I read the funniest thing the other day courtesy of The Wall Street Journal: “Google Inc. is developing a video game console and wrist watch powered by its Android operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, as the internet company seeks to spread the software beyond smartphones and tablets.” It was funny because I’m not sure which of those – the game console or the wrist watch – is the worse idea.
Earlier this year, when the Apple smart watch rumours were bubbling, I wrote (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) about how such a device would only appeal to a very small segment of the population. For some reason, the tech press and now the WSJ continue to beat this drum like it’s some sort of big deal. A whole host of tech companies, from Apple to Google to Microsoft to Samsung, may very well eventually offer smart watches, but unless I’m having a total failure of imagination, such devices will quickly be forgotten as curiosities.
The Android-powered game console may actually the worse idea of the two, thanks mainly to the recently released Ouya. That Android-based project, famous for its big success on Kickstarter, is proving to be a half-baked effort, with reviews mixed at best. In my take on it, I found the Ouya to be almost unplayable given the major lag with its controller, not to mention a dearth of games that I would want to spend any amount of time with.
It’s funny because in that review, I mentioned that you could hook up a tablet – especially one running Android – with your TV and controller and thereby create your own jury-rigged game console, if you really wanted to. Doing so with an Android tablet would give you access to many more games than the Ouya is ever likely to offer, and quite possibly a better overall experience.
Google certainly has better resources and could theoretically put together a better machine, but what kind of games would it ultimately run? Android games, at least till now, have been designed to be mobile, so they’ve generally been smaller and shorter with lower production values. They’re usually made to be consumed in bite-sized chunks. Games for televisions are a different story.
Most gamers, when they plop down on the couch for a play session, expect to devote some time to their game and to be immersed in it. That means they’re looking for the sorts of high production values offered on the likes of Xbox and PlayStation. The resources that go into those games – not just financial, but also hardware-wise – are considerably higher.
It’s not yet clear if there’s a business case for casual bite-sized games on the television, and in fact there’s some evidence against it, if Nintendo’s woes with the Wii U and the Wii in its later stages is any indication. The Japanese stalwart has concentrated on offering more casual games on the TV than Sony or Microsoft and has suffered for it.
A market is definitely emerging for shorter, smaller and cheaper games for the television, if the success of indie titles such as Journey and Guacamelee are any indication. Both those games are being designed specifically for TV consoles (the PlayStation 3 in both those examples) and they’re being priced reasonably, at around $15, or much less than the typical $70 price tag of a full-blown console game.
Is there demand for games that are even shorter, simpler and cheaper? Sure there is – on phones and tablets, but not necessarily in the living room.