Android-based Micro-consoles: The Reawakening Of Casual Gaming
The new generation of consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo has been finally unveiled and, besides all the expectations and controversies, there's one point that has been made crystal clear: there's no room for casual gaming on big names consoles. DRM, monthly subscriptions, steep game prices, high-end hardware... these are all elements that, in different degrees, are shared by XBOX One and PS4. In fact, all of them meet hard-gamers requirements but they are far from matching casual gamers preferences. Obviously, casual gamers don't need that level of implication, they aren't willing to pay monthly subscription but a unique downloading price (at most). They don't need such powerful devices since the games they enjoy most aren't graphically stunning but entertainingly unbeatable.
Thus, if mobile gaming started showing us there was a starving market of casual gamers out there, the next generation of big name consoles has confirmed it, widening the gap between hard and casual gamers by making them choose between total gaming implication (subscriptions, DRM, etc) or the void. Fortunately, and quoting Bob Marley, when one door is closed, many more are open. By focusing on the hard-gamers target, classic video game consoles have left a empty niche that now others can gladly fill.
Android-based micro-consoles are ready to hit the market and catch all those abandoned-by-the-industry casual gamers. Ouya, GameStick and Nvidia Shield are the most-known proposals (but not the only ones). Consoles wearing smartphones/tablets hardware and Android OS, which aim is to bring titles published on Google Play to our TVs. Size, price (regarding bot console and games price) and multi-purpose are the three big reasons to acquire a device of this kind. Especially the latter pushes hesitant to buy it: you aren't only getting a video game console here but a set-top-box for your TV (multimedia center, media streaming, news reader, browser) with no limits, or rather, with the diffuse limit that every day Android apps break. A bundle of possibilities in devices that in most cases are under $100.
OUYA is probably the most widely known Android-based micro-console which is up to the mark since it raised $8 million from Kickstarter backers and since then major tech blogs have followed it up. A few elements gave enough reasons to back it: a selling price of $99, an open approach to hacking and tweaking the platform and the chance to bring Android apps to the TV through the HDMI port. The main flak so far: the library of available games designed to be played with OUYA's remote which currently has around 150 games. OUYA release date is June 25 2013 (yes, guys, that's next Tuesday!).
GameStick is also coming out thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, although it raised a more modest final budget ($700K aprox.). However, GameStick is hitting the market (expected mid-Agusut 2013, after being delayed), with a similar hardware to OUYA but $20 cheaper ($79 final price). In addition, GameStick is smaller in size and has a totally different game controller design. Can't say if one is better than the other: it seems that's all up to a matter of taste. Although, main difference with OUYA is probably the company behind GameStick: PlayJam was a game developer first and then came up with GameStick proposal. Thus, it comes with its own digital distribution platform which can give it some advantage on the software side. However, it seems GameStick could be less open than OUYA.
Nvidia Shield is also considered an Android-based micro-console. However, it gets away from the others regarding both features and prices. First off, Nvidia Shield comes with a 5-inch touchscreen display attached to its game controller - Wii U style - which enhances the playing experience but, unfortunately, makes the price increase. In addition, it clearly beats OUYA and GameStick regarding hardware and, especially, due to an interesting feature it comes with: the ability to stream games from your PC directly to your Nvidia Shield while sharing WiFi connection. These features have a cost and you pay it for it from the very first moment: $350 selling price.
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