[On Wednesday morning, Amazon lit up the internet by revealing the reasonably-priced, Android-based Kindle Fire. So what exactly does a suped-up e-reader offer game developers? Gamasutra EIC Kris Graft investigates.]
Revealing the Kindle Fire on Wednesday in New York, online retailer Amazon didn't just introduce an update to its e-reader line -- it also unveiled its first real hardware contender to the mobile gaming market.
Sure, there are already thousands of games available on the current Kindles, like Electronic Arts' Scrabble
(and many other EA games), Spry Fox's Triple Town
and Big Fish Games' Hidden Object: Expedition
These are all fine games, depending your tastes, but ultimately most of these games -- minus a few -- were shoehorned onto a slow-refreshing monochrome screen meant to display text.
The new Kindle Fire
makes a deliberate move at being more of a multimedia device, with improved music features, the ability to watch videos, play games and, of course, read books and magazines in color. All of these features are facilitated by a 7-inch color multi-touch LCD screen, 1GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP4 CPU, wi-fi capabilities and access to the Amazon Appstore.
The most obvious advantage that the new Kindle Fire will have over its competitors is the price tag. At $199, it beats Barnes & Noble's Android-based, $249 Nook Color (which incidentally, also has Angry Birds
), and easily beats the price of the more feature-rich Apple iPad 2, which starts at $499.
A price that low makes the current, reasonably-priced monochrome Kindles look downright overpriced, never mind the newly-announced base $79 budget Kindle. Combine Amazon's promotional power (the retailer is already throwing the device in the face of every Amazon.com visitor), that nice price tag, plus a shipping date (November 15) just before the Black Friday shopping rush this year, and there's a potential to put this device in a lot of hands.
And big installed bases are always good for a game developer looking to reach a wide audience. A report from IDC earlier this year estimated that Kindle models accounted for nearly half of the 12.8 million e-reader shipments worldwide in 2010, leading the category.
If game developers eventually find the install base appealing enough, they can port their Android games over to the the Android-based device, and sell it on Amazon's Appstore for Android, whose game offerings are lacking in comparison to the older, gargantuan Apple App Store. (We won't go too deep into Amazon's controversial pricing practices
Downloadable gaming aside, being an Android-based device, Amazon confirmed the Kindle Fire and its fancy Amazon Silk "cloud-accelerated" browser will support Adobe's Flash player, which gives game developers another potential venue for web games. And no, iPad still does not support Flash.
But the device also poses some disadvantages for game developers. The low price sacrifices features that mobile gamers have come to expect from their hardware, such as 3G support (yes, it's not even quite
mobile -- yet) to download a game "anywhere," no gyroscopic sensors (sorry Doodle Jump
/racing game fans), no mic and no camera (ARG!, are you serious?!).
Luckily, the 7-inch, 1024x600 screen is multi-touch (even though it is smaller than an iPad 2's 9.7" screen) and the Fire comes packed with a dual core processor that will be able to do more than puzzle and hidden object games.
Who knows when the next Kindle Fire will arrive and add some more game-friendly features... Well, that could be sooner than you think. Completely unconfirmed rumors suggest that the Kindle Fire is just a holiday hold-over for a Kindle Fire follow-up from Amazon. So a more feature-rich Fire in early 2012 could be boon for game developers, but pretty annoying to holiday 2011 adopters.
For now though, the middle-of-the-road price, dual-core processor and the nice, mid-sized multitouch screen will be enough to draw game developers to the Kindle Fire. Votes of confidence from PopCap with a Fire version of Plants vs. Zombies
and Rovio with Angry Birds
may help to lead the way.
In terms of features, the Kindle Fire may pale in comparison to the more expensive iPad 2 and its gigantic library of games, or larger-screened, more expensive full Android devices.
Is the Kindle Fire a sure bet for game developers? Nothing is -- just look at the Nook Color, another cheaper-than-an-iPad Android-based e-reader, and its lacking game offerings. But the power of Amazon's publicity, low price and a healthy installed base could beckon game developers to test out Kindle Fire's clear blue waters down the line.