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Traditional console gaming is in trouble, and Android is to blame.
Like horses being led to a stable, the latter part of this year will be the starting bell for a gaming race. With the likes of OUYA, Project SHIELD, Project M.O.J.O., Gamestick, XBox One and the Playstation 4 all being readied for wide release, the landscape is changing.
While not all of those consoles listed above are in direct competition with one another, they are just that: consoles. As such, they want to dominate your gaming experience. More to the point, many of them want to dominate your living room. That presents a challenge they’re prepared to face at some point, but they have to navigate past bigger players to truly succeed.
The Android crew
OUYA has done a fantastic job in setting the stage for the rest of the Android gaming crew. It’s just about everything we could hope for; inexpensive, highly portable, and has a physical controller. In assessing our gaming needs, it has the capacity to cover all the bases. It is Android based, meaning we can probably get our favorite “time wasters” on it with ease, but also dedicated to gaming. That should mean it’s good enough to handle larger, more in-depth games without stuttering or failing us.
With so many unproven consoles in Android gaming, developers have no reason to support one over another. Yet.
What OUYA has given us so far is compromise. The build quality is suspect, and it’s been lagging with what many consider rudimentary tasks. The funding is solid, as it annihilated the kickstarter campaign goal set. What stands in the way is what it vowed to us, which may ultimately be too ambitious.
Like the rest of the Android crew, OUYA is promising us a great gaming experience for next to nothing. For many people, $100 is a small investment. Its only real competitor right now is Gamestick, which promises much of the same functionality, but also has many of the same issues. Cheap, promising, but with suspect build quality.
Project SHIELD from NVIDIA was the surprise darling of CES, mostly because we didn’t see it coming. Never a hint, or a leak, or even a suggestion that NVIDIA was working on a larger scale project. We were taken aback by the hardware, and found the small screen a surprise delight. It’s essentially portable gaming as it should be.
We want quick bursts of fun, dovetailed with some TV and movies.
What SHIELD has over the other Android based platforms is Steam. The popular PC gaming platform is supported by SHIELD, meaning those who would otherwise shy away from portable or Android gaming no longer have to. They can play their games away from the PC, or non-Steam games, which is a big step moving forward. This also represents a market sector the other Android consoles can’t readily get involved in at this time.
Project M.O.J.O. could very well end up the class of Android gaming consoles. Made by Mad Catz, there is a long lineage of device manufacturing involved. Going back to early arcade days, Mad Catz has a history of design and build quality. They also built some specialized arcade-style gaming equipment for the home. If you bought the Street Fighter IV arcade joystick, that was Mad Catz, and they’ve been doing that since the SNES days.
While no pricing or availability have been announced, we can expect the console to be competitive. Supporting the Play Store outright is impressive, but still lacks in one key area. Their lineage of manufacturer and developer support may end up carrying the day for them, and is a very important ‘foot in the door’.
Even with a console that supports the Play Store, or one that is so competitively priced we’re all going to give it a shot, one thing remains the same: they need developers. Not exclusive titles, or even a special place in the market for the studio. What each and every one of these platforms needs is for developers to support them in kind.
Individually, they all ask developers to support them. That means adding support for the controllers and hardware into the game. Aside from it simply being extra work, developers need to have a reasonable expectation that they’ll see a return on their time investment. With so many unproven consoles in Android gaming, developers have no reason to support one over another. Yet.
When the XBox One was announced, there was a lot of talk regarding TV programming. Microsoft really wanted us to understand that the XBox did more than just play video games. The world poked fun, but there was a very sound reasoning behind it.
Year to year, month to month, the game industry sees a steady decline.
The challenge for each of these platforms is to get, then keep, our attention. This is not a battle for overall gaming supremacy, it’s a struggle for living room control. In examining the game industry sales trend, the decline is alarming. The 25% decline last month is expected, as gaming enthusiasts were anticipating new consoles, but the overall sales decline is more troubling.
Year to year, month to month, the game industry sees a steady decline. This has little to do with pricing, which has remained fairly stagnant. Build quality isn’t the concern, either. The paradigm shift is what’s at issue for the game industry, which means we’re at fault for the sales decline.
As mobile creeps into gaming, and diverts attention away from blockbuster games on dedicated consoles, so do our desires. We now anticipate Android games, which are often very comparable to console gaming, at least with a first glance. Games like Asphalt 7 or Shadowgun are good enough to get our attention, and at a fraction of the cost, keep it.
As those mobile games then matriculate into the living room, the Microsofts and Sonys of the world start looking at other ways to stay relevant. TV is their best bet for staying that way, too. Even among cord cutters, Netflix realises its best numbers on the Playstation 3. As console gaming desires wane, they need a reason to keep us interested. TV is not something an Android gaming console can readily do at this time, so it’s a smart move on their part. Both the XBox and PlayStation have games available via their marketplace, so their involvement where Android consoles have an interest is solid.
Android games are improving steadily, and players are taking notice. As the Android console clutter thins out over time, so will developer support improve. Once developers get a clear understanding of where the best places to monetize their efforts lie, they will readily support that platform. Declining sales in the traditional console market don’t bode well for the average game studio, as hits like Super Meat Boy are rare.
We don’t want to sit in front of a TV and play a game for hours on end.
Console makers want you to buy their stuff, plain and simple. Finding ways to make your decision easy is their job, and TV is a big part of that moving forward. It’s no longer just about games, it’s about staying power and continued use. It’s about getting you involved in the ecosystem, and staying there.
So much of life diverts our attention from gaming, and the sales numbers don’t lie: we don’t want to sit in front of a TV and play a game for hours on end. We want quick bursts of fun, dovetailed with some TV and movies.
Traditional consoles are in a good position, but once an Ouya or MadCatz starts bundling TV service, things become dangerous. If one of those players had the wherewithal to involve Amazon or Netflix for media consumption, there would be a true crisis for traditional gaming.
Well, not so much “if”, but “when”.