A recent rumor in WSJ says Google will be building its own console, either as the next-gen Nexus Q or as a separate device. Now may be the right time for Google to do this, as mobile graphics performance doubles every year, and is getting closer in quality to the old-gen Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles.
Google making its own console is no guarantee that the product will be successful. But there are certain things they can do to make it that much more likely to be successful.
#1 Focus on “real” games
The biggest complaint by far for Android-based consoles has been that people don’t want to pay money to “play Angry Birds” on their TV. There are Android games that have long surpassed that level of gameplay and graphics on Android, but I think what they really mean is that most games on Android are still like that. For the Google gaming console to be successful, they need to make sure that of the launch titles, a lot of them are “real” 3D console games, that get very close to the level of graphics and gameplay that is found on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
This will also put an end to the argument that “I can play that game on my phone anyway”. Such games could be played on a phone, but the controls and the “enjoyment” of the game is nowhere near as good as when played with a controller, and on a really big screen.
#2 Many titles at launch
This needs to be one of the priorities, because Google has messed this up way too often for me to trust them by default that they’ll take it into account. Showing strong app ecosystem supported at launch can make or break a platform. That goes for phones, tablets, smart watches, Google Glass, and even consoles. If you don’t have many exciting games at launch that people will want to play, then they will quickly forget the console exist, they won’t buy it, and the developers won’t build for it either.
The “Motorola Xoom nightmare” could repeat itself, when they only had a handful of apps at launch, which then caused few sales, which made developers to not care about Android tablets, and for competitors to make fun of Android tablets later. It was all one big death spiral for Android tablets and a huge stigma that is still sticking to Android tablets to this day. Let’s hope Google has smartened up since then, and won’t repeat this mistake.
#3 Great specs
I loved the OUYA idea, but I hated the execution. I would never buy such a “micro-console” with mobile chips inside, if it didn’t at least have a very current and powerful chip inside. Mobile chips are slow enough (compared to higher end PC’s and consoles), so it’s absolutely criminal to have one with a last-gen mobile chip.
It’s for the same reason why I support these consoles being updated every year, along with a next-gen chip. These chips need to be updated so they keep up with the games, and also to allow developers to create more impressive games with a 1080p default resolution. Plus, the improvement in mobile graphics every 12 months is usually 2x – that’s huge. Imagine your PS3 getting 2x as powerful the next year. That’s why you can’t wait too long until you update these consoles, and the companies need to take advantage of that extra performance.
So what would a Google gaming console specs look like? Here’s what I’d like it to have this year.
Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 or Tegra 4. Normally, I’d go with the S800 this year, but I think Nvidia’s chips would be a better bet long term, and Nvidia is a better partner for getting the “real” games I mentioned above. Tegra 4 may not have a new architecture this year, but next year it may have the best one by far.The Nvidia Tegra 5 will use Nvidia’s PC architecture, Kepler, which should help it run PC-level games such as Battlefield 3. Then, a year later (2015) comes the 14nm Tegra 6 based on Nvidia’s own 64 bit “Denver” CPU cores, and Maxwell GPU cores (new architecture).
So Nvidia may be the ideal partner here, but not just because of how good these GPU’s are supposed to be, but also because Nvidia can help bring a lot more PC games to this Android console later.
Depending on price, I think 32 GB would be ideal, and 16 GB would be fine, too, as long as both options come with a microSD slot, too, that supports at least 64 GB extra storage. As far as RAM is concerned, it should have at least 2 GB LPDDR3, maybe even 3 GB, with 2 GB always locked for games (the OS itself can’t access more than 1 GB at any given time). This is in case the console is going to be used for other media-oriented stuff, too (Google TV stuff).
I think the design of the Nexus Q was brilliant, so they should use the same design. It would make it a lot more appealing to mainstream customers when they see it in stores. The controller needs to be of very high quality, too, and it needs to be tested by people who actually play a lot of games with controllers. This was a big issue with the OUYA because it had a cheaply made controller that cost a lot.
I don’t think a very high quality console can be built with all these specs, and still cost only $99. Obviously that would be perfect, but I don’t think it’s really possible, and OUYA proved that (Apple TV also uses a pretty old chip, and doesn’t even have a controller or a lot of storage with it). So instead of going for the lowest possible price point, Google should aim for the $199 price point, but make sure it has all these high-end mobile specs, and also has high quality design and build. If they can make a healthy profit on it, even better, because then they’d promote it that much harder to make it successful.
Under absolutely no circumstance should this console be more than $199. If it’s more, then they’ve already failed. I can’t stress this enough. Google already failed with the $300 Revue Google TV, and then I was really baffled that they “dared” announce the Nexus Q for $300, when it even had fewer features than Revue. I would be shocked if they made the same mistake the 3rd time.
Speaking of promotion, Google is pretty new in the consumer electronics market, but they need to understand that they can’t simply rely on worth of mouth to sell millions of these devices. They have to promote them, too. They have to show the potential buyers the advantages of owning an Google Android-based console that costs $200, that may or may not also act as a Google TV.
I’m not overly optimistic about a Google console right now, not because I don’t want it to happen (I’ve been wanting it to happen since before Google TV was even announced in 2010,and have kept begging them to do it with every chance I got), but because so far gaming has been just an afterthought in pretty much everything Google has done, and I’m not convinced yet that they will treat it a lot more seriously this time, although the new Play services framework gives me some hope that they are at least considering taking gaming more seriously.
Gaming is almost always one of the factors that helps make a strong platform (desktop Windows, iOS), and some of these Google console games could later trickle to all the other Android devices, and make Android as a whole a better platform.