Sunday, June 30, 2013

Google's Gaming Console

There are rumors that Google is currently developing their own home gaming console that will run on the Android operating system.  This is something I have been expecting for a long time since a gaming console fits well within their capabilities and helps unify the different products and services that Google offers. There are a number of issues that Google will need to address if they want their console to succeed.

The Google console needs to be on par with the current generation of gaming consoles. Its technical capabilities should be somewhere between the Wii U and the Playstation 4. Offering a device that uses smart phone hardware will just be ignored by the gaming audience. The arguments I had against the Ouya apply towards this type of design. By releasing a console that is on par with the current generation, Google will be able to generate interest among the traditional gaming audience.

Third party support will be crucial to the success and longevity of the Google console. Sony worked with developers when engineering the PS4 architecture because Sony understands that quality game franchises are what sell consoles. Games that become available on both Xbox One and PS4 need to be available on the Google console in order to be considered a viable alternative. By having a console that is similar to its competitors, third party developers will have an easier time porting their games to the Google console. More high quality games will interest the traditional gaming audience and can help boost sales for the console.

Google needs to show that their new console is an indie developer’s friend. There has been a huge surge of indie developers releasing quality games in the last few years. Indie games such as Super Meat Boy, Dungeon Defenders, Stealth Bastard Deluxe, Superbrother: Sword & Sworcery and Cave Story have been well received by the core gaming audiences. More freedom for indie developers will allow for more creative games which in turn will help sell the Google console.

Google cannot rely on only third party support and indie developers to sell their consoles. They need to work on new intellectual properties that will be exclusively available to the Google console. If all the consoles share the same third party games, then the exclusive first party titles are going to be the deciding factor for the traditional gaming audience. Google’s first party games need to be better than the Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Halo, Gears of War, Uncharted, and Little Big Planet series in order to succeed. A strong first party line will nudge the traditional gaming audience towards owning a Google console.

Distribution of games for current consoles has been primarily through retail stores with an addition to a digital marketplace. I believe Google will rely on an all digital approach. This however means there will be issues of DRM that could create some concerns. I believe the best approach to the issue of DRM is how the Xbox 360 handles DRM on digital games. When the user purchases a game, that game is locked on to that console and can be played offline and by any other user. That original purchaser also has access to that game whenever they access their profile on a different console as long as they are connected to the internet. Also the original purchaser can transfer all their licenses to a new consoles every few months just incase something happens to their original console.

Another concern with an all digital approach is the fact that users will not be able to sell their games. The primary concern is that games cost a lot of money and selling old games allows people to have the funds to play the latest games. However used games sales do not benefit the developers. Google can follow the same business plan as Steam. Since all games are locked to a Steam account, there are no used games and all sales go back to the developers. However Steam games generally cost less then physical retail copies in order to compensate for losing the ability to resell games. Steam also hosts sales on a huge assortment of games and at regular intervals. Even though Steam has a harsh DRM policy, the fact that games become so cheap during sales justifies the DRM used.

Google will obviously include all its other services such as Gmail, Gchat, Play Music store, and Youtube. I expect this console to become more than just a gaming device; it will be an alternative to the PC market. As smart phones gain more features, desktop PC’s are becoming less essential towards every day use. Tablets are already capable of performing similar tasks as low end PCs but are much more convenient for every day use. Google’s gaming console would be able to provide the same function as a PC through the various apps that Google will release. Google can sync is different products like Chrome and the Play store to generate more ads which in turn generates more revenue for them. Another incentive for Google is to place unobtrusive ads within the console’s dashboard which generates another revenue stream for them.  The ads available from the console would be selected based on purchases and other relevant information that is taken from user Google account in order to provide the user with appropriate ads.

I believe Google has the best shot at making a quality game console that can compete with the big three. I really hope Google tries to cater towards the traditional gaming markets. More competition in the traditional gaming markets is generally much better for the consumers in the long run. Google has been working on making their Android games better with different features such as a multiplayer system, leaderboards and achievements. Hopefully Google will release more information about its plans for a gaming console.