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2013: The Fight For The Living Room
by Alex Nichiporchik on 02/04/13 08:33:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Fight for the living room is on. I've been thinking about who could win this fight, and while a year ago I definitely wouldn't have considered Android consoles as viable competition, things have sure changed. Makes me proud to be part of this highly dynamic industry. 

So I want to run through 4 competitors for the Living Room Gaming Crown. I understand that the current console manufacturers (Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo) could be looked at individually, but since this is a more general article towards the bigger picture, I've grouped them into a single bucket. Because I believe the market is changing and it might be completely different at the end of the year.

The Ouya Club

  • Ouya. Or any other Android box. But probably Ouya. 

Ouya still holds the record for Kickstarter's most funded project. It is probably the biggest thing to happen to the home console industry since last console generation release. I've played around with the dev kit and it looks really promising. 

The whole idea of you simply changing controls in an Android/Unity/Any Cross Platform Game Tool from touch to buttons/analog sticks is very neat. 

We all know 3rd party support is king when launching a home console. And for the first time ever in this industry we have something that was funded fully independently, and that will launch with an unmatched amount of 3rd party content. Hell, Ouya doesn't even have it's own studio -- it doesn't need one! 

Plus the price point. That's an important one. If they market it properly to mainstream audiences it may have mass appeal. Buy 2 Xbox (720) games or a whole console plus a starting catalogue of games. 

Imagine walking into your local Best Buy and seeing a small cheap box with images of all your favorite games, and knowledge that they're going to be much cheaper to buy rather than the $60 boxed products?

Steambox club

  • Steam-box aka Half-Life 3 launch platform.

Since I gave up my "dedicated" PC gaming space in favor of a couch (less time to play games, less time to fiddle with hardware, easier, etc) I found that while playing PS3 games is fun and all, I started spending more and more time playing on the Mac Mini. 

We bought it as a media PC just to download movies, process them, stream media to other parts of the house and whatnot. 

But all that changed after installing Starcraft II which I spent about 180 hours in last year, playing the fun little mods (where DOTA came from), mostly Marine Arena style ones. 

I found that it's not super comfortable playing on the couch, so got one of those layback chairs in, a small IKEA table to my right where I'd place the mouse, and the Razer keyboard on my lap. It's a bit awkward but you get used to it. The awkwardness comes from rearranging furniture when you need your game time. 

The next iteration of this was actually placing a desk in front of the 55" living room TV and putting the keyboard on there, and the couch behind it. 

This turned the living room into a hybrid gaming area and movie time couch area. 

It's doable, but most people won't be fine with that setup since it needs a fair amount of space. 

In this setup Steam is my go-to place. I did install bootcamp, but still use OSX most of the time on the Mac Mini. Installed Steam, and guess what -- pretty much all Mac compatible games run flawlessly. Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, CS:GO, all of them run fine. 

I'm pretty sure Valve realizes there's huge potential to bring that kind of experience to the living room - less expensive AAA games, it's just really awkward to do what I did with the setup. There has to be an easier input method. The first step was Steam's Big Picture. Second - Linux support. (we all know Gabe's opinion about Windows 8...)

Third is an actual inexpensive, low power consumption, quiet piece of hardware to run those games. Possibly via Linux.  

Looking at Valve's reputation of making stuff really good before launching, and the absense of Half-Life 3, I see a huge opportunity for them. 

Say a $500 mini gaming PC, subsedized by Steam, pre-installed with a bunch of games... or even Half-Life 3 as the exclusive launch title (how's that for a kick in the crotch to retailers, publishers and other platforms?). I'd buy that.
The Apple Club

  • Apple TV. 

Apple's little TV box feels like the most underappreciated piece of hardware in recent years. Many don't realize it's potential because it unlocks itself via Jailbreaking (yes, all my devices are jailbroken and I now sit with a bricked iPad at home, whatever). 

So the Apple TV can easily run XBMC which opens up a huge selection of add-on apps. That's how I watch my GiantBomb Quick Plays, TED Talks, etc.  

The PLEX Media Server app allows me to stream any media from the Mac Mini downstairs. 

And this is all done in a simple to understand, very straightforward UI. It's also running iOS which many may not know -- you learn it during the jailbreak process. 

