Last night, the Wall Street Journal brought us news that Google has now set its sights on making its own Android-based video game console. The kicker? This is supposed to be in response to Apple doing the very same thing.
Google and Apple video game consoles? Are the Xbox One and PS4 dead already? No. Though this would change the game to some degree, it’s more like Google and Apple are creating an entirely new league for themselves.
Consoles theoretically released by Google and Apple would likely not be the kinds we see in our living rooms now. They’d be specifically designed to play all those massively popular Android or iOS handheld games on a big screen, rather than running the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and the endless array of triple A titles available on traditional game consoles like the Xbox and Playstation.
Rather for now, this is competing with the little guy. Though “destroying” might be a better descriptor than competing. I’m talking about the Ouya, of course, the Kickstarted, hack friendly Android based console that may have been the inspiration for both Google and Apple’s console dreams.
Once the Ouya racked up $8.5M in Kickstarted donations, blowing away their expectations, that told Google and Apple that people were indeed interested in a cheap console that plays phone games on their TV. There’s no way to know if the Ouya was the actual spark behind this movement, but the relative success of the console, at least conceptually, was probably enough to make both brands seriously consider the possibility.
The chief complaint with the Ouya, which was just released this week, is that despite there being a good selection of games, the whole package can feel a bit cheap and hacked together, like it was built on a budget (because it was). It’s hard to imagine Google and Apple not delivering a product with ten thousand percent more refinement, so it may be the case the Ouya won’t be long for this world.
This would be the initial phase of a new console war that few saw coming, except our own Erik Kain of course, months ago:
“And Ouya? Well, it was a nice thought. It could have been disruptive. The problem is, aiming to disrupt the console business misses the point. Your real competitors are the big players in mobile, not in video games.”
Is this instant death for the Ouya? It seems clear cut when going up against giants like Apple and Google, but it could have one thing going for it. Intentional or not, the Ouya is a piracy goldmine, allowing even users with a fractional amount of tech knowledge to get access to emulator roms of nearly every old video game in existence. You can bet that’s a service Google and Apple won’t offer. And the general hackability of the box is something the larger companies will shy away from too.
But let’s say the Google and Apple boxes kill the Ouya. Then they face off against each other alone, and people have to decide whether they’d rather play iOS or Android games, nearly all of which would likely be available across both platforms. This is where the two boxes would have to differentiate themselves from one another. Is one cheaper? Does one have bonus app capability like Netflix or Skype? Does the other have such a great design that people buy it as a decoration for their coffee table?
If Apple and Google slug it out in this “lower” tier of console wars, it’s unclear what direct impact that would have on the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, currently about to begin waging their next great console melee. I don’t believe an Apple or Google box would at all be a replacement for a traditional video game console. A console that plays phone games on a TV and one that plays actual games are not in the same league. They may share a customer base to some degree, but someone shelling out $99 for an Android console that doesn’t play major releases is still going to buy an Xbox One or a PS4.
It is worth wondering what would happen if things continued to evolve from there, however. What if Google or Apple did set their sights on the larger prize, an actual video game console, just as powerful as its top of the line competitors?
It may sound ridiculous, and in truth, I’m not sure how terribly likely it is, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. Once upon a time the idea that Microsoft would debut a video game console was laughable.
This would make the field exceptionally crowded, and some would say that’s the case already with three major consoles and the Oculus Rift on the horizon. If there were ever five true video game consoles competing in the same sphere, there would be causalities. They would struggle to differentiate themselves from one another, and someone would have to bit the dust. It could be the newcomers, as Google and Apple wouldn’t be trusted as console manufacturers. Or it could be a veteran like Nintendo, their struggling Wii U crushed by even more competition. The Xbox One and PS4 wouldn’t necessarily be safe either. In short, such a development would result in a complete upheaval of the entire industry.
But let’s dial back. A Google or Apple phone game console could fail from the get-go. I’m still not convinced there’s that big of a market for such a device. The now-famous comment about the Ouya is that people were excited about an Android console that plays phone games on their TV, then were disappointed when it turned out to be just an Android console that played phone games on their TV.
And as for breaking into the next-tier market, facing off against Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo? That would be an even bigger gamble, and one I’m not sure either Google or Apple would want to make. The market is crowded already. No one is floundering enough to even being close to dropping out of the game just yet, and as I said, it’s doubtful the industry could sustain four or five consoles. It remains to be seen if it can even support three in this next generation.
Still, it’s an exciting thought to hear that Google and Apple are thinking about getting into the console game, in whatever capacity. More competition and choice is a great thing for the industry. Not being particularly loyal to either brand, I’d love to see what Google and Apple’s vision of a video game console would even look like, from the controller to the box to the OS. It’s a rather fantastic notion, and I welcome hearing more news on this front.