Don’t Console Yourself: Why App Powered Consoles Aren’t A Great Idea


Ouya? Or ooh no?


I remember walking into my brother’s room one time to find him playing around on an MP3 player that he had jail broken to let him mess around with the settings more. I found him hunched over the device squinting and took a look over his shoulder to see him playing Doom on a screen that was barely bigger than a handful of postal stamps laid over one another. While it was all fun and games  to get something like that on there, there was clearly no way the person behind the game  expected to produce a full PC experience on a teeny tiny mobile device with useless size buttons. It was a novelty, nothing else.

So when people tell me that smart TVs playing apps are the future, I tend to think back to that memory and think it isn’t going to work anywhere near as well as most people think it will. Now, I know that kind of thought will seem blasphemous, particularly as there are an increasing number of analysts convinced that the arrival of app playing consoles proves Ouya  and Gamestick we all want to play apps on the telly and that Apple/Google will have to get involved.

But so far, neither of them or the industry as a whole have made a really coherent argument why consumers would really go for the app based “unconsoles” over a dedicated home console. Yes, apps have been successful but that has been in the mobile context and on devices designed for short term immersion. But it’s a long shot to go from that success to saying that they would work on the big screen and disrupt the space effectively. Sure, there is a market for cheaper and shorter lasting  pick up and play games on the home console market with indie hits on XBLA and PSN making hay for under a tenner and drawing a fan base.

However,  their position in the market works because they live alongside the triple A titles like BioShock Infinite, Mass Effect 3 and The Last of Us that create the mind blowing experiences expected by modern gamers which are driven by excellent narrative, immersive game play and a coherent involving environment to play in. The continued success of those games and the excitement surrounding this year’s E3 shows that gamers are in an either/or position with consoles and mobile battling for supremacy in their mind; it’s more that certain types of game will work better within certain contexts at at certain times for players.

And that’s why app based consoles to me seem little more than a potential side line to developers, rather than big business. While some apps have developed real narrative clout on tablets, such as Simogo’s terrifying Year Walk, accurately bringing them up to the level of a home console production when the hardware on next gen consoles is so far ahead will mean there is an inevitable disconnect between the form the games are displayed in (big screen, on the sofa, dominating attention) and content. That means consoles which are powered by mobile OS are unlikely to ever do little more than provide an awkward platform for app developers to adapt their games around and one which may never get the leverage to unseat the consoles and make it a worthwhile move.

So my advice for the major manufacturers is stick to what you’re good at and steer clear of these consoles and focus on their core and highly successful mobile offerings. Like the advice I gave in my piece about mobile ad banners, the context with which users engage with  products shapes their perception of it. And, in my book, the vast majority of what is on offer on the App Store or Google Play would make as little sense to put on a TV as  Doom on an MP3 player does.

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