So here it is, a small Linux based (you can SSH into it, run commands) box that's cheap, has hardware capable of running 1080p video and an augmented version of iOS on it. 

There's the hardware, there's content (on the Mac or iOS app store), but no input method that'd make sense (yet). 

I believe if Apple plays their cards right and comes up with a revolutionary way to control home console games, adds Siri on top of that, they may just take over the living room. 

One of the ideas I had is they'd roll out a major software update to all existing latest gen Apple TVs, which would enable games. At the same time they'd launch an iPhone/iPad generation where artifficial buttons magically appear and use that as a controller. 

Same situation as with Ouya or Steambox - hardware's there, input method's there, and a HUGE selection of content. 

But Apple can actually go one step further and wrap it all up in a very user friendly ecosystem which should be based around Siri. 

"Siri, launch Plague Inc, do my accounting and make me some waffles in the iToaster"

The console club

  • PS4/Console Club

At the end of month Sony will presumably announce their next generation console. 

This leads to a bunch of questions and speculation. I was really excited about OnLive before it flopped. And the Gaikai acquisition by Sony raises questions if they'd just let the CloudGaming idea go or go ahead and implement it somehow.

Sony has embraced indie developers way too late. If they'd have opened up and provided easy tools, say, 3 years ago, they might be in a totally different position right now. The Vita isn't as exciting (still really good piece of hardware, just not exciting) as some other mobile platforms (cough*Plague Inc on Android*cough), and the PS3 has had some great games, but more often than not I can't justify spending $60 on a new game, which I know there won't be much time to finish. 

If they go for the "more graphics" approach again with the PS4, it'll raise development costs even more for what we call AAA games, which would scare off most creativity away. While I did get lost in the world of Far Cry 3 (before my save got corrupted 12 hours in, FFFFFFFUUUU). 

I can't really think of a simple solution for the next gen console club. The marketing would certainly be based around better graphics, because that's easy. While I do believe it'd unleash a lot of creativity for brave ideas. The only question is how to facilitate that creativity, make it easy for developers to experiment and get rewarded for doing so.  

The more I thought about it, the more I realize how first party content drives adoption of new hardware in the traditional console game. If there's killer games on a platform, odds are people will strive towards it. We all know the GTAIV Tattoo announcement, and the fight for exclusivity. I'm just not exactly sure if this time around people would care as much. 

We have a new generation of gamers growing up with really cheap portable games, Unity powered 3d multiplayer browser games -- while the older generations who did grow up with consoles are having families and less time to play. 

The Wii U is a great example of how not to market a next generation console though. I live in the Netherlands, so might not be exposed to all of the marketing around the Wii U in the US, so may have missed something -- but if I try to explain the Wii U to anyone, I end up failing a bit. It's a tablet, but it's also a controller, but it's not a multi touch screen, and you _do_ need to have an actual box that does the processing. And you should use it if you're fighting for the TV. Natural questions I get are "wellp I'm already using my laptop while watching TV" and the whole discussion just falls. 

the contenders  

So here we go. 4 opponents coming from 4 corners into our living room. Who will take the crown is yet to be determined, but it sure will be an interesting fight.  

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Kujel Selsuru
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Here's how I see things panning out:
- Ouya will be a signifigent success (the other Android consoles wont).
- Steam box will sell to the valve faithful but almost no one else.
- Apple will continue to ignore gaming and keep its apple TV as a movie/music box.
- Wii U will survive but not hit Wii success, Xbox 720 powered by MS money will also survive, ps4 will wither and die taking sony with them.
So in the end I see cheap open platforms designed for gaming doing best and anything more expensive more less gaming focused struggling more.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Can't argue with any of your points since we don't really know what exactly will happen

What I do agree with is Sony/PS4. I used to absolutely LOVE Sony products. They were desired, premium, easy to use, durable. The Walkman fueled my love for music.

And just recently I was buying a TV, and a Sony Smart-TV was an option. It was bloated with dozens of features, none of which were actually easy to use. It had Youtube, Facebook, Wi-Fi and lots of other stuff that I would find useful, if only they were tightly integrated.

Instead I got a much bigger screen, that's not a SmartTV, but compensated with the mac mini setup I described in the blog.

I would LOVE Sony to bounce back into glory and give other companies competition. Please let that happen!

