Fight for the living room is on. I've been thinking about who could win this fight, and while a year ago I definitely wouldn't have considered Android consoles as viable competition, things have sure changed. Makes me proud to be part of this highly dynamic industry.†
So I want to run through 4 competitors for the Living Room Gaming Crown. I understand that the current console manufacturers (Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo) could be looked at individually, but since this is a more general article towards the bigger picture, I've grouped them into a single bucket. Because I believe the market is changing and it might be completely different at the end of the year.
Ouya still holds the record for Kickstarter's most funded project. It is probably the biggest thing to happen to the home console industry since last console generation release. I've played around with the dev kit and it looks really promising.†
The whole idea of you simply changing controls in an Android/Unity/Any Cross Platform Game Tool from touch to buttons/analog sticks is very neat.†
We all know 3rd party support is king when launching a home console. And for the first time ever in this industry we have something that was funded fully independently, and that will launch with an unmatched amount of 3rd party content. Hell, Ouya doesn't even have it's own studio -- it doesn't need one!†
Plus the price point. That's an important one. If they market it properly to mainstream audiences it may have mass appeal. Buy 2 Xbox (720) games or a whole console plus a starting catalogue of games.†
Imagine walking into your local Best Buy and seeing a small cheap box with images of all your favorite games, and knowledge that they're going to be much cheaper to buy rather than the $60 boxed products?
Since I gave up my "dedicated" PC gaming space in favor of a couch (less time to play games, less time to fiddle with hardware, easier, etc) I found that while playing PS3 games is fun and all, I started spending more and more time playing on the Mac Mini.†
We bought it as a media PC just to download movies, process them, stream media to other parts of the house and whatnot.†
But all that changed after installing Starcraft II which I spent about 180 hours in last year, playing the fun little mods (where DOTA came from), mostly Marine Arena style ones.†
I found that it's not super comfortable playing on the couch, so got one of those layback chairs in, a small IKEA table to my right where I'd place the mouse, and the Razer keyboard on my lap. It's a bit awkward but you get used to it. The awkwardness comes from rearranging furniture when you need your game time.†
The next iteration of this was actually placing a desk in front of the 55" living room TV and putting the keyboard on there, and the couch behind it.†
This turned the living room into a hybrid gaming area and movie time couch area.†
It's doable, but most people won't be fine with that setup since it needs a fair amount of space.†
In this setup Steam is my go-to place. I did install bootcamp, but still use OSX most of the time on the Mac Mini. Installed Steam, and guess what -- pretty much all Mac compatible games run flawlessly. Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, CS:GO, all of them run fine.†
I'm pretty sure Valve realizes there's huge potential to bring that kind of experience to the living room - less expensive AAA games, it's just really awkward to do what I did with the setup. There has to be an easier input method. The first step was Steam's Big Picture. Second - Linux support. (we all know Gabe's opinion about Windows 8...)
Third is an actual inexpensive, low power consumption, quiet piece of hardware to run those games. Possibly via Linux. †
Looking at Valve's reputation of making stuff really good before launching, and the absense of Half-Life 3, I see a huge opportunity for them.†
Say a $500 mini gaming PC, subsedized by Steam, pre-installed with a bunch of games... or even Half-Life 3 as the exclusive launch title (how's that for a kick in the crotch to retailers, publishers and other platforms?). I'd buy that.
Apple's little TV box feels like the most underappreciated piece of hardware in recent years. Many don't realize it's potential because it unlocks itself via Jailbreaking (yes, all my devices are jailbroken and I now sit with a bricked iPad at home, whatever).†
So the Apple TV can easily run XBMC which opens up a huge selection of add-on apps. That's how I watch my GiantBomb Quick Plays, TED Talks, etc. †
The PLEX Media Server app allows me to stream any media from the Mac Mini downstairs.†
And this is all done in a simple to understand, very straightforward UI. It's also running iOS which many may not know -- you learn it during the jailbreak process.†
So here it is, a small Linux based (you can SSH into it, run commands) box that's cheap, has hardware capable of running 1080p video and an augmented version of iOS on it.†
There's the hardware, there's content (on the Mac or iOS app store), but no input method that'd make sense (yet).†
I believe if Apple plays their cards right and comes up with a revolutionary way to control home console games, adds Siri on top of that, they may just take over the living room.†
One of the ideas I had is they'd roll out a major software update to all existing latest gen Apple TVs, which would enable games. At the same time they'd launch an iPhone/iPad generation where artifficial buttons magically appear and use that as a controller.†
Same situation as with Ouya or Steambox - hardware's there, input method's there, and a HUGE selection of content.†
But Apple can actually go one step further and wrap it all up in a very user friendly ecosystem which should be based around Siri.†
"Siri, launch Plague Inc, do my accounting and make me some waffles in the iToaster"
At the end of month Sony will presumably announce their next generation console.†
This leads to a bunch of questions and speculation. I was really excited about OnLive before it flopped. And the Gaikai acquisition by Sony raises questions if they'd just let the CloudGaming idea go or go ahead and implement it somehow.
Sony has embraced indie developers way too late. If they'd have opened up and provided easy tools, say, 3 years ago, they might be in a totally different position right now. The Vita isn't as exciting (still really good piece of hardware, just not exciting) as some other mobile platforms (cough*Plague Inc on Android*cough), and the PS3 has had some great games, but more often than not I can't justify spending $60 on a new game, which I know there won't be much time to finish.†
If they go for the "more graphics" approach again with the PS4, it'll raise development costs even more for what we call AAA games, which would scare off most creativity away. While I did get lost in the world of Far Cry 3 (before my save got corrupted 12 hours in, FFFFFFFUUUU).†
I can't really think of a simple solution for the next gen console club. The marketing would certainly be based around better graphics, because that's easy. While I do believe it'd unleash a lot of creativity for brave ideas. The only question is how to facilitate that creativity, make it easy for developers to experiment and get rewarded for doing so. †
The more I thought about it, the more I realize how first party content drives adoption of new hardware in the traditional console game. If there's killer games on a platform, odds are people will strive towards it. We all know the GTAIV Tattoo announcement, and the fight for exclusivity. I'm just not exactly sure if this time around people would care as much.†
We have a new generation of gamers growing up with really cheap portable games, Unity powered 3d multiplayer browser games -- while the older generations who did grow up with consoles are having families and less time to play.†
The Wii U is a great example of how not to market a next generation console though. I live in the Netherlands, so might not be exposed to all of the marketing around the Wii U in the US, so may have missed something -- but if I try to explain the Wii U to anyone, I end up failing a bit. It's a tablet, but it's also a controller, but it's not a multi touch screen, and you _do_ need to have an actual box that does the processing. And you should use it if you're fighting for the TV. Natural questions I get are "wellp I'm already using my laptop while watching TV" and the whole discussion just falls.†
So here we go. 4 opponents coming from 4 corners into our living room. Who will take the crown is yet to be determined, but it sure will be an interesting fight.††