The Microconsole: Can Amazon's Fire TV succeed where others failed?

We analyze the launch of the Amazon Fire TV, and what could work in its favor down the road.

Amazon's Fire TV is the company's first attempt at a set-top box. However, unlike many of its competitors, Amazon is taking gaming very seriously, as evidenced by their recent acquisition of Double Helix Games and hiring of Portal creator Kim Swift. The company has numerous exclusives in the works. But can Fire TV succeed where other Android-based consoles have not? For $100, it's clearly not going to go head-to-head with PS4 or Xbox One, but will Amazon be able to make an impact in the microconsole space? Featuring a quad-core Qualcomm CPU clocked at 1.7GHz, a discrete GPU, and 2GB of RAM, Fire TV should have comparable power to mid-tier smartphones and tablets. In terms of raw specs, Fire TV outclasses Ouya and every major set-top competitor, but that should be unsurprising given how new Amazon's hardware is compared to other offerings. A key differentiator between Fire TV is that Amazon is also offering a first-party game controller (sold separately, $40). Amazon isn't trying to change the wheel, admitting that it's "instantly familiar to any gamer." It appears the company's attempts to appeal to gamers is working; the controller is sold-out for the next few weeks.

Amazon's Fire Controller doesn't attempt to change the wheel

Although Fire TV won't have access to Google Play, the Amazon Appstore already has a rather robust library of Android games--over 50,000 in fact. However, games will have to be ported for Fire TV, with only 134 games available at this moment. Highlights include Telltale's The Walking Dead, You Don't Know Jack, and Minecraft (even if it is just a port of the Pocket Edition). Of course, ports of mobile games don't necessarily make for the best on-TV experiences. However, Amazon's biggest weapon in their attempt to become a viable contender in the TV-connected games space is their first-party development. Fire TV is home to the exclusive Sev Zero, a third-person shooter developed internally at Amazon Game Studios. As with tower defense games, players must fight off an alien species by using different towers to launch various missiles and grenades at the invaders. Taking a page from Wii U (and other second screen experiences), a companion app will enable multiplayer. By downloading the "Air Support" tablet app, additional players can initiate air strikes from their tablet, while the TV player engages in face-to-face combat. After Sev Zero, Amazon Game Studios will see content from newly-acquired studio Double Helix, who most recently worked on Xbox One's Killer Instinct reboot. Portal creator Kim Swift and other noteworthy developers are also moving under Amazon's wing. If Amazon's first-party teams can create a compelling first-party game, that could convince gamers to take Fire TV seriously. The video below highlights a few games in production under Amazon's label as well. With decent hardware, an attractive price, and some eye-catching talent behind it, Fire TV can become the first microconsole to attract a core gaming audience. And smartly, Amazon has leapfrogged the competition. It won't be long until other companies follow suit--even if the Fire TV experiment doesn't work out. Google has reportedly been working on a set-top box of its own. Likewise, Apple, looking to redesign its Apple TV is unlikely to sit idly by. Sony's Vita TV is another similarly priced, similarly-equipped microconsole currently avaialble in Japan--even if no US plans have been announced. Amazon seems ideally situated to make Fire TV take off, making it the first truly successful microconsole. But, given how quickly tech moves, it's unlikely to be the last.
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    April 4, 2014 1:00 PM

    Robert Workman and Andew Yoon posted a new article, The Microconsole: Can Amazon's Fire TV succeed where others failed?.

    We analyze the launch of the Amazon Fire TV, and what could work in its favor down the road.

    • reply
      April 4, 2014 1:25 PM

      You reckon in the future consoles could be hit hard by things like this, similar to how the portable gaming space was hit hard by the iPhone and such?

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        April 4, 2014 1:29 PM

        I think it means that another Wii is impossible, as casual audiences will be more likely to spend time with microconsoles. However, dedicated consoles still have demand from a large, dedicated, spend-y audience.

        I don't think microconsoles will be as disruptive as smartphones, however. The reason for this is that a lot of the features enabled by set-top boxes are already available to most consumers via another device. If you already own a PS3 or a Roku, do you really need a Fire TV? Nope. Many people just need a way to connect Netflix to their TVs, and many people already have a solution for that.

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          April 4, 2014 1:39 PM

          That's true - with phones, the "bare minimum" smartphone is capable of playing a ton of games. But the bare minimum Netflix solution is probably your TV.

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      April 4, 2014 6:27 PM

      I think the name recognition will take it a long way. Especially considering the high number of people already streaming Amazon video. I could see taking some customers on the casual end from the main three. And it will bring some former Wii owners back into the fold too.

      I think we will get a few kickass games from this. I'm excited.

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      April 4, 2014 10:43 PM

      I'll probably pick one of these up...I pretty much buy all the consoles and this looks like a nifty toy. I have a GP2X (2 of the actually, a first gen and a Wiz) and an I'm a sucker for this stuff.

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      April 5, 2014 3:13 PM

      Ouya was a great concept that crashed and burned because it was JUST a game console. If they had made it a media center first WITH the ability to play games it would have found its way into a lot more households.
      Fire TV is a media center first, so this can be very tempting to anyone with Prime that has already bought some games. They're just lacking the content a Roku has but they could catch up. Amazon has a lot of staying power after all.
      For the rest of us, its just another Ouya waiting to happen. To Amazon, this could be Ouya done right.

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      April 6, 2014 12:10 AM

      OUYA failed because it sucks. Terrible control lag, worse build quality on the controller. And droid games that run better on my phone than the 'game console'. I don't even have it hooked up anymore. The Fire TV took it's HDMI jack and does everything better. And it uses my MOGA Pro controller in addition to the Amazon controller. Integrates with my Kindle Fire HDX too. Works better than the XBone for streaming and has a proper wireless (not IR line-of-sight) remote and non-wonky interface.

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