Robert Swift
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With other markets somewhat stagnating, games is one of the few areas left for Apple to derive growth from. So I expect Apple to move into that market .

MS and Sony should better have something more to offer than simply 'better graphics' with their next gen consoles since there won't be any eye popping differences. I think they have rather have to win people over with their additional services like easy+comfortable TV/movies/music access. MS should have the edge there. Although I found that even simple playback of videos has some weird usability issues on the XBOX 360.

Ouya should be a mild success but I can't see how a Steam Box at the current state (rudimentary GUI/functions of Steam + very limited Linux game library) can have any impact.

Personally, I want to be able to stream games from the PC to my tablet, so I can play some stuff in bed :)

Kujel Selsuru
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The steam box will be using Linux not Unix, just thought I should point that out.

Robert Swift
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Fixed ;)

TC Weidner
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in the american 2013 home, who is actually in the living room any more? Everyone is always off doing their own thing these days, this isnt the living room of our past that's for sure.

Bob Johnson
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The pitch for OUYA is play free games that are worse than the ones your current console plays for just north of $100. And the flick a switch and your touch controls turn into physical button controls frightens me because it means shoehorning current Android games onto OUYA.

Still can't see the Madden gamers or the FIFA gamers or the CoD gamers or the Halo gamers buying an OUYA.

Rami Ismail
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I still don't think that's a relevant audience to most interests, though. The indie scene has proven that there's a pie far larger than FIFA/COD/Halo-gamers and that even if we're all competing in the same space, there's room for everyone. OUYA promises games that Xbox or Playstation won't gamble on. That alone is a pretty interesting proposition.

Bob Johnson
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Where is this far larger pie when CoD does a billion dollars in sales itself?

Yes the audience for Angry Birds might be larger. Rovio might get 50 million downloads. But what are people paying for the game? $3 at the most? Maybe $1. Maybe free.

The comparison to the Madden/CoD/halo/FIFA audience is relevant because OUYA is being compared to the next Xbox and PS in this article. It will have trouble in its fight for the living room because it won't win over these gamers with cheap time wasters. These gamers are going to get the next Xbox or PS to play those big games. And in turn they will have a box that can easily play smaller independent games just as the 360 does now.

And that's OUYA's problem. These other platforms will play small games from smaller developers. Their current versions already play lots of downloadable games from small developers. IN light of the Win8 app store which is similar to the iOS app store do we really expect a MS to have less liberal policies with regards to independent developers next generation?

Doubt it.

OUYA isn't going to have the install base of smarpthones and tablets either because it is a gaming first platform. You aren't going to have the luxury of selling $1 games to 50 million people because your install base won't even be that high. Realize that Angry Birds is available to an install base many multiples larger than its number of downloads.

Porting ios games to the big screen isn't going to win many over. Many of those games are designed for the mobile consumer. The person with a few minutes to spare. The screen that is only a few inches long. The controls that are a touchscreen. Consumers in the living room have different expectations. And games play differently there. Porting over mobile games loses sight of this. And the result will be mediocrity. And the audience will sense that their other platform plays those games better.

I just don't see it.

Kujel Selsuru
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I really have to point out that Ouya is not a F2P platform, its a free to try platform. This misunderstanding is getting a little old :(

The fact Ouya is only a $100 is a big selling point and no we're not going to get just smartphone games (though there will be some of those for sure). Ouya offers a place to release smaller more experimental games without all the restrictions MS, Sony, or even Nintendo impose, on top of that is also offers more price flexiblility.

If I want to develop an RTS for console I can or if I want to release a flight sim/RPG I can, I can release damn near any kind of game I want. Sure it may sell like crap but I can release it with little worry about a publisher or platform holder canning it before I've even tried.

Ouya wont bring down MS or Nintendo any time soon but likely it will prove gamers want more then generic shooter # 666!

Alex Nichiporchik
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There will always be an audience of "COD Gamers", the only difference is that the market over there has stopped growing -- while the overall games business continued on. So what happened now (as I described in the post) is the COD Gamers market will likely shrink due to
a) current generation growing up and having less time
b) newer generation not being exposed to the traditional expensive console gaming world

Bob Johnson
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Who said it is a F2P platform? But let's be realistic this thing is going to have a race to the bottom sorta speak.

