Android Consoles: The Beginning of a New Era for Game Development

Android's openness and affordability may have a significant impact on console gaming as we know it.


Time flies. With the Ouya's June launch date steadily approaching, it's easy to forget that its Kickstarter campaign began in July 2012, a mere eight months ago. Its unofficial rival, PlayJam's GameStick, which is also shipping in June, took to crowd-funding in January of this year after prototypes were developed in 2012. Console manufacturers typically spend years and huge amounts of capital developing the next best thing, and when their systems launch with triple-digit price tags amid fever-pitch hype, early adopters expect to be wowed and wooed by the "future" of gaming.

This approach has mostly worked up until now and will likely persist into the future in some form, but lofty budgets and expectations have created an increasingly volatile environment for those on the business side of the equation. Publishers try to one-up each other with big-budget blockbusters, and manufacturers attempt to push the limits of their hardware while hitting a price point that will attract customers, often at cost or below, hoping to recoup costs through software sales and licensing. What happens then when games fail to hit sales quotas, studios close, and first parties like Nintendo no longer warrant the attention and asking price they're accustomed to? Unfortunately, this is the current state of the industry, not a hypothetical scenario.

After sitting down with Julie Uhrman, CEO and founder of Ouya Inc., it became clear that the diminutive, inexpensive, and open console concept is a firm step in the right direction for an industry that's in dire need of reform. It's safe to say that the first "generation" of Android consoles will be lucky to find modest success. However, there's no question that "big video gaming" has a thing or two to learn from these early experiments in service and agility. Touting relatively modest hardware and a low asking price, Android consoles are a completely different beast.

For a $99 Ouya or a $79.99 GameStick, you get a capable gaming device on an open platform with a highly functional wireless controller. Additionally, both devices allow streaming video from Netflix and Hulu. Consumers of Boxee-like streaming devices spend close to the cost of an Ouya or GameStick to acquire, in part, said functionality, sans the ability to play games. Generally, feature sets from products in the same market will converge over time, but these open gaming platforms have a greater chance of adopting additional functionality in their current iteration, today, than your average dedicated streaming device. But I digress: most people will probably buy the Ouya or GameStick for its gaming capabilities and simply appreciate that they don't need to change inputs on their TVs to stream video content.

When I say these are "capable" gaming devices, I realize that statement can be interpreted in a number of ways. I am not referring to the lowest common denominator of digital interactivity, but rather, a reasonable approximation of modern expectations and tastes--that is, wireless controllers, Internet connectivity, HD video output, and support for any game type, be it 2D or 3D. Based on the demos I saw, the Ouya and GameStick are capable of rendering games with PlayStation 2-like fidelity at 1080p/30fps. No doubt Android gaming consoles are underpowered compared to any modern alternatives, but unless you're the sort of gamer who sees the value of a game only in polygon counts or frame rates, that's not necessarily an issue for a device priced so far below the competition.

Today, the majority of games available for the Ouya and GameStick are ports of mobile games. However, as Android matures outside of the mobile space, so too will the content designed for it. Take the eagerly anticipated game from Double Fine's Tim Schafer, The Broken Age. Though it's likely that the Ouya won't be the only console to receive a port of the game, it has been confirmed as a timed console exclusive. This is the sort of content that will legitimize, and ultimately attract customers to, affordable if underpowered consoles.

Granted, that's presently an exceptional and uncommon example, but when you consider the hoops most indie developers must jump through to publish games on existing console platforms, such as PSN and Xbox Live, it's easy to see why Android is an attractive prospect for developers with experimental ideas and an aversion to risk. After all, Android consoles aren't just cheap for the consumer (a fact that developers should pay attention to); because of their Unity 3D support and open platform, anyone with the time and inclination can develop games for free, and according to Uhrman, the approval process for the Ouya usually takes about an hour, sans publishing fees.

Assuming that the Ouya does appeal to content creators and their customers, one mystery remains: who makes the first move? Without original games, Android's chances at making strides in the gaming space shrink considerably. Without the right install base, developers might not see the benefit of focusing on an unpopular device. It might take time for the average consumer to embrace this new approach to console gaming, but the sub-$100 price point certainly doesn't hurt.

