Several months of rumors, speculation, and talent acquisitions led up to Amazon’s massive reveal of the Amazon Fire TV on April 2. It’s a multimedia streaming box that connects directly with an HDTV, granting it access to a myriad of TV shows and movies from services such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and Hulu.
The device contends directly with other prominent set top boxes, namely the Roku 3 and Apple TV, for space in a family’s living room. All three are available for the same price of $99. To compete, Amazon equipped the Fire TV with three differentiating X-factors. The first is voice search functionality. Another is the Fire TV’s ASAP system, or Advanced Search and Prediction. It analyzes your tastes and recommends shows – the kicker is that they will be ready to watch instantly as a result of the predictions. Annoying buffer times are eliminated.
Amazon Fire TV’s final differentiating factor is its superior hardware, intended to bolster its ability to play video games. Whereas the Apple TV can play no games, and the Roku 3 has limited games, Fire TV promises access to tons of them. Amazon is committed to providing video game content. However, as of right now, the Fire TV simply cannot stand against the already established and traditional forms of gaming found in the Xbox and PlayStation brands.
At launch, the Fire TV came with over 100 games available in the digital marketplace. Among them was Sev Zero, an alien shooting game available only on Fire TV, and major successes such as Minecraft, which has sold over 35 million units across other gaming platforms.
The moderate star power present in the Fire TV’s first wave of games speaks volumes of Amazon’s commitment to breaking into the gaming sphere. But here’s a hard fact that shows their commitment may not be so rock steady: playing most games requires a controller to perform adequately. But a Fire TV video game controller costs $39.99 and is a separate purchase. So for the Fire TV to become a true gaming machine, it would have be a purchase valued at about $140.00; meanwhile, the Xbox 360 is at $179. In its near decade of existence, the Xbox 360 has amassed an incredible library of games that makes the Fire TV’s collection seem pitiful in comparison. Not to mention, the 360 serves some of the Fire TV’s primary function anyway by acting as a conduit for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. There’s little the Fire TV offers that would entice gamers away from what they already have.
The Fire TV is priced at $99, plays great games at low prices, and is based on Android software. If this premise sounds familiar, that’s because similar has already appeared – and failed miserably. Released in June 2013, the Ouya was an Android-based game console similar to Fire TV (just without the TV part). It began as a Kickstarter project that received $8.5 million in backing and then another $15 million from venture capital investments. With such mighty funding, many thought Ouya’s future was bright. Fast forward to today, and the Ouya is long forgotten, its price embarrassingly slashed to $49, half of what it launched for. Erik Kain of Forbes.com pronounced the Ouya as “basically dead,” mainly due to lack of games.
Still, there is one area where Amazon and Ouya completely diverge – Amazon has formed its own game studio. Not only have they formed Amazon Game Studios, but they are going all-out to pack it with the industry’s most talented developers. In February, they snatched Double Helix Games, the studio responsible for Killer Instinct, which was a major and successful exclusive title for Microsoft’s Xbox One. Double Helix was only contracted to make the game, meaning they weren’t quite owned by Microsoft, so Amazon wisely snatched the talented group right out from a competitor’s nose, bolstering their own team in the process. The Ouya was a flop because it could not generate excellent, exclusive games as a reason for people to buy it; Fire TV is attempting to avoid this pitfall by making exclusive games with a star-studded team. The only problem is they haven’t announced any future Fire TV-exclusive games aside from the already released Sev Zero.
Aside from a very short teaser video, Amazon has done little to indicate their next step in the gaming world. To position themselves for success – and actually, to even remain relevant –they must release additional information on their in-progress games. They must provide sufficient reason for gamers to purchase the Fire TV. Unveiling various tidbits about upcoming games every now and then to gather intrigue is the way to go. People will want to see what Amazon’s talented team has in the works. But a month of silence inspires confidence in nobody.
Meanwhile, Microsoft cannot become complacent, especially with Amazon joining Sony in their list of competitors, Microsoft must focus on raising their poor Xbox One sales. At this point, their best bet may be to cut the Xbox One’s retail price from $500 to $400 to match Sony’s better-performing PlayStation 4.
Fire TV has potential to be the first streaming device that doubly functions as a competent gaming system, but it has a long road ahead of it first – until then, a purchase is not recommended for the hardcore gamer. For the highest quality games, stick to that Xbox or PlayStation for now.