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Mad Catz Android microconsole

LOS ANGELES — Suddenly, microconsoles comprise a very crowded market. This new gaming sector, which uses cheap hardware to power smartphone-like games on televisions, has multiple startups and established corporations all jumping in to find an audience.

Hardware and peripheral company Mad Catz just announced its Project M.O.J.O. microconsole last week. The box is similar to Ouya and Gamestick, and Mad Catz is showing it off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show going on now. I went hands on with it and talked to Mad Catz product manager Richard Neville.

I walked away wanting M.O.J.O. over an Ouya or GameStick for a very specific reason.

“Companies like Ouya and GameStick use a closed approach with their own proprietary stores — they don’t have Google Play,” Mad Catz product manager Richard Neville told me. “Where that’s all we’re going to have.”

Ouya and Gamestick both have curated stores that developers need to specifically submit their games to. These stores will essentially compete with Google’s official one, Google Play. Android users that have an investment in games through the Google Play market won’t automatically find their purchases on those systems. With M.O.J.O., if you already own Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for your HTC One, for example, then you can play it without any issues on Mad Catz’s console.

I already own games like Riptide GP, Grand Theft Auto III, and Carmageddon on Google Play. That means I already own those titles on Project M.O.J.O. The system is backward compatible with my Galaxy Nexus, which it has nothing to do with.

This is a distinct advantage for Mad Catz. The Android platform is massive, and gamers might find it easier to accept a microconsole that uses a reputable market like Google Play — especially if they will already own their own games for it.

Savvy gamers could install an unofficial version of the Google Play store on the hackable Ouya or Gamestick systems. That’s something I could probably figure out, but why would I waste my time if M.O.J.O. will work with it out of the box? Neville also promised me the system will launch as the most powerful Android microconsole on the market.

At the same time, Ouya and Gamestick are launching their consoles at $99 and $79, respectively. They can afford that price because they plan to make money through their unique online stores. Mad Catz cannot rely on any revenue from game sales. Neville told me that this will force the company to price the device higher than those competitors.

The fact that Mad Catz doesn’t have to worry about selling games could also present one more issue. Ouya and Gamestick have a vested interest in improving gamers’ experiences so that they buy more games. That should lead to updates to the interface and operating system. Mad Catz might just fire and forget M.O.J.O., leaving its adopters behind.

So I’m split on M.O.J.O at the moment. I player Riptide GP on it, and it ran well. The controller felt comfortable but a little cheap. The system’s app-store solution is enticing, but I like to know that a hardware company is invested in the success of software.

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