If you're under 40, you probably don't realize that there was a time when the Playboy brand was relevant. Stop smirking. It was! Back in the 60's and 70's that bunny silouhette was everywhere. Playboy Magazine really did have good articles, short stories and interviews both from and about big names. There were Playboy night clubs (no, not strip joints), a Playboy book division, and even a TV show (Playboy After Dark). But times changed and Playboy more or less faded from the mainstream public eye and went back to just being the name of a girlie magazine to most people. I assume some segment of the young male demographic still is interested but the "Playboy Empire" is a shadow of its former self. A few weeks ago Playboy launched The Smoking Jacket, a marginally safe-for-work website, in an attempt to build a broader audience (see Playboy launches website for office drones). I don't think they could've come up with a more anachronistic name than "The Smoking Jacket" and I'm worried about posting that link to the site for fear of triggering NetNanny filters. I guess if you work in the kind of office where you could sit at your desk and read Maxim without raising any eyebrows, you'd be safe heading to The Smoking Jacket. I sure wouldn't want to be caught on that site while at my office.
So, attempt one to re-establish relevancy for the Playboy brand looks like a stumble to me. Time for attempt two: video games. Playboy expects to launch a new (and as yet unnamed) gaming label by the end of 2010. Their first game, Poisonville, is a gang-based action-MMO by German developer Bigpoint Games. It runs in a browser window (Java, not Flash) and already has a place on the Playboy site (right now it just hosts a trailer for the game, embedded below). If you go directly to the Poisonville site you can play the beta now. It works, but is still pretty rough. No word on exactly when it'll roll out on the Playboy site. Playboy managing director for digital content, Paul Lee, told PaidContent that the company has found a lot of overlap between gaming sites and playboy.com:
“One of our core competencies involves using our brand to present quality content,” Lee said. “Gaming is a growing, mainstream area. And part of our plan is to extend Playboy’s brand into the mainstream.”
Lee isn't talking specific numbers but says Playboy's investment in the new gaming venture is "significant." It's worth emphasizing that Poisonville isn't some quickie Flash game. Hopefully Playboy is thinking beyond a 'Big Fish with hot women' model and will deliver titles that offer a more hardcore (no pun intended) style of gaming. If Playboy is going after the 18-35 male demographic, Diner Dash probably isn't going to cut it. Poisonville was already in development when Playboy approached them. It'll be really interesting to see what games that are built for Playboy from start to finish look like.