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In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock the past 24 hours or so, Microsoft made a very major announcement today. It’s the XBOX One, a home entertainment console that’s supposed to change the way we consume our content like never before. With enhanced Kinect integration, great next-gen hardware, an impressive dashboard and deep TV integration, Microsoft is really raising the bar.
So now it’s all laid out onto the table. Microsoft has given folks who are interested in the likes of OUYA’s gaming console or the Google TV platform a very big reason to sit up and take notice. Microsoft has never been one to shy away from its desire to dominate the living room, with its current console — the Xbox 360 — getting new video and music features every day.
Xbox is no longer about gaming: it’s about entertainment as a whole. The Redmond company wants your dollars, your eyes, your ears and your attention more now than it ever has before. And to say there isn’t reason for any competitors to be sweating bullets would be just shy of a lie: millions of customers pay Microsoft $60 annually to be able to access these features through Xbox Live.
So should Google and its hardware partners be scared? Was there more to why El Goog decided not to make much noise about Google TV at its developers’ conference last week? Let’s explore.
Can OUYA survive?
While the big three kongs in console manufacturing — Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft — have no problem with market penetration based on sheer history, what the folks behind OUYA were able to pull off in grassroots fashion was nothing short of astounding. Here was a Tegra 3, Android-based gaming console that promised to be a formidable companion for anyone’s entertainment center.
Much to the chagrin of Kevin, who once argued that the OUYA was over-hyped and a bad investment, it has garnered huge interest to date, including a successful Kicktarter campaign that enticed over 63,000 people to pledge over $8.5 million in funds. The subsequent $15 million raised by the company earlier this year makes it feel all that much bigger. But what, exactly, was the driving force behind that huge following and backing?
Some might argue the price, first and foremost. It’s true: if you tell someone they can have a gaming console for just over $100, their eyes will probably widen and they’ll immediately scamper abut to find their checkbooks. Indeed, OUYA gives folks a chance to experience console-quality gaming without much of an initial down payment. But is an attractive price tag enough to stave off the eventual tidal waves that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will bring?
Don’t get me wrong — Tegra 3 is a fantastic SoC, and it can produce some lovely results with the right developers, but the hardware going inside these new consoles will allow developers to do things they might not have ever imagined just 5 years ago. It’s why even with a sizable fanbase and a ridiculous amount of interest, the OUYA hasn’t gained the interest of many big publishing entities.
That’s not to say there aren’t any significant names getting behind it — we’ve already heard of some OUYA-exclusive titles that are being worked on by industry veterans responsible for some of the top games out there — but tough luck trying to sell the likes of EA and Activision on the idea of developing for it. You needn’t look any further than the situation the Wii U is currently suffering in trying to attract third-party support for its uninspiring performance capabilities.
EA, Activision and many others simply aren’t committed to the console, one that is very capable and introduces some of the most unique gameplay elements you can find in the industry. The motives might be a bit different from one company to the next (here’s looking at you, EA) but if you can’t sell a publisher on a fanbase of multiple millions for a console by the established name Nintendo has made for itself, it’s going to be even tougher to get them behind OUYA in any meaningful capacity.
Perhaps that won’t matter, because that’s probably not who OUYA is after anyway. OUYA has always been synonymous with being open and friendly for small-time developers and studios, which is a crowd that is largely independent. The games console will give budding developers a chance to get their titles onto a platform for heightened exposure among the crowd who doesn’t need to play a new AAA game every week. We just can’t help but to question whether that crowd is big enough to keep OUYA from being overshadowed by what the Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 are promising to bring to the table.
Google needs to respond, like, yesterday
Of course, Google’s interest doesn’t stop with OUYA. The Google TV platform has been slow to take off, and while the company has taken moderate strides to advance it as of late there hasn’t been much significant movement. We all assumed Google TV would have a bigger role at IO, with the company assuring developers that some news would be in tow.
That particular promise wasn’t broken — Google TV did, in fact, receive some attention — but it wasn’t what we expected. To be honest, I’m not sure what we were supposed to expect to begin with. Google has been getting by with a hodgepodge of partners committing to products, including the likes of LG with their Smart TVs, and ASUS with its latest set-top box (read the ASUS CUBE review). But as Logitech wouldn’t hesitate to tell anyone, the Google TV market isn’t quite moving at a breakneck pace right now.
Google wants to be on anything and everything for one reason — to drive search. It’s the company’s number one money maker when you factor in ads, and it’s the one thing that the company has always gotten right. The market for smart televisions is vastly different, though.
Microsoft has shown a certain ability to woo content providers, getting them to agree to deliver all the engaging content they can through a gaming console. Whether it be through the many video and music apps currently available on the Xbox 360 or through Microsoft’s vast on-demand movie and TV show collection, the company just seems better geared toward this stuff. It’s almost a completely 180-degree turn from where Google is, with a lot of content providers still hesitant to get in bed with the internet company.
Google has made key strides within the past year, offering up a huge collection of music, movies, and TV shows through the Google Play Store, but there’s still a ton of ground that needs to be made up before it can catch up to the likes of Microsoft.
The Xbox One is already threatening Google’s very domain, with the ability to integrate live TV with the console’s other functions. This essentially becomes your set-top box, your gaming console, your smart TV, your music playing device, and your movie player in one package. You can use Kinect commands to effortlessly switch between TV and gaming, or you can even go with a side-by-side approach with the ability to pull up Skype or Internet Explorer alongside your content using Snap Mode.
If Google was waiting to see what Microsoft or any other major players in the set-top box entertainment space might bring before dropping its own megaton, now is the time to show us something… anything. The notion that Google might have been holding back on Google TV to see what others might be bringing could be seen as a bit of a stretch, especially when the company’s biggest competitor in mobile — Apple — continues to take decent steps with the Apple TV platform.
It’s also not Google’s modus operandi: as the existence of Google Glass confirms, Google is the one company who isn’t afraid to take chances, and as we see with Android we certainly know they’re not incapable of innovating. With that, we hope Google isn’t just sitting idly by while its other nemeses are making a major play for living rooms of entertainment lovers everywhere.
To be quite honest, Microsoft showed a lot in their brief unveil to get me more excited for the Xbox One than consoles like OUYA or any Google TV products to date combined. I’m not just talking from a games standpoint, either — I’m talking about entertainment as a whole. Microsoft already won me over in all facets of entertainment with what the Xbox 360 currently provides, and the Xbox One makes the gap even more wide for anyone who is looking to compete in the living room.
Some have given Google the benefit of the doubt until now, rationalizing by saying there just isn’t a big market for this sort of stuff. I beg to differ, and I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that Microsoft is going to prove naysayers wrong with the advent of the Xbox One once it launches later this year.
Like Android, Google’s strategy of providing a manufacturer-agnostic platform is noble and it helps OEMs like the aforementioned ASUS and LG provide their own smart TV experiences, but as it stands the platform is being outclassed at every turn and Google can’t hold off on picking up the pace much longer. Are you feeling a bit envious of would-be Xbox One owners after seeing what Microsoft is doing to transform the living room?