A year or two ago analysts thought "smart televisions" were going to be huge, but it hasn't happened yet, says Playjam's John Vega. In his view it's not that the televisions weren't good enough, but that the games weren't there yet, due in no small part to challenging UI and weak developer relations on the part of some manufacturers.
But things are finally starting to change, Vega says, and it's now easier to work with televisions. As games relationship manager for PlayJam, he's been reaching out to indies hoping they'll get on board with the company's new platform, GameStick -- an 8GB USB stick that connects to HDMI televisions to provide a user interface and a storefront of Android games adapted for use with its proprietary controller.
In that respect it's similar to Ouya, but aims to be more portable -- "you can literally stick it in your pocket" -- and at $79, less expensive. A user can fit the palm-sized stick in a compartment inside the controller and bring it to a friend's house, and access and play an entire game library so long as the friend has an HDMI port or USB slot in their TV. GameStick plans to support local multiplayer for up to seven controllers, which connect via Bluetooth, at a time.
Playjam, established in 1999, launched as a multimedia company before moving into games. CEO Jasper Smith and CMO Anthony Johnson developed the concept and design for GameStick last year, and after several iterations led to a prototype, the team launched a Kickstarter in January to produce the GameStick. Vega says the team's $100,000 target was reached in six hours, and once the media caught on, GameStick raised a total of $647,000.
GameStick was soon joined by former PopCap development director Sameer Baroova, who was tasked with creating a game team which now includes Vega. "We've been talking to 300 developers, and many of those are making more than one game each," Vega explains. Any Android game will work on the GameStick, with some optimization for the controller and of assets intended for TV screens.
"It's not a complicated process, it just slightly depends on the original game," he explains. "Unity, GameMaker, any kind of codebase that you can export, we support."So far the GameStick's roster of partnerships looks robust
, with Madfinger's Shadowgun
, Pixelbit's Naught
, and Hutch Games' Smash Cops
already on show for the current hardware.
Developers can also determine their own business models, including free, paid and microtransactions-oriented. As a publisher, GameStick operates under the standard 70-30 revenue split. "We scrapped tiers, due to the fact we want to give developers the ability to price the game as they want."
Playjam is also proud of its parental controls, given GameStick aims to be friendly to a family room. Age ratings include 3, 7, 12 and 17 years of age, and parents can lock the stick to specific age groups and require a password for anything above it. "The dev will choose their age rating and we'll check; we have a list of submission criteria for each age group."
The company hopes that the ease of porting to its platform will lead many Android developers to view GameStick as a beneficial alternate revenue stream, especially for those who are already in discussion with Ouya. Ouya, launched this week
, has currently sold out its first round of hardware on Amazon and at GameStop in just about a day, while GameStick's commercial launch has been deferred to end of summer.
Vega stops short of identifying a rivalry with the fellow Android-based TV hardware, though, suggesting a rising tide can benefit all hardware makers who want to bring mobile games into the living room.
"The other point is that at the moment, with the next gen consoles coming out... we're not going after people who are deciding between a PS4 and an Xbox One. We include mid-core to casual gamers, and we'd expect people to have, for example, a PS4 and a GameStick."