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20 Sep 2013

What Developers Need to Know Before Supporting a Microconsole

Gamasutra posted an interesting article Thursday that provided a few details regarding exactly how Amazon is starting to prepare game developers for its upcoming microconsole. For those that are somewhat unfamiliar with the topic, Amazon is slated to release a set-top box that will allow users to download movies, music, and Android games offered on the Amazon App Store through the box. In a sense, it’s more of an ‘all-in-one’ media box rather than strictly a microconsole. Yet make no mistake: Amazon knows there is a potential for microconsoles to become quite popular, and it is doing its part to ensure developers are ready.

How can developers release their game on the microconsole? Amazon isn’t sharing too much information; especially when discussing the actual device. Rather, Amazon is sending SDKs that fail to mention an actual box while telling developers that they need to add gamepad support to their Android titles. Those that do not have gamepad support will obviously be unable to add their mobile game to Amazon’s library of Android titles for the microconsole, yet is it worth doing?

Furthermore, should indie mobile developers even consider releasing their game on a microconsole in the first place? Sure, sales of the first microconsole, the OUYA, have been abysmal (not to mention the design of the controller and console have been universally panned), and the Nvidia Shield, while an impressive piece of technology, has seen less-than-expected sales figures. Even so, microconsoles such as the GameStick and, yes, Amazon’s set-top box have yet to be released, so the jury is still out on whether microconsoles will open up a new market in gaming or will be a colossal failure. Nevertheless, here is what you need to know in order to begin forming an informed opinion.




Pre-requisites are (Mostly) Undemanding

As stated above, gamepad support is a must. For some Android games, this could be fairly easy to implement, while for other games it could be rather difficult (especially games that rely heavily on gyroscope controls, for instance). Mileage will certainly vary from game-to-game, yet other than gamepad support, all developers really need is an SDK and they can have their game on a microconsole. SDKs differ from micronsole to microconsole, so again, mileage will certainly vary.

If implementing gamepad support for your game and purchasing an extra SDK is no problem for you though, getting your game on a microconsole is pretty straightforward.


A Possible New Customer Base

Believe it or not, there are people that absolutely hate playing games on touchscreen. For most of us, it has become second nature by now, but there are those that refuse to play a game unless they have some variant of a controller in their hand, be it a console controller or a mouse and keyboard. With your game on a microconsole, you open up the possibilities of getting these people to play your game whereas they normally would not.

Moreover, there are those people that hate playing games on their mobile device because the screen is too small (yes, even if the mobile device is a tablet). They want to play games on either their television or monitor, and with your Android game on a microconsole, you are giving them the chance to do so.

These two demographics are now open to you if you launch your game on a microconsole, and while they are not the majority of gamers, these demographics are possibly large up to be worth your attention.


Not all Microconsoles Need Gamepad Support

That’s the plan, anyway. One microconsole, GameStick, is planning to release an app that allows players to use the touchscreen on either their iOS or Android device to use as a controller. What does this mean for your mobile game? Your game can be played as you originally developed it.


Affordable (Mostly)

Microconsoles promise the consumer that they can play Android games on their television for $99 (OUYA) and even $79 (GameStick), so they’re extremely affordable compared to other gaming devices. For those that want to play a higher-end microconsole, the Nvidia Shield costs $299 while Mad Catz’s upcoming Mojo microconsole will likely be around the same price point as well. Even BlueStacks’ GamePop will cost roughly $129 (with a monthly subscription attached) this winter, meaning microconsoles, while widely ranging in price, are inexpensive enough for the curious to seriously consider purchasing one.

And if microconsoles prove to be worthy of customer’s attention? People are going to buy these things in droves due to the relatively low price points.


Flexible Monetization, Fair Revenue Share (Again, Mostly)

With a handful of microconsoles about to be on the market, you can bet that the monetization and revenue sharing differ from one device to another. Here is what you need to know about each microconsole:


Monetization: Every game must have a free component, and developers can implement free-to-play with microtransactions and in-app purchases, a demo that includes a full-paid download, or even give the game away for free.

Revenue share: 70% goes to the developer, 30% goes to OUYA


Monetization: Free components are not required, and any business model is welcome. Whether you want your game to have a premium price, freemium, free with ads, subscription-based, and so on, the choice is up to you.

Revenue share: 70% goes to the developer, 30% goes to GameStick


Monetization: All business models are welcome, and games do not need to have a free component.

Revenue share: Compensation works a bit differently with GamePop since it uses a subscription-based model. Developers are compensated based on how much time players play a game. For developers that use in-app payments, they are allowed to keep all of the revenues generated, while BlueStacks shares half of all subscription-based revenue with the developers in the community.


Monetization: Again, all business models are welcome, no free component required.

Revenue share: 70% goes to the developer, 30% goes to Google Play or Amazon Appstore.

Nvidia Shield:

Monetization: All business models welcome, no free component required.

Revenue share: 70% goes to the developer, 30% goes to Google Play or Amazon Appstore.



Unproven Market

This is the biggest problem with microconsoles. Sure, there is an audience that would prefer to play mobile games on their televisions and/or monitors with a controller in-hand while there are people that generally like the thought of having the freedom of ‘choice’ to know that they can either play a mobile game on their mobile device or switch to using a controller and playing on a bigger screen.

Yet is this enough? Is the promise of playing Android games on a bigger screen enough to make people purchase a microconsole? OUYA sales have been disappointing as has the Nvidia Shield sales, yet there are plenty other microconsoles that are set to be released by the end of the year, meaning it’s hard to judge sluggish sales on only a few microconsoles. Moreover, is it worth the time, money, and effort for mobile developers to even publish a game onto one of these microconsoles? Time will have to tell.

To be fair, the OUYA’s design is pretty terrible and the Nvidia Shield, though impressive is a bit on the expensive side. Again, the market is still unproven, but the possibilities are certainly there, and with Amazon throwing its hat into the race, it’s still too early to say whether the upcoming microconsoles will create a new market or fall to the wayside.


So Many Microconsoles, So Little Time

The luxury of choice is great, but let’s face it: by the end of 2013, there could very well be six different microconsoles (with again, one being more of a set-top box) available for purchase. Will the average consumer know which microconsole is worthy of their purchase, or will they wait to see which ones will succeed and which ones will fail? Or will they become confused altogether and instead purchase one of the major consoles releasing at the end of the year, a handheld gaming device such as a Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita, or heck, even a tablet to play mobile games on? Again, time will tell if microconsoles are going to be a success or a fad we’re all going to laugh about five years from now.



Make no mistake: there are a lot of advantages to microconsoles. From what we know, all of them offer fair monetization and revenue sharing, and the process for getting them on the microconsole is pretty easy as well (in fact, sending an email to a microconsoles’ support staff usually puts developers on the right path to getting their game on the microconsole). Yet, the entire market is unproven. We have no idea how customers are truly going to react to the microconsole revolution, meaning if mobile developers are feeling a little wary of taking a risk, it is best to sit back and  wait to see the winners (if there are any) and losers of the microconsole wars.

One thing is certain: this is going to be an interesting few months.

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