Google May Crash Game Console Party

Hard on the heels of the arrival of the Ouya video game console earlier this week, Google may be looking to get into the action. In fact, the company is currently working on an Android-powered console of its own, according to a Friday report in The Wall Street Journal.

Apple,meanwhile, is reportedly working on something similar as well.

“The game industry better hope people grow a third arm or there are too many screens to deal with,” suggested Lewis Ward, research manager for gaming at IDC.

Google declined to comment for this story.

Battle for the Living Room

Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are both popular gaming platforms already, of course, but on mobile devices including handsets and tablets. These latest moves suggest that both are looking more closely at the living room — which isn’t completely a surprise.

Both companies have attempted to launch set-top boxes already, so a console component would make sense.

“The console is the device in the living room that is most often connected to the Internet,” Brett Sappington, director of research at Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “This is a smart move for Google, as they want to get connected to the TV.”

How game makers feel about this ever-expanding array of platforms remains to be seen. Among the more established big players, both Sony and Microsoft recently unveiled upcoming new systems of their own.

“Game developers have at least four platforms that they have to port their software to, including the PC, Sony’s PS3/PS4, Microsoft’s Xbox 360/Xbox One and Nintendo’s Wii/Wii U,” Sappington pointed out.

“If Apple and Google can’t get the developers to make games then they can’t succeed,” he added. “Those systems that don’t get support from game developers quickly fall by the wayside.”

‘A Big Threat’

On the flip side, however, a larger number of consoles could also provide game makers with greater opportunities and open the door for smaller publishers. In this way, the barrier to entry for indie game makers could be vastly diminished.

“In the last decade we saw a lot of developers get laid off, and those people didn’t leave the industry,” said Wanda Meloni, senior analyst at M2 Research. “Instead, we have more developers than ever, and having more platforms gives them more power and more choice for systems to develop for, while also giving them more options for the gamer.

“As such, it is better for the consumer as well,” she added.

Instead, the big loser could be open source systems such as Ouya that saw an opportunity to get into the market. With Google and possibly Apple entering the arena, the likes of Ouya could very quickly find themselves as the underdog in a David-versus-Goliath fight for survival.

“An Android console would be a big threat to devices like Ouya,” IDC’s Ward told TechNewsWorld.

“Those devices will have the advantage of being in the market earlier, and could have bells and whistles that differentiate them to some gamers,” he noted.

On the other hand, “once you have Google come out with an Android device, it will be hard for those other devices to stand out,” Ward said.

The Apple Question

Apple’s plans are more difficult to read.

“The Apple game console is still a much bigger question mark,” said Ward. “Google is likely to get in the living room experience — it was going to launch a living room device, and they’ve made some strong moves before, but this one is for real.

“Now the question is how Apple will respond,” he added.

Apple may have actually been planning such an effort “for a while,” suggested M2’s Meloni. “Google may have been a response to Apple.

“Apple once had a huge evangelical gaming program inside the company,” she noted. “However, in the grand scheme of things, games haven’t been important to Apple.”

More recently, however, “Apple sees this as this cash cow that they haven’t put a lot of focus on, and for Google it is a good opportunity to get in there now while Android is doing well,” Meloni added.

A Widening War

Just weeks ago, discussion on the gaming front focused primarily on Microsoft and Sony. Now the war has expanded to include multiple new combatants.

“From a hardware standpoint it is going to be messy,” Sappington predicted. “There are multiple devices out there, and that is going to be confusing for all involved.

“It is possible that Google can capture casual gamers the same way that game-console makers capture the hardcore gamers,” he added.

Google, however, is interested in “free-to-play models, and business models that could be useful for a streaming media box like a Roku, where gaming isn’t the primary function,” Sappington said. “For Google or Apple to actually go toe-to-toe with Sony and Microsoft would be very difficult.”

‘It Isn’t Going to Be Pretty’

Of course, as war gamers know, sometimes it’s about seeing the threats even before you take sides. In this case, there are still other players that could shake up things even more.

“The bigger move would be Comcast and Time Warner deciding to go after gaming in an aggressive way,” Ward noted. “This could sweep away the big opportunity for micro-consoles from Apple or Google.”

No matter how it is sliced, many players are entering the arena and the question is who will be left standing.

“Whether it is in response to Ouya or just a perfect storm as these things come together at once,” Meloni concluded, “war is coming, and isn’t going to be pretty.”

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