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Developers react: Amazon launches Fire TV Android microconsole

Developers react: Amazon launches Fire TV Android microconsole Exclusive

April 2, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

Today Amazon unveiled the Fire TV, the $99 Android microconsole the company has been puttering away on in secret -- well, mostly secret -- for some time now.

The hardware itself isn't so surprising -- it's an affordable black box with a decent CPU, a discrete GPU and 2 GB of RAM that will output HDMI and slip unobtrusively under your TV. It comes with a remote, and you can pick up an unremarkable gamepad for an extra $40.

What's more surprising is Amazon's ongoing efforts to beef up its roster of veteran game developers and produce its own games through Amazon Game Studios.

The studio, which got its start producing casual games for Facebook and mobile devices, is now working on creating a catalog of games specifically for Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV console that appeal to a broad audience and launch exclusively on Amazon hardware.

Double Helix Games, acquired by Amazon earlier this year, is confirmed to be a part of Amazon Game Studios.

Yet despite hiring people that have a legacy of developing AAA PC and console titles -- Kim Swift, Clint Hocking, and the folks at Double Helix -- Amazon has no plans to compete with premium console games in the near future.

Instead, Amazon Game Studios is producing games, like the $7 third-person shooter Sev Zero, that bear prices akin to premium mobile titles, falling squarely within the $5-$10 price range on the Amazon Appstore.

"This is a different kind of device," an Amazon representative told Gamasutra. "We're looking to give customers fun, creative, engaging games without the expense of console games or a console itself."

Of course, Amazon has also been courting developers for months now in an effort to convince them to bring their games to the company's new microconsole. In an effort to better understand why game makers should care about developing for Amazon's new console, Gamasutra reached out to a few developers who already have games on Fire TV.

Putting your games on Fire

Gameloft has fielded a number of launch titles for the Fire TV, most notably versions of Modern Combat 4 and Asphalt 8: Airborne optimized for Amazon's console.

Gameloft representative Heather Cosby told Gamasutra via email that as Gameloft has been working with Amazon to publish games on its platforms since the launch of the company's Kindle Fire tablet, developing games for the Fire TV was a "natural progression."

"We worked on the UI, the controller mapping and the big screen rendering," Cosby told Gamasutra when asked about what it takes to optimize a game for the Fire TV. "Our games run nicely on the Fire TV and the device benefits from the entire Amazon ecosystem."

To hear Jackbox Games designer/director Steve Heinrich tell it, porting established games to the Fire TV is a bit like throwing code from your game's Kindle and OUYA versions into a blender and punching it up to frappe.

"Porting You Don't Know Jack was really like developing for Android, with the exception of the store and the new controller library," Heinrich told Gamasutra via email. "The store itself is the same as the Kindle version, which we've used many times now, and the way the controller works is very close to what we did for Ouya."

Heinrich said Jackbox simply had to blend the Kindle and Ouya code bases of You Don't Know Jack together, and "voila! It was running on Fire TV."

As far as developing games specifically for Fire goes, Heinrich took pains to highlight the unique features of Amazon's console, including its ability to accept control input from player smartphones, as reasons why Jackbox Games built its 8-player bluffing game Fibbage specifically for the hardware.

"You don't need to buy 8 Fire TV controllers to play [our] big multiplayer game," Heinrich told Gamasutra. "The unique challenge for us is the dividing line between what is controllable by the Fire TV remote or controller - such as menus, pausing, etc. - and what is controlled by the phones/tablets that people are playing with."

Another window into the Amazon Appstore

But many of the developers we spoke to just seem happy to have another platform through which to sell their Android games on the Amazon Appstore.

"Developing for Android is pretty much business as usual for most companies, and from our perspective it's a really great move by Amazon to continue using Android," Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester told Gamasutra via email.

Paradox has released Android versions of a few of its games, including Magicka, and Wester hopes it can release games on the Fire TV in the near future to take advantage of the large audience that can hopefully be acquired by Amazon selling an Android-based microconsole on the front page of its storefront.

"From our perspective, we think that costs are well balanced against the upside of reaching a new gaming audience," commented Wester.

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