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Developers Speak Out: Why Microconsoles?

August 28, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

The launch of Ouya is behind us, but Playjam's GameStick, Mad Catz's Mojo, and others are still to come -- and that's just year one. The era of microconsoles has barely gotten started, but they already inspire strong feelings in many developers.

Gamasutra recently interviewed a number them -- some working on microconsole games, and some avowedly not -- to find out what they think of the present and future of these platforms.

When it comes to the Ouya, "I'm a big supporter," says Pietro Righi Riva, of small independent studio Santa Ragione, developer of the IGF-nominated MirrorMoon. He's bringing the game, due out this autumn, to the Ouya -- because he likes the ethos it represents.

"It looks homemade, it looks put together quickly, and some people really do not like that because it feels cheap, but I really love it because it doesn't make me feel like I'm not good enough," says Righi Riva. "I'll always be playing on cooler and more expensive consoles like the big guys, but I'm really enjoying that experience right now."

Double Fine's Kickstarter success Broken Age is also coming to the Ouya, and according to lead programmer Oliver Franzke, that's as much about the culture surrounding this new microconsole as business or technical reasons. "I think there is a really nice overlap between who our backers our and the backers of Ouya, because I think it's a very similar group of people. So that works."

Microconsoles could very well grow into a new kind of console culture -- one built on handcrafted, atypical, or quirky games; one more open to developers, creatively and from a business perspective, too. But will they have the chance?

The Open-Ended Business Model

If there's a key promise of the microconsole model that appeals to developers, it's the appeal of delivering a console-style experience without the expense and red tape of publishing your game on a traditional console.

"I like the openness of it," says Tale of Tales' Auriea Harvey. The team is bringing its upcoming tablet game, Luxuria Superbia, to Ouya. "It's the first time there's a console where it's like zero bullshit."

"Traditionally, bringing games onto the major consoles was not only really expensive, but also you had to be a publisher," says Franzke. Of Double Fine's first Ouya game, the recently released Dropchord, he says, "It's been really good and really easy to get the game on there."

So far, microconsoles rely on Android, which also has its appeal, as Franzke explains: "If you're already spending a lot of work on getting the game running on this kind of platform, then it's only a logical choice to go one step further and go on there," he says. "Obviously, we want to bring the game to as many people as possible, so, again, it's just the logical choice to make it work on there too."

And Righi Riva even sees the platform's couch multiplayer and ease of distribution opening up avenues PCs and traditional consoles do not: "Like if I do a cool prototype of a multiplayer thing, now I can take it somewhere -- where before it was just a jam game, it was impossible to market, it was impossible to distribute, because on phones and tablets you have to do splitscreen where everybody uses a quarter of the screen, or on PC it's just impossible -- you just have to do online games. And now it's possible, and that's really cool."

Harvey even hopes that if they get big enough, these consoles can put pressure on the big three manufacturers to further loosen their publishing policies. "If this sort of idea -- plus mobile, plus everything -- is pressuring Sony, and Microsoft, and Nintendo to think about their ways of publishing, then I think that's extremely valuable and I'm very happy, because somebody needed to do something."

But not all developers are optimistic. Ilari Kuittinen, co-founder of Housemarque -- developers of Resogun, a PlayStation 4 launch exclusive -- can see the good and the bad in microconsoles.

"I think that it's great to have these kind of open-ended platforms to begin with, but as a business, I think it's going to be tough for any developer to do much there," Kuittinen says. "For somebody it will be a good springboard for the future, I'm sure, and if you're a lone developer, you might get your living out of that, sure. Sure, it's a great opportunity for a certain type of people. But if you want to have a long-term business, I think it might be pretty tough."

Machine Zone's Gabriel Leydon (Game of War) agrees. He sees the audience of microconsoles as far too small in comparison to their cousins, mobile phones and tablets: "I think mobile has 2 billion users at the end of the year. We're strictly free-to-play. We only want to do free-to-play, and volume matters in free-to-play, so I'm not particularly interested in the microconsoles -- but I do think they have a future."

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Kujel s
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I think microconsoles have a very bright future ahead of them but as MichaŽl Samyn says they need a little time to grow. I'll wager that by this time next year we wont be wondering whether or not microconsoles will be around in x time frame but rather how big will they get.

Mike Higbee
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Cheap to dev for and quick money. Now if more devs would get on the SDL and OpenGL train so ports would be easier...

Matt Hackett
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When deciding whether we'll support a platform our answer is invariably, "If it's easy." For example, we make HTML5 games, so launching on the Google Chrome Web Store takes all of 5 minutes. If microconsoles deliver that kind of development experience, I'm in.

Bob Johnson
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These things all die out is what I think. Or there is one survivor that becomes really niche. Or they decide to also do the Roku thing in addition to what they are doing. Or maybe Roku buys one of these guys out.

I could get on board with a Roku/micro-console/Chromecast all-in-one.

I have a difficult time seeing it otherwise. I have a pc so I can already play indie games especially if all I need is the power of a weak tablet. Then we have true lag free wireless gaming tech out now that will eventually be in every pc if not all tablets etc. I think something as generic as the OUYA will be able to be done via existing devices in our homes soon enough. The only thing you'll need is a controller.

Micah Betts
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I agree to a point with this. In time, I believe "microconsoles" will be commonplace devices, or even built into the TV itself. If not for games, it will be for streaming media like XBMC, Netflix, Hulu, etc., but all of these devices will be capable of playing the same games. I think the Ouya has crippled itself by having it's own store. This is why I'm looking forward to the Madcatz MOJO, which has no walled garden and access to all of Google Play.

Jason Farmer
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Whether the OUYA is a Succeed or failure, I'm optimistic for the future of Microconsoles.
They're not just a new niche product, they're going to be essential for the next generation of developers.

Remember this: The current generation of game company heads who are in their late 30's and early 40's grew up with a home computer they learned to program on.

They did because they could, the tech was accessible, cheap and new and the games were simple enough for a small team to build. They could create. No kid is going to be inspired to create a game by playing Skyrim - well, they might start and then fail in dismay. But they might be inspired to create a Super Meat Boy, or a Fez. That's achievable with a small team and a lot of heart.

All the industry needs to do is get behind the OUYA, then the next generation of developers will be inspired.