Disrupt the market. Thatís something swarmy MBAs like to say all the time when talking about their latest products. I hate this term, because I have heard it so many times from suits when describing their ultimate plans, it has lost its relevance. Itís a term thrown around too cavalierly in my honest opinion, but I just canít help to use it myself when I think about Amazonís Fire TV.
Amazonís new set-top box, streaming, micro-console, [insert marketing buzzword here] thingamajig is now available and has received good to average reviews. Iím not sold on it however in its current iteration, and itís not because Iím a ďcoreĒgamer. Itís because the concept of the Fire TV and Ouya are inherently flawed at their most basic level when it comes to being a good gaming platform. There is one thing that is different between the Fire TV and Ouya, and that there is a shit-ton of capital backing the Fire TV. ďShit-tonĒ is an actual business term, go ahead and look it up.
Donít get me wrong, the hardware in the Fire TV is impressive, for such a minimal form factor. It packs a decent technical punch in a tidy little package and itís pleasant to look at. Reviews on the dedicated gamepad have been generally positive, likening it to the Xbox 360ís gamepad. However, the Fire TV as a gaming platform is not going to attract a lot of users in itís current state. I say current state, because I believe Amazon has grander plans than what the Fire TV is currently
Amazon and the Fire TV, along with the Ouya, and any other micro console released or in the works are hitching onto a theory, which at first glance, appears to be sound. That theory is that Apple and Android devices have found a lucrative niche in the larger gaming ecosystem of causal games. Apple as well as developer partners have been making a mint on cheap casual games played on a smart phone or tablet. Games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and many others have propelled small developers into billion dollar companies. Apple, by way of their app store, skims a tidy profit on top of that. Clearly, there is some money to be made here.
Amazonís ploy is to leverage itís popular Amazon Prime streaming service into something more substantial. Iím a member of Amazon Prime and I have nothing but praise for it. It has a decent selection of movies and TV shows that are free to stream as well as more recent movies that can be rented. Throw in free 2-day shipping on diapers and stuff for my kid, and it really is a no brainer.
Regardless on how great Prime is, itís a service that is accessible on a multitude on devices. In my home alone, I can access it from my iPhone and iPad, my daughterís first-generation Kindle Fire, Roku, Laptop, and from my Xbox One and PS4. Does Amazon really think that Iím going to add yet another device to access Prime, just because it also plays games? My PS4 and Xbox One already do that and they have far better games.
Amazon response to my above question could very well be that Iím not the target audience for this product anyway, as they are going after casual gamers who also happen to be fans of Prime. I can see why marketers are so keen to lead their companies to diving in and gaining a piece of the casual gamer market. The hardware is cheap, the games are cheap, and people are gladly playing $.99 to a few bucks to see what the fuss is all about. Many times, the games are free, subsidized by ads or the dreaded micro-transaction. Obviously, if someone is playing a game on their phone or tablet, they would certainly want to play at home on their televisions, but this is where they are wrong. Ouya essentially proved that to us.
Since Iím what marketers and analysts refer to as a core gamer, owning both a PS4 and an Xbox One, I invest a lot of time to AAA titles. As I already mentioned, Iím not in the target audience for this current Amazon Fire TV. However, I do play quite a bit of casual games and never have I said to myself, ďboy I wish I could be playing this on my TV.Ē
When I play a game like Candy Crush or Angry Birds, it is usually on the train, or in a waiting room. When I do play at home, I have the TV on in the background. Ostensibly, Iím multitasking while taking part in these casual games, as they donít require my full attention in order to excel at them. Iíll put it this way, casual games are like a bag of chips, while core games are steak and vegetables.
It goes the other way too. There is a reason why the PSP and Vita havenít taken off, in my opinion, as many of the games are too in-depth to enjoy in short bursts. As amazing as the technology is, Iíd rather play a core game from the comfort of my own home, sitting on my couch in front of my big screen, than on a bumpy train or in a cramped airplane.
At the end of the day, it is all about the environment. Android and iOS games are meant for quick bursts and could be played practically anywhere, but on a TV with a gamepad is not their optimal environment. Iíll go back to my food analogy, Iíd rather eat a steak while seated at a dinner table, but I wouldnít do that while munching on a bag of chips.
What marketers are failing to realize is just because millions of people love playing Angry Birds on their phones, doesnít mean that there is an untapped market of millions of people who want to play the game on their televisions. Ouya has already learned this lesson the hard way. Just because it makes sense on paper in a concept, or it tested well in a focus group doesnít mean that will be the case in the wilds of the real world.
That is why I believe that Amazon has grander plans to take on Sony and Microsoft with a more capable console down the road and the Fire TV is just a small step in that direction. They have already acquired a studio and some talent that have a track record of developing core titles. Iím sure Amazon has done their homework and has learned from Ouyaís failure to gain traction.
As I see it, Amazon can very well be planning what Microsoft intended to do with the Xbox One at launch, but they simply need to learn the ropes a bit first and build out some infrastructure. Amazonís can very well be planning something that will disrupt the market and change the rules of the game that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft having been playing for so long. Weíll just have to wait and see.