Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The “Cheap Console” Market Heats Up!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 4, 2013

First there was the Ouya. It’s not vaporware – some local friends got their dev boxes last week, and have happily shared unboxing videos. One friend tells me that with a little bit of effort he’s gotten his game (written in Unity) working on it as well as on any other platform. So… it’s there. It works.  It had a fantastic Kickstarter campaign, and they apparently struck a nerve.  Technology has finally gotten to the point where it’s more a problem of the cost required to exploit its capabilities than the tech itself. And between the Wii and the rise of indie gaming, the “polygon wars” of the 1990s are pretty much over… the race no longer goes exclusively to the game with the most photorealistic graphics.

I get mine in March. I’m looking forward to it. But it won’t be the only game in town in 2013…

Then there’s Green Throttle Games. The idea here is even more scaled-down… turning your smartphone into a game console, with an adapter to let it receive input from console-style controllers, and output to televisions. As with the Ouya, they’ve got some experienced industry vets who can make it work. I confess I’m a tad more skeptical of this plan than the Ouya, if only because, to me, wiring something up to the TV feels like something more for a dedicated piece of hardware. Gaming on your phone is something you do in brief sessions, pausing if you get a phone call or something like that. You aren’t going to be dragging your controllers and the adapter with you when you go to a friends house most of the time. Yeah, it would be more portable than, say, an XBox, at least.

For me – and I confess I’m not much of a console gamer – the big advantage of the console is that it’s right there, already in your living room, already set up. I just push a button on the remote to turn on the TV, push a button on the controller to start up the system (these days I don’t even have to insert a disc half the time), and I’m there, gaming. It’s convenient. The Green Throttle system might not be THAT much more cumbersome than inserting a new disc into my console, but it could be issue.  There’s also the question of compatibility / performance differences between different phones, but that’s hardly a new problem for developers.  But in today’s world, when smartphones are used for just about everything – even more of a “magic wand” than the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver – I don’t see why a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable making it their TV-based game console, too.

Next up – the Game Stick. This seems to be occupying a little bit of a middle road between the Ouya and Green Throttle (in fact, it’s compatible with the Green Throttle controllers, and even has Green Throttle founder Charles Huang in their promotional video).  The console itself makes the Ouya look like a giant. And it’s cheaper.  It looks a little like an oversized USB memory stock that just plugs straight into an HDMI slot on an HD TV. They do have a controller of their own – in fact, it’s designed so that the console itself can fit INSIDE the controller for transport.  So it’s slightly less cumbersome than the Green Throttle idea, but I would worry that the form factor might make it a little tricky to plug into some TVs based on how they are mounted or positioned. The Game Stick kinda… sticks out. Still, it’s a cool idea.

As a developer, my best response would be — support ’em all! They are all Android based, so it shouldn’t be hard to do.

I will say this – when the PS3 and XBox 360  kicked off the last “next generation” of consoles, I had no freaking clue what would come next.  Maybe it’s just that it’s been an extra-long console cycle, but between the Wii, Kinect, mobile gaming taking off, console gaming slowing down, direct game downloads rising in acceptability (at least THAT part I predicted!), indie games finally hitting the big time (I’d HOPED for that, but didn’t plan on it), and technology finally exceeding the “sweet spot” for visual capability (where the law of diminishing returns takes hold)… but things are looking pretty interesting. Rumor has it that 2013 will start bringing in the new consoles for the big players, too, which means the window of opportunity for these ‘indie consoles” might be closing soon.  I wouldn’t want to be heading up any of these companies right now. But I can say that things look mighty fun as a gamer.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Bad Sector said,

    I backed the Game Stick one (although i suppose since the money i paid is the same as the supposed final price plus shipping, i “preordered” it more than “backed” it). The people behind it seem to have experience in putting games (and especially Android) in TVs/SmartTVs so they’re basically doing an extension of their previous work. I’d love to get OUYA too, but at the time it was up on Kickstarter i had no money myself :-/

    Hopefully these machines will be actually available to people once they’re officially released. Those “too good to be true” devices tend to be outsold very fast (judging from stuff like Raspberry Pi for example).

