Monday, October 6, 2014

How Android TV could Change the Game for Microconsoles

The topic of microconsoles has sort of become a joke in the gaming community after the rise and then quick, dramatic death of Ouya. Intended to be a haven for indie developers, the Ouya game console was a huge success on Kickstarter raising nearly $8.6 million making it the 2nd most funded campaign on the website at the time. With all that money raised by over 63,000 backers it's obvious that this is a product that people wanted. It's hard to believe that after all that hype the Ouya could've failed as badly as it did. So, what happened?

Despite being a good idea, Ouya's implementation of an open, easy-to-developer-for indie console just didn't do the idea any justice. First off, the Ouya's hardware was very disappointing. Although the slightly outdated Tegra 3 could've been overlook as graphics aren't everything, the terrible controller and other miscellaneous annoyances such as bad wifi reception really gave the impression of the Ouya being a poor quality device. A strange feel in the hand and bad input lag from the controller made gaming difficult and uncomfortable. Sure, you could use a third party controller or a PS3 controller, but those can run around $40 which is a bit of an issue considering the Ouya was meant to be an inexpensive gaming experience.

Aside from having bad hardware, the Ouya also had more than it's fair share of software issues. The interface is a bit clunky and hard to navigate quickly. However, that may have been excused if the console had any good games. Or maybe I should say: if you could find the good games. The Ouya "Discover" store is jammed full of small, low quality games and direct Android ports. Some of the ports benefit from being played on a TV, but one would expect more than just mobile ports from a game console. With the Discover store being saturated with low quality content paired with the console's less than perfect sorting and organization, it's very difficult to separate the good from the bad on the Ouya and so you might understand why it didn't succeed.

If you keep up with gaming news at all you probably already knew everything that I've discussed in this article. So why does it matter that we talk about this now?

Well, at Google IO we caught a glimpse of a new Android based operating system called Android TV. You guessed it, it's an OS for little boxes that you plug into your TV. Basically, it's meant for devices like Roku streaming boxes and Apple TV. The twist that Android TV brings to the table that it also plays games. That means that we'll start seeing many new devices just like the Ouya that run Android TV.

So, what's different this time around? Why do these new Android TV devices have potential to succeed? First, don't forget the tremendous amount of potential the Ouya had. The success of it's Kickstarter campaign shows it was something that people wanted. These new devices will have all that potential and more. Why? There are a few reasons.

On top of the list of reasons is the developer of the OS. It will be a Google product and it will be based on Android. Granted, not every Google products succeeds but many of them do and at least they aren't some unknown start up. Google has the resources to make this succeed. Also, Android TV is of course based on Android which is a tremendously successful OS. Google's job as a part of making microconsoles successful will be to create good software to run on them that is easy to develop for and provides a good UI and a good discovery platform for developers to help their apps get noticed. They've done a pretty good job with all three of these things on Android and I think they could do it with Android TV as well.

The success of microconsole gaming isn't solely in Google's hands, though. Android TV will be available to many device manufacturers. These companies will be in charge of avoiding the mistakes that Ouya made and creating high quality and high performing consoles. The introduction of competition between Android TV devices should bring some new and exciting ideas to the world of microconsole gaming. Just like with Android devices in general, we'll see high end and low end Android TV devices. Although this may be confusing to some, to others it will open a world of choices from low spec, low cost to higher specs at less competitive prices and possibly a range of extra features between different devices.

Speaking of high specs, the timing of Android TV's announcement couldn't have been better. With the Tegra K1 chip promising more performance from mobile devices than you may have ever thought possible, it seems that future microconsoles won't be held down by the lackluster graphics capabilities that we've seen in mobile devices and other microconsoles compared to the current kings of the console industry and PCs. With the Tegra K1 and Unreal Engine 4 on Android already game devs might just decide that porting their games to Android TV may be simple enough to benefit them meaning that we could see console level games coming to Android TV.

So the question still remains: will Android TV devices revive microconsole gaming? And will these new devices dare to compete with current kings of the console industry? Only time will tell, but I certainly think that the foundation is there and the possibility is real.

Bobby Lou Jo

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