How might Google’s rumored game system affect Android and traditional gaming?

June 28, 2013
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If a new report from the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, Google is gearing up to launch several new hardware products in an attempt to one-up the competition and further spread its reach into new categories. One of these devices is allegedly an Android-powered game console.

With companies like Ouya, MadCatz and Nvidia already pioneering this new frontier – there are clearly folks interested in the idea of a low-cost console that somehow bridges the world of mobile and traditional gaming.

If Google really is getting involved here, what would such a console be like, and how would it potentially affect the future of mobile and traditional gaming? Would there be enough room for other Android micro-console players if Google jumps in?

Until we get an actual look at Google’s game console (if it even exists), these questions are going to remain unanswered, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate a little.

What a Google game console might be like

According to WSJ, the Google game system will arrive this fall. That’s a pretty quick turn-around for something we’ve never heard about.This does reveal a bit about what to expect from the console, though.

Obviously this is not a traditional game system – al la PS3 or Xbox 360. Putting something like that together would take much more time to hype up, create exclusive partners, etc.

Instead, the idea is probably to create a box that essentially functions like a Google TV device, albeit with some optimizations that make it more geared towards gaming such as custom controls and Google Play Games service support. In many ways it will probably look a lot like the Ouya or MadCatz game console. It will be compact, physical media-free and will rely on the power of Android.

If the Google Game Console isn’t much different from the competition, why bother? For one thing, because Google can do things that Ouya and MadCatz can’t do – such as sell the console at cost.

Imagine a Snapdragon 800-powered game console that hits between $49 – $129. Makes me excited just thinking about it.

It is also possible Google could use some of its connections (and/or deep pockets) to draw in bigger gaming studios down the road. While a Google game console would undoubtedly have full access to Google Play and all of its apps, nothing is to say it couldn’t have its own special section of the Play Store for Google game system-optimized exclusives.

Ouya

Ouya and its me-too rivals could be in trouble here

If a Google game system really is in works, Ouya and its rivals could find themselves in very deep trouble.

As already mentioned, Google has the resources to sell their device at a cheaper cost, all while potentially bringing in exclusive titles to their console. Then you have to consider special services.

Any Google-made console would undoubtedly be optimized to play nicely with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime videos and just about every video service that currently supports Android. It would also likely feature strong integration with G+, Google’s Music streaming service and more.

Ouya and its competitors do offer some of these multimedia apps and services, but I suspect they won’t be able to even begin to compete to the services a Google console would offer.

There’s also a little thing called brand recognition. While MadCatz might have some brand recognition as an accessory maker, the Ouya is a start-up that has no role outside of the micro-console market and Nvidia is primarily known among PC gamers. In contrast, Google is a household name.

Can other Android-powered game consoles co-exist with a Google game system? Maybe. After all, there are other Android handsets on the market even though the Nexus 4 delivers impressive hardware and a killer price.

Some folks will want a pure-Android experience, others will want manufacturer customizations and special features. The key to survival for Ouya and its rivals will be find a way to do things differently then Google, plain and simple.

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Will Google’s console affect the traditional console market?

Here’s the big one: Can a Google game console steal thunder away from traditional game consoles and handhelds? Yes and no.

When it comes to the quality of titles, the graphics and the immersive experiences – there is no way in hell that an ARM-based, low-cost game system is going to truly compete against a Playstation 4 and Xbox One. But they don’t have to compete directly to affect the gaming industry.

If Google can give gamers a low-cost device and attract at least a few console quality-like games to the platform, they could truly find massive success among casual gamers, younger gamers and budget gamers across the globe.

Some folks just don’t want to spend $400+ on a new console to get their gaming fix. While these types of gamers could certainly get an older game system (like Xbox 360/PS3/Wii) – eventually these systems will drop support and so there is something to be said for a new console that actually has a low entry cost.

Remember that the OG Gameboy wasn’t exactly the most powerful device in the handheld market. Both the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear easily stomped all over it with superior color graphics.

Why did the Gameboy win the race in the long-term? It had much better battery life, a massive library of reasonably good games and it was dirt-cheap in comparison. A similar thing happened with the Wii: it was cheap and it offered a different way to play games.

Even the Atari 2600 was a massive success for many years because of a massive library and low-cost entry point, not because it was truly the most powerful system on the market (that honor arguably went to Intellivision).

I’m not saying that a Google gaming console will have the same level of success as the Gameboy, Wii or Atari 2600 – my point is that a Google game console doesn’t need to be superior to other systems to be a success. And gaming history backs that notion up.

Even if the Google game console ends up as a distant fourth to Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, it could still make enough of an impact to help change the future of gaming as we know it. What do you think, would you like to see Google get involved in the console market? Or should they leave this industry to more traditional players?

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