Is Android About to Become the Dominant Video Game Platform?

Is Android About to Become the Dominant Video Game Platform?

By Salvatore “Sam” Mattera –
June 26, 2013

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Salvatore “Sam” is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network — entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

The Ouya went on sale Tuesday. The indie console, which got its financial backing from the website Kickstarter, runs Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android operating system and costs just $99.

Later in the week, NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) will roll out its SHIELD handheld gaming machine. It costs three times as much as the Ouya, but also runs Android.

To date, one of Android’s major weaknesses has been its lack of gaming support. While these new devices might not take the gaming world by storm overnight, they could help Android continue its growth as the world’s next dominant operating system.

The indie sensation

At a fifth the cost of Microsoft’s next Xbox and a quarter the cost of Sony’s next PlayStation, the Ouya lacks the raw horsepower, online capabilities, and entertainment features of today’s modern consoles.

That said, there’s still a market for it. The company was able to raise millions of dollars from thousands of small donors on Kickstarter. Big name developers, like Square Enix, have already pledged to bring their games to console, as have dozens of small developers.

Of course, it’s crucial to note that the Ouya doesn’t run standard Android. Like Amazon’s lineup of tablets, the Ouya is running a heavily modified version, and lacks direct access to the Google Play app store.

But that said, the console is said to be easily “hackable” — getting Google Play onto the system shouldn’t be too difficult for enterprising users.

Moreover, given the base operating system, it’s likely that popular Android games should make their way to the Ouya (and vice-versa). Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III Ouya launch title has been available on the Google Play store for some time.

Of course, the Ouya isn’t the only microconsole in the works. Mad Catz, a publicly traded small cap company, is working on its own Ouya competitor called Project MOJO. Like Ouya it runs Android, but unlike Ouya, it offers direct access to Google Play.

NVIDIA merges PC and Android gaming

In the traditional sense, NVIDIA is not considered to be a gaming console company. But without its video cards, many PCs would be incapable of playing the most demanding games.

Now, NVIDIA is planning to take its gaming expertise into the handheld arena. The NVIDIA SHIELD, which goes on sale Thursday, is a handheld console running Android. It has direct access to Google Play, the company’s own Tegra 4 mobile chip, and a 5-inch touch screen.

While SHIELD might be a gimmick intended to get people to buy more NVIDIA graphics cards, the company maintains that it’s taking Android gaming very seriously. The company’s Jason Paul told Forbes that mobile game development is quickly surpassing both PC and console development, and Android is quickly asserting itself as the most popular mobile platform.

Google is taking gaming more seriously

Android’s parent company, Google, is also stepping up efforts to increase Android’s gaming capabilities. Back in May, at Google’s I/O Conference, the company unveiled Google Play game services.

The upgrades to Android allow developers to incorporate a number of popular features like real-time, online matchmaking, leaderboards, achievements and cloud-based saving.

Android vs iOS

But isn’t gaming largely superfluous? When it comes to mobile operating systems, aren’t there more important factors? Yes, but at the same time, not really.

According to Business Insider, gaming is one of the more popular things people do on their mobile devices. In fact, people spend more time gaming on their mobile devices than doing anything else — 39% of the time on smartphones, 67% of the time on tablets.

Right now, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has a commanding lead in terms of mobile games. In its most recent issue, video game-centric magazine Game Informer listed the greatest mobile games of 2013. Of the 15 games on the list, 11 were exclusive to iOS.

Some have speculated that Apple could push further into gaming with a TV offering. Nat Brown, one of the original creators of the Xbox, wrote on his blog back in February that an Apple TV, coupled with an app store, could utterly decimate the console industry.

Although it’s widely expected, a full-fledged Apple TV has yet to materialize. Nevertheless, Apple is pushing more into gaming. The next version of iOS will support third-party, external controllers.

The Android gaming revolution?

With the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, mobile gaming has become increasingly popular. However, to date, mobile gaming has thus far stood separate from traditional console and PC games.

But new devices like the Ouya and NVIDIA’s SHIELD are beginning to blur the line. Their use of Android, combined with Google’s own initiatives, could lead to Android becoming a major video game platform. In turn, that could help Google’s Android in its continuing war against Apple’s iOS.



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