Give it a year. If the Ouya or GameStick fails to attract new and exciting developments by this time next year, then maybe it wasn't meant to be. Hopefully, the lure of an open platform and modest development costs will attract developers, and the industry at large will embrace the notion of modesty. Android's inception won't abolish AAA development, which, despite causing many of gaming's financial headaches, has produced some of the finest games of all time. If anything, it will foster a low-risk environment of experimentation for console developers and become an affordable alternative to high-end consoles for consumers. Who knows? if this new breed finds success, it may not be long before the likes of Nintendo join the lo-fi fray.

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Discussion

85 comments
Ultimist
Ultimist

The actual game page on this very site says Broken Age is for PC and Mac... What gives? Does this guy not read his own site?

MVan86
MVan86

Any new console that wants to take some of the Playstation and Xbox, and to a lesser extent Wii U, market share will have to be able to play the big name games.

jmurray993
jmurray993

the novelty of android games on your TV will soon wear off, just like that console that cam out a few months ago, what was it called.... ahh yes the wii u, sorry i almost forgot that existed lol

Friskybar
Friskybar

" it became clear that the diminutive, inexpensive, and open console concept is a firm step in the right direction for an industry that's in dire need of reform."


Can you please tell me how the industry is in dire need of reform when you are talking about a console with the same graphic capabilities as a ps2 which will i doubt will feature any big titles whatsoever? I don't think that was a great choice of words, implying that the entire game industry is failing and needs to take a step in the complete opposite direction than that of the PS4 and the Xbox 'Durango'  that will undoubtedly have great commercial success.


Seriously this statement made me laugh.


oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

You know what will be awsome? When someone finds a way of running old consoles emulators on it.

Think about it...it's the perfect platform for that!! It looks capable and will have a controller!!

superfluid
superfluid

This is a cool first step for sure.  This appeals largely to developers.  And gamers that dont care about the best and brightest graphics (me included).  Success will rely on developers ability to create intriguing games like Fez, SuperMeatBoy, etc. This is a great opportunity for start-ups to run shoestring budgets and sell some games.  Even if you only make $150K on a game, that's a good start for something like a 2 person start-up. But make no mistake, M$ and $ony are aware and they have big guns standing by.  I wouldn't be surprised if these Android console companies get acquired quickly after initial success.

obarthelemy
obarthelemy

" you get a capable gaming device on an open platform " Open how and how open ? these things don't even support the Google Playstore ???

93ChevyNut
93ChevyNut

I hope the Ouya/Gamestick make it.  Mr. Brown is right; we need a shake-up.  If it does take off, Gamespot, please don't let Eddie Makuch publish stories with the headline "Assassin's Call of Halo: Modern Gears not coming to Ouya".  The Wii U articles are bad enough.

scanevaro
scanevaro

Im an aspiring Game Developer/Programer and Im looking forward to make games for OUYA, im preparing myself with books, effort, motivation, and a lot lot lot of PASSION.

Wish me luck and let us Aspiring-Developers and Already-Making-Games People with a passion can make their ways in this field.

Firgers Crosed!

Techn1c4l
Techn1c4l

Can anyone tell me, why Android? Yes, it has a good base of games to play, but they are all for touchscreens and thus often too simple.

ajay1708
ajay1708

eh, I'll take a pass on the Ouya. With PS4 and Xbox720 coming by possibly October, this thing is just a waste of cash even if it is only a 100 bucks. If I want tablet quality games then I'll just stick to my ipad.

Buck_Swaggler
Buck_Swaggler

Droid is a terrible operating system that can't even get the basics right in phones.

LtReviews
LtReviews

Funny how so many people on GameSpot pretend to be supportive of indie developers.

Then when the first open source console comes out, they shout down the console as a piece of trash.

