Amazon’s announcement of a set-top box Wednesday morning came to no surprise to anyone following the space. The inclusion of gaming elements was also not a surprise; leaked images of its controller appeared online a month ago and were spot on to what the company showed off at Fire TV unveiling.
Gaming may not have been the forefront of the presentation or press materials, but its hard to ignore the message it sends. Between next-generation consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Nintendo’s more family-focused Wii U, the upcoming Valve Steam machines that bring PC gaming to the TV, Android-based gaming consoles like the OUYA, there’s no shortage of ways to get games and other content on your TV in one place.
Amazon may have the power to get wide adoption for the Fire TV, but will it solve any problems for gaming, or add another piece of hardware to a very crowded marketplace?
Android Console Mania
Let’s flash back two summers ago, to the Kickstarter campaign for the OUYA. The $99, Android-based gaming console raised $2.6 million on the first day of funding based on the promise of opening mobile gaming to the television. Others joined in the marketplace: the GameStick, the GamePop, and other controllers that promised to bring your Android games to the TV.
The OUYA is really the only remaining game in town from that lot, and it has even pivoted from its original business model in the way games are sold in its marketplace. Both it and the Amazon Fire TV have the same starting price point — $99 — though you’ll need to plunk down another $40 get Amazon’s game controller. Games on both aren’t expensive either; many OUYA games are still “free-to-try” and Amazon touted most of its titles will cost around $1.84.
So are OUYA’s creators scared?
“Just as Amazon blazed a trail for a new way of selling online, OUYA invented a new way to think about console games. But for us, games are not simply an ‘added bonus’ — they’re the whole point. OUYA is solely dedicated to the devs creating games, and the players who play them. Their ideal experience is all we think about,” said OUYA CEO Julie Uhrman in a statement.
Uhrman’s point is correct. Amazon needs to make sure to give the Fire TV game store the curation and love it requires. Otherwise it will be a giant headache for users, and won’t attract new players. But while the company didn’t make a big show of all the talent it had brought in to the gaming space, publishers and developers were very quickly to send out releases about new titles coming to Fire TV. The number is very encouraging, with casual/mobile names like GameLoft, Glu and Jackbox Games creating content alongside AAA publishers like EA, 2K Games and Ubisoft, names normally associated with traditional game consoles.
Gunning for next-gen
For casual gamers ever considering picking up a next-generation gaming console, the decision now may be less clear cut. If you were already on board with purchasing an Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Wii U, you probably already grabbed at least one of those. All three offer lots of gaming options, but also integration with media apps like like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and more.
Consoles like that each come with big exclusive titles that attract gamers; the Xbox One is drawing shooter fans in with Titanfall for example. But if you just play a few games, and if you don’t spend a ton on it as a hobby, you might not want to spend $400 to $500 on a new console. Adults who have “aged out” of gaming and parents with young kids are perfect examples of this potential demographic.
A major push during the Xbox One marketing campaign was how it integrated into all aspects of entertainment. While the One certainly still does much more, like work with a cable box, Kinect-based fitness apps, Skype and an online friends list, there might be customers who don’t want all the extra bells and whistles and will be happy with a snazzy set-top box. (Provided they don’t already have an Apple TV, Chromecast or Roku.) Nintendo and Sony may have less to worry from this challenger, since both cater to more specific segments of the gamer population with their consoles.
The hackneyed phrase “content is king” never rang more true, though. Android, as a mobile platform, suffers because it doesn’t get the best games first. Amazon will have to build a user base developers want to make games for, but also bring games that make people want to buy a controller. With games coming from its own internal studio, which just hired more talent like the designer of seminal puzzle game Portal, the company could be on the right track.