Ouya. Project Shield. GameStick. These headline-grabbing devices lead the wave of new Android-based consoles due this year.
These devices have plenty of hype behind them as consumers help fund some of them via Kickstarter.
The Google-owned Android platform accounts for 75 per cent of the mobile market – but in the age of smartphones and tablets does it need a presence in the console space as well?
Android Magazine editor Andy Betts told MCV: “Android is branching into new categories of product this year so it’s logical that games consoles would also be included. “The Ouya Kickstarter captured the imagination of gamers – although whether this will translate to mainstream appeal is not so clear.”
T3 deputy editor Matt Hill added: “Ouya and GameStick are trying to democratise gaming: make it cheaper, with less barriers to entry.
“Unfortunately for them, smartphones have already democratised gaming for the mainstream and the promise of physical controls is more aimed at old-school gamers.
“It’s very hard to know where they fit in the market till the inevitable reveals of PS4 and the next Xbox later this year, and how the big boys respond to this disruptive threat.”
However, the console market has changed. Gamers’ tighter controls on spending mean luxury items such as Wii U – not to mention the inevitably tech-heavy Xbox 720 and PS4 – are no longer guaranteed the immediate success they might have enjoyed.
Of course, the big three have responded to the rise of smartphones and tablets – with Nintendo’s tablet-like Wii U controller an obvious example.
Sony is blurring the lines between PlayStation and its mobile offering with Xperia Play, while Microsoft has bridged the gap between Xbox and established mobile platforms with SmartGlass.
But all three still depend on costly high-end hardware for their core offering – and that’s something the cheaper Android consoles are able to take advantage of.
“That these devices are very inexpensive gives them greater casual appeal. Rather than competing with the big players, they would be complementing them,” says Betts.
GameStick co-founder Anthony Johnson adds: “We’re not trying to replace the traditional console today – at $79 we cannot – but we’re going after a huge market of a new generation of gamers.”
We cannot judge these machines until after launch, but critics are sceptical. “As interesting as they are, I imagine Android consoles will remain niche devices for a while,” said Hill.
“While they are Android based, they don't all use the recognisable Google Play store: Ouya runs its own, as does GameStick, meaning you're signing on with a company without a track record of delivering.
“How the devices work out of the box could confuse the mainstream. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are brands of assurance, in this aspect.”
Herein lies the biggest challenge for Android consoles. While expectations are high for PS4 and Xbox 720 to stay relevant in the mobile-dominated world, their strong brands still guarantee a following.
Ouya, GameStick et al are starting from scratch, and it will take more than a Kickstarter and optimism to survive in the console market.