In the wake of last night’s reveal of Amazon’s Fire TV, MCV got in touch with the retailer for an interview.
Amazon can be a secretive company. Much like Apple, it’s a business happy to throw extravagant over-hyped press events, but when it comes to actually talking to the media on the issues that matter… well it’s not so keen.
So we were genuinely pleased when, within minutes of our request, an Amazon PR rep fired back a response saying they’d love to chat, but we’d need to send any questions via email.
Email interviews are never as good, there’s no room for a discussion or follow-up questions. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
Unfortunately, upon receiving the answers, I wasn't sure it was worth the effort.
For starters, the firm completely ignored the question about when its new product will come to Europe. Based on the length of time it took to release Kindle Fire over here (10 months) or the time it took to launch its PC download store in the UK (four years) we’re not holding our breath.
And to give you an idea of the sort of answers we received to our other questions… we asked about Amazon's strategy between premium and free-to-play games and why it decided its big first party title – Sev Zero – was going down the premium route. This was the answer:
“Sev Zero is a vibrant, wild-action game that combines the up-close explosive experience of a shooter with the calculated strategy of tower defense,” said the retailer.
“And it’s offered at an incredible price of $6.99. It also comes free if customers purchase the Fire game controller."
Thanks for re-writing your press release there Amazon.
Yet, if I squint really hard at these answers, there may be a something we can say about Amazon’s bold attempt to enter the living room.
“We’re looking to give customers fun,
creative games, without the expense of consoles.”
Perhaps the best answer we received was with the question: Do you view Fire TV as a competitor to Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo. Or is this for a different market?
“They’re different,” said our spokesperson, offering an actual answer to one of our questions.
“We’re looking to give customers fun, creative, engaging games without the expense of console games or a console itself. “
So what I can boil this answer down to: “We are different to Xbox One and PS4 because we’re cheaper.”
Reading between the lines (and let’s be honest, there’s not much to read within the lines), Amazon believes Fire TV is a competitor to the consoles. And a bloody cheaper one at that.
Let’s not oversell this here. Fire TV is not going to sell to the millions of gamers currently playing Titanfall on their Xbox Ones of Infamous on their PS4s (although there are a number of ‘core’ games on the platform, namely Minecraft and Telltale's The Walking Dead).
But what Fire is going after is that broader gaming audience. The one Nintendo once had with Wii, and Xbox sort of attracted with Kinect, and PlayStation had hoped to win over with Move. That audience that has effectively been abandoned by the traditional console space, and is playing the majority of their games on Facebook or on mobiles or on tablets.
Or as Amazon likes to say:
“This is for anyone who wants high-quality games at low prices
“We have a great selection of games for Fire TV – games like Minecraft Pocket Edition, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, and more – that we think customers are going to love playing on a TV."
What’s more, Amazon’s Fire TV offers the sort of functionality many of today’s high-end consoles boast. You can control things with voice (hello Kinect), get extra information about the TV programme or film you’re watching on your ‘second screen’ (hello SmartGlass) and you can even control the games with your tablet (hello Wii U).
But the biggest element that could help Fire TV sail into the mainstream – aside from Amazon’s undoubtedly massive marketing budget and huge audience – is the fact this isn’t really a games console at all. This is a product designed as the ultimate TV and movie streaming box, combining popular services together in one box. This, coupled with a ‘serious’ game element that’s missing from its rival boxes (plus the addition of some nice functions like voice and a kid-friendly area) and you have something that will potentially offer more than just the tablet experience on the big screen.
“Amazon Game Studios is making creative,
fun games that are built from the ground
up for Kindle Fire tablets and Fire TV.”
I am traditionally dismissive of Android-based games consoles. Much like games streaming and – for now - Virtual Reality, Android consoles appear to be something that we all love to talk about but not actually spend any money on.
The difference with Amazon’s Fire TV is that unlike most of its rivals, the firm is developing its own content. The device has both the exclusive TV shows it has been developing for its Instant TV service, plus a plethora of exclusive games from its internal games division.
“Amazon Game Studios is making creative, fun games that are built from the ground up for Kindle Fire tablets and Fire TV. Making games on these devices is a very big focus for us,” the firm said when I tried to get some specific ideas of the sort of content the company will be creating.
But the early signs are that Amazon is not just creating a slew of Candy Crush clones and endless runners. Co-op tower defence shooter Sev Zero and those other titles teased at last night’s press conference suggest that Amazon’s games, although far from super hardcore, have a little more depth and invention to them than your typical tablet fair.
And the machine’s more ‘serious’ gaming credentials were backed up by the official controller it is launching with the machine.
“We offer different options for customers to play games on Fire TV – the Fire TV remote, the Fire TV app available next month and the Fire game controller,” said Amazon, not answering my question about why they haven't made the controller a standard part of the hardware.
“We encourage customers to use the Fire game controller to experience the best game play.”
Amazon Fire TV is not a sure-fire gaming success story. Numerous companies have tried to replicate the tablet experience on the big screen TV – including Apple and Google – to mixed results and limited success.
But ever since the collapse of Wii, big-screen gaming has largely abandoned the more mainstream audiences. Xbox One, PS4 and even Wii U have been targeting the more affluent gamers with expensive hardware and software.
And at $99 (although don’t kid yourself in thinking that means £60) Amazon’s Fire TV offers a real alternative to developers (not to mention Skylanders, LEGO or Moshi Monsters), who want to reach children on the big screen.