Here's a quote from a developer recently btw: "While the hardware may be underpowered compared to an Xbox 360 or PS3, I fully expect better-than-late-PS2 visuals. And game-wise, the PS2 was no slouch."

Great it has better graphics than the console that came out in 1999.

I just don't see the need for this. Do a pc or iOs game and if it does well port it to the consoles. Plus not like MS or Sony won't do something more for smaller developers this generation. Do we really expect them to do less? Supposedly Nintendo is doing more and the Wii U supports the Unity engine or vice versa.

There is always the puncher's chance though. I will give it that.

Bob Johnson
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The newer generation is absolutely exposed to the expensive console gaming world.

Have you been on Xbox Live? ;)

Kids want those experiences and can recognize the difference between your $1 mobile game and the $60 Black Ops 2.

Sure as people age they play less games, but that has always been true. And the young gamers come in and replace those folks.

Not sure what you are trying to say with the console gaming is not growing but gaming has continued on comment. I don't see that exactly. I see some of the dedicated handheld business going to mobile. All those cheap knock off kids games and shovelware all went to mobile. You can't sell a $30 3DS Barbie shovelware game any more or a $30 transformers game. It ain't going to work. That business is gone. Replaced by cheap ~$1 shovelware.

The business of selling $50 or $60 shovelware is also disappearing. BEcause now kids, when faced with paying $50 for a crappy game, have a much cheaper alternative.

I think that is what mobile is replacing of the console business. It is replacing the expensive crap for the most part. And that is good right? Clear out the dead wood sorta speak.

Alex Nichiporchik
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@Bob - fair point.

You're right that there still is a market for the $60 games.

But is there a market in between? Between the what you call shovelware (and I'd call an oversaturated market filled with innovation) and the Black Ops 2 type of games?

And is there much outside of the annual Call of Duty that does $1b in revenue in the AAA business?

What's happened with the games market is the same as with the movies market - there's no place for "middle ware" games. It's either brave indie ideas or AAA blockbusters. Of course in the lower end you will get a lot of failed ideas, and plenty of knockoffs.

Not saying it's the ideal world, but ignoring the shift from an all console world to a cross platform world is not what I'd like to do.

Bob Johnson
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I don't think there is a shift though. It is hype. Remember social games on Facebook? They were taking over the gaming world a minute ago. Mobile is going to face a similar bubble. It is a gold rush mentality going on now.

People forget that much of mobile gaming's current popularity is the sheer novelty of it all. Many of the iOS games are a breath of a fresh air because they have a new type of control - the capacitive touchscreen. There is going to come a time when using a capacitive touchscreen is old hat. And not enough in and of itself to get the masses excited.

Then the novelty of cheap games must also be considered. .... These games are free to play. Let me check them out. But eventually F2P in and of itself isn't enough. Consumers wise up. They see the similar gimmicks behind these games and tune out.

What is left will be a sustainable Mobile marketplace. There will still be ebbs and flows as new fads/gimmicks come and go.

Anyway a shift implies consumers are giving up consoles and I see no evidence of that.

There is a place for middleware games. But we would have to define middleware games to illustrate this. Is a Dishonored a middleware game? Or a AAA game?

Are Live Arcade titles middleware games?

You would have to define it. Is it just about price and budget or both?

But what I think is that if there is a problem with "middleware" games it is more of a communication problem.. A marketing problem. An education problem. When consumers saw $20 brand new games on store shelves they were trained that these games were substandard games and they were. Now the industry has to undo this. And show consumers that $20 games can be stellar experiences. We have seen some of that. Torchlight comes to mind. Minecraft. And digital distribution probably helped this notion and will help it in the future. B&M shelf space is limited.

But we have to define middleware. Was Sins of the Solar Empire middleware?

Petrucio Stange
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Middleware as I see it:
The Cave
Double Fine Adv.
Defense Grid

And a whole lot of other games available on Steam for around 10 to 30 bucks that almost everyone seems to be forgetting on this discussion, focusing instead on the extremes of AAA vs. extreme low budget with 90% failure rate.

This is where I spend the bulk on my time and my money, as well as a lot of the people I know. Still sees plenty of innovation with good production values. And doesn' t seem to be plagued so much by the uncertainty hovering heavily over the two extremes.

But I could be wrong...