As the burgeoning market of "microconsoles" heats up, PlayJam's $79 Android-based GameStick
is positioning itself to target a "mid-core," family-oriented home market. We spoke with PlayJam chief marketing officer Anthony Johnson about where the GameStick is setting its sights, and what developers can do to get their titles onto the platform.
For more information on GameStick and other Android microconsoles, see our Android microconsole reference guide.
PlayJam has said that it's not competing with Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, etc... but it's going to be competing with Ouya, and possibly with the rumored Amazon and Google consoles, and even with TV-friendly smartphones. How does GameStick fit in that market?
To suggest that a sub-$100 Android powered console is today going to compete directly with the traditional games consoles is frankly a little disingenuous.
There is certainly some overlap at the family-gaming end of the spectrum and one day in the not-too-distant future I absolutely think that open platforms will trump proprietary ones, but today's hard core gamers are not about to jump ship any time soon. Suggesting that they will only serves to piss off a very vocal community who might otherwise dig what you are trying to achieve. Many core gamers that I have spoken to "get" GameStick immediately and think it's the perfect device for someone they know -- that's a pretty big compliment in my book.
We have the casual to mid-core gamer community firmly within our sights. These are not people who necessarily want to hack hardware or invest many hours a day into their gaming habit, but instead love playing beautifully made, engaging games. The smartphone revolution brought into play literally hundreds of millions of potential gamers almost overnight, and with it a business model supporting low-cost gaming that has driven innovation within the game developer community.
GameStick brings this affordable gaming model and these amazing games to the big screen with a simple, yet elegant device that we feel will appeal to the mass market.
What do developers need to get started on GameStick? Will the retail unit double as a devkit, or is that something they need to go through PlayJam for? How will porting work?
It will be a very simple process whereby the developer provides us with the MAC address of his or her retail stick, which we then use to send a [development] version of our firmware within 15 minutes. This makes available a suite of tools enabling them to upload, test and submit games to our internal QA team prior to publication.
Discoverability is a big concern for many developers, especially in increasingly crowded marketplaces. How will the GameStick storefront operate?
As with the design of the hardware, we have worked hard to ensure simplicity sits at the heart of our UI. We have not tried to re-invent the wheel and by no means do we claim to have solved the issue of discoverability. Users will find our UI intuitive to navigate with all the usual promotional spots and algorithmically driven menus that we are all used to.
There are off-platform ways to promote content and we will be launching smart-phone apps and a new website that will provide an editorial push of new content as it becomes available, which we then hope will be replicated across the GameStick community on various message boards and social media outlets. Getting this right will, I think, be key.
What sort of business models will the GameStick support?
GameStick is powered by PlayJam's built-for-TV games platform which to date has delivered over a billion downloads worldwide across Pay and Smart TV networks. It is therefore pretty robust and capable of supporting all monetization models including premium, freemium, advertising, and subscription.
Is there a mandatory free-to-try aspect a la Ouya? Will you facilitate in-game purchases or advertising?
We did not wish to place any barriers in the way of developers looking to get their games on TV, and therefore have not insisted on any bespoke content. We will carry game-reels, screen-shots, descriptions and any free-to-play or trial versions.
Piracy is an issue that comes up a lot with these Android-based platforms. Has the GameStick team been discussing how to address it? Do you consider it a big issue?
We have spent quite a bit of time discussing this topic. We have a lot of people asking that we support emulators and it is very tempting, but when it came down to it we decided that if we were serious about entering this space, then we needed to be equally serious about protecting the IP of others. That led to a decision not to support emulators, and to put in place strong encryption on all games submitted to the GameStick storefront.
What can developers expect as far as a revenue share from storefront purchases?
Do you expect to follow an annual hardware update model?
We will indeed be updating hardware in line with the capabilities of the next generation of chip-sets, but right now, we're heads down on getting Generation 1 out of the door.
GameStick is rolling out to Kickstarter backers right now, and retail orders will begin fulfillment soon after. More resources for GameStick development can be found here.