Vividnightmare
Vividnightmare

I worry the Ouya will have the same effect on the gaming industry the Wii did, an entirely new low bar on the industries quality standards. Don't get me wrong, Wii does have some good titles, but a combination of things about the Wii do make it the cause of developers wanting more for producing less. The real challenge the Ouya will face is providing a competitive edge over the big consoles. It will need to provide a massive list of extremely cheap games, and any classics they can pick up like the old Mortal combats, Sonic the Hedgehog, etc. And if they plan on offering current indie games like Bastion or Limbo they'll need to find a way to stand out there too, be it getting the titles earlier, offering extra content or offering the base content at a better price. When consoles can provide everything the Ouya does and then about 5 times more, they'll need to prove what they do provide is better and cheaper. Just like the $99 price point.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

Wooohoo, I literally couldn't have cared less about anything said here if I tried.

This would have to be ludicrously cheap and I'm talking £50 (about $65-75 I think?) for me to even consider this. Might be good when you enter that summer dry up of decent games and don't want to spend any money on titles you don't really care about on Steam or elseware. Also excellent for families with kids, though why in this day and age kids don't have an xbox/ps3 with parent control on I shudder to think. My experience with consoles in my childhood defines me as a person now. I'd probably be an alcoholic by now if it wasn't for games, and I am being totally serious here.

Android and other app style games are fun, for short stints and can be pretty genius sometimes but they aren't for the TV. I only play games on my iPod when I'm on the bus, or somewhere where there isn't an internet connection. All of the other times I have better things to do. This will collect dust in no time I'm sure of it.

Yeah sorry didn't see the price, this is going to be £65 approx'. Still a little pricey for app games.

highlanderjimd
highlanderjimd

this will make a nice HTPC, my Pi is not quite up to the task of handling high res HD just yet

TheBatFreak777
TheBatFreak777

Let's give it up for being able to play Temple Run on our TV!!!!  This is what we've been waiting for!   ....

Said no one ever.

josh7845
josh7845

Could be interesting and could potentially reopen the arcade business model again. Thing is, Sony is already doing that with the PS4 so it isn't really that unique. The Android games also don't appear to be suited to a console, after all the whole reason they exist is to fill in the market for games on the go. If it's plugged in to a wall I don't see how it fits in. High hopes, low expectations.

Scarshi
Scarshi

Cheap entertainment for the kids. Keeps them off my bloody phone and tablet with important contacts, banking, messages and business apps. Saves my batteries from constant drain. What's not to like?

crunchb3rry
crunchb3rry

Droid gaming is just tailor-made to nickel & dime consumers. No way I can support that. It already bled over into console gaming.

Superzone
Superzone

Does it play Pokemon, Zelda, or Metal Gear Solid?  No?  Not interested then.

X_CAPCOM_X
X_CAPCOM_X

They really need to switch the position of the left stick on that controller.

Snaptrap
Snaptrap

This will tank. People want an alternative to portable gaming, not a substitute for what's proven to be highly successful.

RobDev
RobDev

so basically an ipod touch without apples silly markup?

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

I'm interested in the controller attachment for the S4, but honestly, cell phones should stay on cell phones... because they're designed... for cell phones.  

nate1222
nate1222

The last paragraph sums up my thoughts precisely. But, alotta spoiled, tech-head gamers don't even wanna consider it as a possibility. Many of our fellow gamers think everything should be slickly produced AAA or it's just novel rubbish. But, you gotta remember: the general public ain't 'hardcore' gamers. If you give them a practical set of options, they'll go with it.

ottumatic
ottumatic

Instead of making Android game console, wouldn't their efforts be well rewarded if they tried developing a 'hardcore' Android game to get the ball rolling for Android games development?

flashn00b
flashn00b

It almost feels as if the target audience for this device are new developers, rather than gamers.

Though, i dunno if putting an app on Google Play is any more expensive than proof that you won't be trolling Steam Greenlight.

ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

I'm "interested" in the OUYA. I will never effectively BUY one, but I'm interested in it as a concept. Definitely curious to see what will come out of it and how it will push the industry and indie development forward.

jubdeidamasta
jubdeidamasta

Wow I can play games meant for my phone on my TV! This seems good for casual gamers, might hurt the Wii market. However I don't see much for hardcore gamers.

