Steam and Xi3 revealed a product today at CES that is codenamed the “Piston”. Valve has its hands in the funding of the project so most are extremely excited about this. This looks to be the rumored “Steam Box”, although Xi3 refused to confirm the rumor. This announcement comes during a time when people are anxiously awaiting the arival of the Ouya and it’s promise to bring Android Games to your television. In addition to the Ouya we now have Nvidia’s SHIELD and the USB-sized Gamestick from Playjam. But I’m not here to talk specs or even specifically about the “Piston”, but more generally about this new and emergent idea of microconsoles (a term I’m borrowing from this article here – 2013: The Year of the Console? from the Blog What Games Are).
The driving force behind all of these new microconsoles is the idea that people want to play games on their television that can’t be played on a television (at least not with ease). As far as “Piston” goes, if the whole idea is to bring your Steam game library to your television there are much cheaper ways to go about it rather than buying a new console. As for the Gamestick – I think the Gamestick is ahead of its time as you need a Smart TV in order to use it and Smart TV’s are far from being in every home. The SHIELD sounds great in theory – Streaming your Steam catalog to a handheld device – but you have to have an NVidia card to stream games and if you don’t have that all you get is a portable Android gaming device (with a built in controller albeit).
So the apparent problem that these consoles are trying to solve? The problem of not being able to play mobile games on your device is one, I think, of fabrication on the end of developers. The Ouya started it (and generated a bunch of buzz). They wanted to bring Android games to your television, but I’ve never heard anyone say “I wish I could play Angry Birds on my television.” With the success of the Ouya, Playjam decided that it wanted in on the action and further promoted the idea that not being able to play Android games on your TV is a problem. The SHIELD is just an Android Gaming Device that you can’t make phone calls with. The Piston is unique in that it brings your Steam game library to your television – which means you don’t have to buy an X360 to play these games on your television (although there are other ways to do this for the tech saavy).
So what’s going to happen? I believe that the console, PC, and mobile markets are going to remain as they currently are. I don’t think any of these is going to revolutionize gaming (except for possibly the Piston, but that’s dependent on tomorrow’s play demo of the device). The Ouya might receive enough support that it can continue to stay afloat, but I think that the Gamestick is going to end up a flop as it’s limited to people who are both gamers AND have Smart TV’s. The SHIELD? It’s market is just as limited as the Gamestick’s – people who have a decent gaming laptop AND have an Nvidia card installed in it.
I have low hopes for these consoles (except the Piston) but not because I don’t want them to succeed. There is a chance for these consoles if Android games are developed for these consoles. However, once again a problem arises: if you develop games for these consoles do you have to do so with the gamepad in mind? Would doing so fragment the Android Market rather than grow it? If I was a betting man I’d be putting my money on the Piston as the winner of this horse race. But we will see where things go from here.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Am I completely off base here? Or do you think I have some decent points?
Your Resident Anthropologist