Amazon’s long-awaited announcement of its Fire TV set-top box enters a crowded field of Android game consoles in the living room.
For sure, Amazon has a much better chance of disrupting the multibillion dollar home console industry on the TV than any of the other so-called microconsoles. But it is entering a field that has received a tepid consumer response so far.
Other Android game-related devices in the living room include GameStick, Ouya, Green Throttle (which Google now owns), Mad Catz, GamePop, and the Nvidia Shield. While all of these devices launched in the past year, none of them has achieved sales that are worth bragging about (as no one has disclosed sales). PC game digital distribution king Valve is doing its own non-Android, Linux-based Steam Machines for the living room, too (and these will be on-par with many gaming PCs in power). Many of those launches were accompanied by predictions that free-to-play Android games on the TV would disrupt $60 console titles on traditional game consoles.
But that disruption hasn’t come to pass. Both Microsoft and Sony have had stellar launches for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, selling more than 10 million systems combined in a matter of four months. That’s a better showing than past console launches. The slow debut of the microconsoles has done a lot to sap the enthusiasm for game alternatives on the TV.
Michael Pachter, a game analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote, “We thought Fire TV’s debut was underwhelming and believe that Amazon missed an opportunity to introduce a highly differentiated device.
“Although Amazon has many notable partners lined up, we do not expect Fire TV’s gaming initiative to be successful, as we do not anticipate that consumers will perceive a need to play mobile games on their TVs. The device’s success for gaming will ultimately depend upon the quality and popularity of first-party exclusives, which we expect to be limited.”
Pachter added, “If first-party exclusives are lacking or are slow-to-market, gamers and third-party developers may stay away, much as they have with Nintendo’s disappointing Wii U. Regardless of the level of third-party support, we expect casual gamers to continue to opt for the convenience and low pricing of games for mobile phones and tablets, at least until Fire TV is considered a viable gaming device. Once they are convinced of this viability, gamers may consider buying a $40 controller; if they remain unconvinced, however, the controller is unlikely to be popular, particularly when its pricing dwarfs that of a typical Fire TV game.”
Indeed. Disruption delayed is disruption denied.
Amazon’s chance lies in creating differentiated games for its own machine. The company has been hiring a bunch of game developers, including Kim Swift (Portal), Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2), Bill Dugan (long history in games going back to the 1988’s classic Wasteland role-playing game who also worked on Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering card game), and others. It also bought a game studio, Double Helix Games, maker of the Killer Instinct fighting game for the Xbox One.
So far, the team at Amazon Game Studios has created a third-person shooter game, Sev Zero, for the Fire TV machine. That sci-fi game is sort of like the recent Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare game on the Xbox One.
The company also ticked off a number of third-party publishers supporting the device, including Electronic Arts, Sega, Disney, and Gameloft. With such support, Amazon may be the only microconsole to matter in the living room. But microconsoles in the living room may not matter.
Google is also hiring a bunch of game developers, like R.J. Mical (a veteran of arcade development and an inventor of the Amiga computer) and Jamil Moledina (whose long career in game business development includes a stint at giant publisher Electronic Arts). The rumor persists that it will also create a microconsole for the living room. Producing one more Apple TV clone won’t be that spectacular. But Amazon has clearly left an opening for Google to pile on the game features in a better device.
We’ll see if Google takes the plunge into the Android game box market, too. But I don’t think Sony and Microsoft are quaking in their boots just yet.