One thing I’m constantly amazed by is how the video game industry can grow over the years. While there are definitely elements and genres in the biz which haven’t evolved greatly over the years, things as a whole haven’t stayed the same for more than a decade let alone over the course of four years.
With the big three console manufacturers still being competitive as usual, the industry has now taken a turn that’s once again unexpected as more financial and technological avenues are explored – one of which is being pursued aggressively by a relative newcomer in the industry.
With the continued focus on mobile platforms by developers such as EA, Activision, and Square Enix, it’s safe to say that mobile gaming is here to stay. Thanks to a lower risk than that of developing a multi-million dollar triple-A IP or franchise sequel, the basic tech provided by platforms such as iOS and Android has ushered in a new era of developers as well as rearing a new generation of gamers whose first experience playing a game wasn’t at the arcade or on a home console – it may have been playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja on an Apple product.
The current climate of the games industry has of course resulted in some developers entirely focusing on their mobile efforts given how it’s a broader market than the core consoles. But we’re now on the cusp of none other than Amazon reportedly releasing a brand new Android powered console that is aimed at both the casual and core audience, thus it may be a game changer or yet another flash in the pan moment that won’t hopefully be as tepid as that of the Ouya.
A few years ago it may have seem not plausible at all for Amazon to enter the video game industry considering that their main service, and reputation amongst consumers, was being a place where you can either buy a piece of clothing, an affordable movie, or a Robin Thicke MP3. The scenario that Amazon would not only create a video game console but set up a dedicated games division may have seem as odd as Best Buy suddenly allowing customers to buy moderately price steaks and other perishable goods along with their electronics offerings. Though in recent years we’ve seen Amazon branch out as a company to expand their brand name in the form of services as Amazon Instant Video and of course through the highly successful Kindle brand of ebooks.
So in a way Amazon branching out to gaming isn’t too out of the ordinary though it does present one major question: will this actually be a successful thing let alone a game changer in how the industry is set up? Considering that only a few well-sourced rumors have surfaced concerning Amazon’s new Android powered gaming device it’s too early to tell if the console will be a hit since there’s a lot to factor in.
Though considering that Amazon has poached/acquired talent such as former Halo writer Eric Nylund and former Valve veteran Tom Leonard it’s obvious that they mean business about making an impact that not only will deepen their financial pockets, but make people flock to the console and the games they release, perhaps over the more powerful HD offerings that are already available.
What an Amazon video game console could mean for the industry is it that we could be in for another period of growth. Yes, things are of course going to become drastically different in the next three months when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are released, but all together having another console on the market, albeit of a slightly lesser graphical power and delivery method, is still better than having a market that is on the verge of teetering into oblivion.
The games industry as a whole has continued to thrive financially despite the world-wide hardships that have occurred, yet having another console on the market that is potentially easy to develop for given its purported Android basis which runs on the Snapdragon processor could mean that more developers can create games – a thing which is a win-win scenario for consumers looking for things to play and developers looking to stay in business and actually do what they love.
In the greater scheme of things it’s of course unclear how, if at all, an Amazon game console will affect the immediate mindshare and interest consumers have on the high-tier HD offerings that the PS4 and Xbox One provide. Clearly in two different spectrums, it’s already been proven that in some ways graphics don’t matter to some consumers, but to others it is a big deal to have something nice to look at. Given what the new Amazon console may run on the tech spec side of thigs, we’re bound to have some nice looking games, but if it's released at a $100-$150 price point will it be a run-away success?
We’ve already seen a sort of hit & miss reaction involving consumers and their immediate interest in an Android console with the arrival of the Ouya. Released in June after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign the year prior, the Ouya was somewhat released with a whimper and a splattering of applause after some moderate hype. It certainly didn’t help that the console itself wasn’t readily available at most retail outlets or even had a demo stations available, but it also seemed that Ouya owners weren’t too keen to try things out based on the sales numbers that certain developers shared which revealed more demo downloads were done than actual purchases.
The situation the Ouya found itself in can be attributed to a number of things (untested company, lesser hardware specs, poor planning), though the thing that many people brought up was the fact that it was essentially a stripped down Android device that could play games. Big whoop, am I right? So will Amazon run into a similar issue with people being wary of plunking down $100-$200 for something they can already play on their phone, or will the might and name recognition of the Amazon brand result in a better showing?
It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see what goes down with Amazon and how they push this console, if it’s indeed a thing that has progressed beyond conceptual prototyping, since at this point in the industry we all know that almost anything can happen. Aside from the relatively unlikely scenario of a major company suddenly making an exodus from the business, the video game biz is one of uncertainty, surprise, and shock in most cases. There’s a chance that whatever Amazon provides consumers will be overshadowed by what Sony and Microsoft has to offer despite not being immediately comparable since everyone likes something new, shiny, and that is dependable as per their predecessors. Yet in the eyes of some people a sub-$130 console may be more appealing than spending $400 or even the mighty sum of $500 even if it means they can’t play Call of Duty – at least as of now.
By no means do I think we’ll see many current players who own a PS3/360 opt out of buying a next-gen console in favor of what Amazon has to offer (pending unless a megaton transpires such as Shenmue 3 happening), though I do think if some high-profile names come on-board and lend development support we could see a slight shift of sorts occur. Again, it’s hard to know what to fully expect since we only have a few names associated with Amazon’s game division right now, but if some sort of high-profile name can be snagged (think Cliffy B.) and a game is shown off that not only looks cool but is fun to play, without any sort of console gimmicks then I think we could have a viable fourth home console on our hands.
Hopefully Amazon will find the time soon to unveil their new console with the public so we can all get a better idea of what to expect and if the video game industry will once again go through a massive change that will be a far cry from what it was two years ago. Pending an absurd price point or a controller that makes the Atari Jaguar look like a thing of beauty, I think Amazon has a decent shot of making a nice dent in the business without tripping out of the gate like so many other newbies have in the past.
With potential showings or media mentions on mainstream programs such as the Today Show and things of that ilk, it’ll be hard for people not to be interested in what Amazon has to offer – though of course the major question is whether it’ll be a successful console or one that fades away in obscurity after two years after it's placed on discount shelves nationwide.
Whatever the end result is I’m sure it’ll be entertaining, but I do have a feeling that right now deep inside the Ouya headquarters all the key execs are banging their heads due to the impending doom that’s about to greet them.