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The Android Microconsole Reference Guide for Game Developers

August 26, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

It’s easy to group all Android-based “microconsoles” into one big bucket, but if you look a little more closely, each one of them offers its own unique features, whether you’re talking about hardware, software, business models or developer support. Some of them might be a better fit for your game than others.

That’s why we’re kicking off our microconsole-themed week with a reference guide to the most notable offerings that are both announced and currently on the market. This guide will inform you about the background of these consoles, specifications, pros and cons, monetization, how to get started on development, and more.

This is meant to be a living document -– something that you can use as a continually-updated reference. We’ve collected a good amount of information here, but if you have anything else you’d like to add to our Android microconsole reference guide, just mention it in the comments below or email me, Gamasutra EIC Kris Graft, at kgraft@gamasutra.com.

Ouya

Official website: ouya.tv

Background: Ouya’s console is basically the microconsole as of now, and is the product that kicked off today’s interest in Android-based boxes that connect to a TV. If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that its 2012 Kickstarter campaign generated $8.6 million (the funding goal was $950,000), on top of millions of venture capital funding. It captured the attention of players and developers with promises of low-barrier development, publishing and distribution, a low retail price ($99) and a pick-up-and-play living room game experience. Ouya describes it as "A New Kind of Video Game Console."

Price: $99

Availability: Out now.

Pros

Ouya apparently has great, personal developer support. We polled a bunch of developers, and they had nothing but good things to say.

It's open. Mostly. It's not totally open -- there is still a basic review process -- but the walls of this garden are about shin-high.

The storefront's curation is pretty decent, with game picks from Ouya developers, journalists and Ouya staff, among other traditional categories.

It's leading Android microconsole mindshare. The console has received a lot of coverage, particularly in the tech and games press, and it's available at brick-and-mortar retail. Ouya's almost synonymous with the Android console movement.

Cons

The pack-in controller is cheaply-made, and it shows. This is something that came up when talking to Ouya developers. Fortunately, your players can connect a PlayStation 3 controller or a wired Xbox 360 controller.

The console itself needs polish. It’s a nice, small package, but there have been some reported wi-fi reception issues (I haven’t personally had any), stuttering menus, input delays (which seems controller-related) and other rough edges.

Discovery needs improvement. We mention that storefront curation is "pretty decent," but like virtually all digital storefronts, there is still work to be done to help highlight the best content. It’s still easy for a game to get lost.

Low software sales. Software sales and conversion rates are low on the Ouya. Full-game sales are reportedly sluggish, and the Ouya doesn't have the installed base to make the free-to-play, microtransaction-driven business model very effective.

High friction for buying games. Related to low software sales and conversion rates, you cannot buy games straight from the Ouya storefront. You have to download the free component of the game first, then purchase the game through the game's menu. That's not optimal for fast, impulse buys.

Getting started on Ouya

The Ouya website is turning out to be a great resource for developers, with Ouya's staff updating with blog posts and videos, as well as forums for developers to interact with one another.

The best place to get started is here: https://devs.ouya.tv/developers/docs

Review process

Ouya bills its console as "open," and while it's almost as open as a game console gets, there is still a basic review process for games. Developers must submit their games to be reviewed for inappropriate content, basic technical guidelines and payment methods.

Read all the details here: https://devs.ouya.tv/developers/docs/content-review-guidelines

Monetization

Ouya requires that every game has a "free component." You can implement free-to-play with microtransactions and in-app purchases, a demo with a full paid download, or even give the whole game away for free. It's up to you. As mentioned above, a drawback for full paid games is that they cannot be purchased straight from the storefront, but instead must be paid for from within the games themselves.

Revenue share

70/30 (Game dev/Ouya)

Specs:

Console

Tegra 3 quad-core processor

1 GB LPDDR2 RAM

8 GB on-board flash

HDMI connection to the TV at 1080p HD

WiFi 802.11bgn

Bluetooth LE 4.0

Enclosure opens with standard screws

Controller

Wireless controller with 2.4Ghz RF

Standard game controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button)

Touchpad, for porting mobile games more easily

2x AA batteries

Enclosure opens with standard screws

OS/Software

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Custom TV UI

Integrated custom game store — find and download games (and other apps)

Includes SDK for game development

Ability to root device without voiding warranty


Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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Comments


Luke Smith
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Nice Article! I already have the Ouya which I am hoping picks up it's game because the store is pretty lacking at the moment with the exception of a few.

I was going to make my wife buy me the SHIELD for Christmas but after keep having Madcatz entry into the market dangled under my nose, I definitely have a difficult decision to make between the SHIELD and the MOJO.