    As for supporting them… well, in my engine i had Android support in about a day (a Saturday to be exact) after having no previous knowledge of the platform. So i suppose adding explicit support for the gamepad-based OUYA and Game Stick devices (which honestly fit much better with the kind of games i’m thinking than touch screens) would be very easy.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I must admit I was very sceptical of the OUYA, but I can concede that it might actually be able to pull this off. With the advances in mobile phone hardware though, I’m more impressed by the idea from Green Throttle Games.

    Of course I’m not sure what sort of mainstream market these will be able to tap into, since they will struggle to compete with the high-end consoles for various reasons.

  • Anon said,

    This is one of those crazy posts from Jay that one could write whole volumes as a comment! And, yes, I kept it intentionally short… 😉

    – Yes, new consoles are on their way. Of course. But these Android-based gaming solutions are playing in a different leage and cater to a different crowd. So I don’t see a problem there. The only questions is: Will there be enough demand for all those solutions?
    Let’s evaluate them separately:

    – The Ouya has quite powerful hardware – it’s comparable to current high-end phones – and is relatively cheap (it’s priced drastically lower than the more powerful PS3/X360 which is good) but is has an achilles heel: It doesn’t have much memory.
    If they don’t put more memory on it they will be limited – and no, SD cards won’t solve the problem as Google trimmed the more recent Android versions to not support apps in external memory (which SD cards are).
    Of course Android still supports external memory cards for data like music, movies, ebooks etc. but would the Ouya make use of it?
    My assumption is that this is exactly why the Ouya doesn’t have an SD card slot. Games wouldn’t be sold on SD cards anyway (think app store) so there is some rationale behind this design.
    However, when I use a phone with 32 gigs I may be more inclined to play a 2 gig game on it…
    So my advice is: Give the Ouya at least 32GB or perhaps sell a more expensive “Ouya XL” variant to the more fanatic crowds.

    – The Gamestick appears to be similar to the Linux sticks that were demonstrated a few months ago. It’s quite nifty as it is but it’s clearly playing in a lower league specs-wise than both the Ouya or a current high-end Android phone.
    However, it’s even easier to adapt to your TV than the Ouya and it brings its own gamepad (a must for a any non-casual gamer). It could be powerful “enough” for lots of smaller indie games so this doesn’t have to be a major disadvantage. Don’t expect multi-gigabyte games to run well on it, though, if at all.
    I also hope their controller is good enough or it will fail drastically.

    – This leaves the mid- to high-end phones ($400+ without contract) which feature 8GB or more of memory, HDMI output capability and ebough CPU horsepower and connectivity options to be used as a jack-of-all-trades – especially when connected to the TV. They can even replace your traditional desktop to some extent.

    Here is an example what can be done *today* without having to wait for Green Throttle – and play a lot of existing games:

    The problem with this is that it’s quite pricy (around $80) and requires either a Samsung Note 2 or a S3 – both not exactly cheap phones either.
    But this is only for one brand and there are literally millions of Samsung S3 and Note 2 users out there so there is some fertile ground for such peripherals and other manufacturers will jump aboard if it’s successful enough.

    And let me add one more thing: I was *stunned* how good the graphical quality of the current phones are – they easily reach PS2 quality which is terrific for a completely mobile device!
    And this happened in such a short time. Think about how far mobile gaming will get in three to four years…

  • Xenovore said,

    Dunno about “cheap” but now we’ve got this in the mix as well. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in the next year.

  • Greg Squire said,

    I don’t know if it will be “cheap”, but the famed “Steambox” is another console that is underway. So anther one to keep our eyes on.

  • Anon said,

    I don’t now if the fabled SteamBox will be a hit or not but Valve apparently hired Jeri Ellsworth “to work on gaming hardware”.
    This is a very good indicator to me that they’ll accomplish _something_.

  • Anon said,

    “know”.. duh!

  • Yet More New / Upcoming Gaming “Consoles” said,

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