on future games and who might be developing them.
Playboy stock has struggled mightily until Hugh Hefner made a bid to take the company back just a few weeks ago with a buyout move, proposing to buy all outstanding shares for $5.50. The company had previously been trading around $3-$4 before the mid-July offer, down dramatically from highs over $15 a share as recently as 2006. As Playboy tries to reinvent itself in a digital world, it has run into many roadblocks — but this gaming move may actually be a positive step for PLA.
As for the new video game label isn’t Playboy Enterprises first attempt at establishing themselves in the video game market. While they toyed with interactive CD-ROM products throughout the late 1990s, their first major attempt came in 2005 when they produced Playboy: The Mansion for the Sony (NYSE: SNE) Playstation 2 and the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Xbox. The game was an embarrassing rip-off of Electronic Arts’ (NASDAQ: ERTS) The Sims series and bankrupted its developer Cyberlore Studios. Playboy Enterprises’s other significant effort, an online poker and gambling website formed in a partnership with CryptoLogic Inc. (TSX: CRY) named Playboy Gaming, was shut down in January of 2009.
For Playboy shareholders hoping this new video game initiative will help the company avoid predicted declines in share over the next twelve months, don’t hold your breath. Poisonville looks to be a decidedly limp effort to capture an audience already satisfied by numerous other web portals.
That last sentence is as accurate as it is suggestive.
As of this writing, Anthony Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.