Don't worry Mr Clause my letter will be with you once my decision is made. I think the MOJO is slightly winning in the battle of these mobile consoles.

http://ensulyngamer.ensulyn.com

E Zachary Knight
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The Archos Gamepad is something that I wish had received a larger focus in the media. This is basically an Android based handheld that has fully customizable controls for use with even touch based control schemes.

http://www.archos.com/products/themed/gamepad/index.html?country=
us&lang=en

It is roughly the same power as the Ouya but on a handheld. The main draw to using this one is that the controller can take over for those on screen joysticks and buttons that many mobile games use.

I would love to own one and see it become a staple in mobile gamer's arsenals.

Micah Betts
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Good catch, the Archos Gamepad is a solid device and it actually outperforms the Ouya and has software to convert touch controls to it's hardware gamepad and it works VERY well. A 2nd version flew through the FCC recently, it's a shame this device has not received more attention.

Also, Samsung unveiled it's own gamepad at their last Galaxy S announcement event.

E Zachary Knight
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That would be great for Samsung to get in on the idea. I personally think that the tablet style gaming device is a far better idea than the Shield. The shield to me looks just bulky, and ugly.

Joel Lamotte
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"GamePop compensates developers according to how much time players spend in the developer’s games."

Isn't that an excellent context in which poor, diluted, game design would florish? I mean, the length of a game says nothing about it's quality and if the game is awesome but 2 hours, the developer will earn less than a game that artificially makes long the gameplay, like, using long cinematics very often for no real game value, and manage to keep an almost bored player for say 8 hours?

It feels like they are basing their economy on the same standards than TV shows.

Caleb Garner
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I didn't see mention of Google's console.. or amazon's game system.. perhaps they left them out because they are too speculative right now.. but it seems like both of these players are big enough to follow through and deliver, but maybe I skimmed too much.

Joel Lamotte
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We have almost no information on these, including Apple's game pad for ithings.

Harry Fields
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Anyone can put together a microconsole and slap a front end on it. Heck, for Amazon/Google, it would be ridiculously simple. The question is whether there is a market for living room based microconsoles when the apps available are pretty much available on phones and tablets anyway. Now if Amazon/Google made a seperate App Store, and curated exclusive, high quality content, maybe there's a chance, especially in developing markets.

Benjamin Sipe
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It's not a controller and it's not a microconsole but GameKlip (http://buy.thegameklip.com/) sells plastic holders for certain phones so players can clip them onto their PS3 controllers. You then need the Sixaxis Controller app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dancingpixelstudios.sixaxiscontroller&hl=en) and you're off and running. The plastic clip works great, but games sometimes need a little tinkering to get working well with the Sixaxis Controller app.

Definitely not the magical solution for controller/mobile gaming, but for consumers it's the cheapest route to try.

Jacob Pederson
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Despite the lack of content, I've had a ton of fun with the Shield just screwing around with emulation, pc streaming, and using it to play movies/music. I'm hoping the multitude of new Android consoles will cause a stampede of android games adding controller support :)

Blaze Sanecki
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I wouldnt agree that OUYA controller feels cheap. I own the retail version and they fixed most of the problems the Kickstarter version had. No latency issues, no sticking buttons and the overall quality is pretty high (with trigger buttons beeing the only exception).
More controller pros:
-The hands dont sweat as much when holding it (probably due to the aluminium parts)
-Most comfortable to hold in your hands compared with PS3 and XBOX controllers (IMO)
cons:
-Cheap, pretty awful L2/R2 triggers
-The analog sticks are slightly slippery

If they ever change the trigger buttons so they resemble either XBOX or Gamecube ones I would say that's my favorite controller.

As for the console itself - it still has flaws but most of them are just a matter of software - nothing that can't be fixed with updates. As a matter of fact there are already some fixes. The "discover" layout changed lately - it's much better now (still not perfect though) and the stuttering from the menu is gone.

Caleb Garner
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i've noticed that my U key is prone to stick in the right situations (pressing a little too hard) on both of my controllers.. i wasn't mashing the key mind you, just a good firm press.. a little lube might help this, but i still think this is something they could have done by simply putting a lower flange around each of the 4 buttons to insure the buttons could not go too low..

I returned one that came with my retail (best buy) unit because one of the analog joysticks was squeaky

The touchpad is near-useless.. it works but you have to exercise patience and persistence to click in the address bar of their browser.. pretty annoying. I wish they had opted to go with an ibm-thinkpad style joystick.. or heck for that matter.. just let the analog joysticks work in such a way..

overall i still like it.. the D pad is my favorite.. i've played so many console joysticks that have this annoying "drop" to them that to me feels less responsive.. i'm a big fan of the original NES controller and feel like Ouya did a nice job there.

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