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

@obarthelemy That's new info for me, but even if they don't support Google play store the store can be manually installed anyway, that's how open it is.

obarthelemy
obarthelemy

@Techn1c4l Not true, Android supports gamepads, and some games/emulators take advantage of that.

waZelda
waZelda

@Techn1c4l 

And poorly controlled. I've tried playing on a friend's iPad and it doesn't recognize my movement properly because my skin is too dry.

Ouya has buttons and can do much better. The reason it gets so many Android games is because it is free and open like the other consoles those games are out on and no one really dares making a big budget title on such an unproven console as it currently is.

barrybarryk
barrybarryk

@LtReviews How the hell is it any more open source* than any other Android device?  How is developing for Ouya with it's curated store, limited support and limited install base any better for indies than developing for PC?

*The Ouya is fairly open, or even very open by console standards, it isn't in any way shape or form open source.  That's a term that means something very, very specific

ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

@Vividnightmare I don't think the OUYA reinforces the idea that "you should make whatever gimmicky game you can and push it out there for a chance of profit" that I always got from the Wii. If anything, it is a healthy environment for indie developers to promote and publish their work. I think that the great thing about it is that they will be talking directly to their target audience, since I can't really imagine that people not interest in this kind of thing will EVER pick this "console" up. I know I won't. But I do hope it pans out for the indie community, and if nothing else, that these new developers can buff-up their resumes and go to work on larger projects that can impact more people.

LtReviews
LtReviews

@Vividnightmare  

Hard to compare it with the Wii.

It already has waaaay more third party support than the Wii ever did.

deathblow3
deathblow3

@Dannystaples14 have to agree could care less about netflix on it hell my tv gets netflix. and ps2 quality games fail if i want ps quality games i can get a ps2 far cheaper than this thing.

LtReviews
LtReviews

@Superzone Nice! You answered your own question! And you where wrong!

Ouya is allowing emulators.

donkeyhigh
donkeyhigh

@Superzone 

actually, it does.

n64oid plays all n64 games flawlessly (Ocarina of Time/Majoras Mask (whatever pokemon games there were for n64, i dont know anything about pokemon)

FPSE plays all PSX games flawlessly, it also supports online multiplayer, meaning I can play Tekken 3 vs my other friends with FPSE on their phones. I played a little MGS on my Galaxy S2, but started playing the Resident Evil games instead. Gonna finish them, then MGS.

If it runs flawlessly on my S2, it shouldn't be a problem in Ouya.

DSoid plays Nintendo DS games pretty good (more Zelda), I finished Ghost Trick - Phantom Detective and it ran flawlessly as well. And constant updates keeps me possitive for one day being able to play DS Zelda on my Android flawlessly as well. For now, it's laggy. But the developer is really working hard.


There is also a PPSSPP (PSP) emulator in the making, which is in it's early alpha phases, but still.

With Ouya's hardware, the creator should be able to custimize it somewhat for it, and maybe make some games playable.


Snaptrap
Snaptrap

@RobDev The difference is support. I've yet to send my Mac away for part replacement. I just take it to the Apple Store while my PC motherboard is sent to Asus for an uncertain replacement.

Cloud_765
Cloud_765

@jubdeidamasta "casual" and "hardcore" gamers are very loose terms, hardly well-defined. Besides, the Wii market's pretty much gone at this point anyhow... 

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

Hell yeah!! Now I'm hyped!! Count me among the first owners!!

Thanks

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

@Techn1c4l @waZelda @obarthelemy Exactly, I have a Xperia Play phone and some games use it (unfortunatelly note all) and they work very well.

Zeronz112
Zeronz112

@Cloud_765 @jubdeidamasta If you dont have an android phone, or even have kids I could see this being a very viable option, its very cheap relative to other consoles out there, and Unlike the Wii-U, it is very simple. I'm sure they will produce exclusive games for them and not just remaster apps. In my opinion I think this is the perfect gaming console for children, and I almost guarantee that is where they are going to be marketing all their new games.