There’s no shortage of TV-connected gaming devices out there, from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One down to microconsoles like the Ouya. Now Amazon’s own microconsole is here, and the company is working to define why the $99 Fire TV deserves access to your HDMI ports.
In an interview today with Re/code, Amazon Games VP Mike Frazzini said the Fire TV may provide an outlet for games that are somewhere between the casual-dominated world of mobile and the hardcore-friendly consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo that have reigned for the last decade. Games made by teams of five to 30 people, he said, can be “rich and immersive, with fantastic artistry.”
The Fire TV’s launch titles include Sev Zero, developed in-house at Amazon Game Studios, and third-party titles like Mojang’s Minecraft: Pocket Edition* and Gameloft’s Asphalt 8: Airborne. Frazzini noted that the accompanying $40 gaming controller, sold separately, sold out in its first day; Amazon currently lists it as out of stock until May 11.
When I asked about whether the Fire TV would be a good fit for more complex games, he said he saw Minecraft, Asphalt 8 and Sev Zero as complex games in their own right. It will be up to the player, Frazzini added, to decide whether to play them for 15 minutes or two hours. What developers in Amazon’s ecosystem find will be one metric to watch, especially compared to its other gaming-friendly device, the Kindle Fire tablet.
The mid-market talk is a noteworthy bit of positioning because in recent years, the gaming industry has been pushed to its extremes — leaving what Frazzini called a “gap in the middle.”
Tiny teams (think Flappy Bird, made by one person, or Temple Run, initially made by three) have hit upon success on emerging platforms, while huge companies like EA and Activision focus most of their energies on fewer, bigger titles on console and PC. There are plenty of exceptions to that trend on both fronts, but touting the Fire TV’s mid-market potential will give game companies sniffing around the box something to latch onto while the audience is still taking shape.
* One side effect of the Fire TV’s Android base that hadn’t occurred to me until I saw it in action: The box runs the vanilla Pocket Edition of Minecraft, meaning it can play simultaneously with an Android or iOS device on the same server — something not possible, as I understand it, between the Pocket Edition and existing TV-playable versions on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.