'Mojo' a unique test for wide-open Android console development

Mad Catz is best known for video game accessories, anything from controllers to headsets to chargers. With the Mojo, the company is now getting into the Android microconsole market.
Mad Catz is best known for video game accessories, anything from controllers to headsets to chargers. With the Mojo, the company is now getting into the Android microconsole market. Mojo might not have the same amount of mindshare that first-movers like Ouya and GameStick enjoy right now, but Mad Catz's upcoming entry sets itself apart in an important way: It really is an open Android game console for your television. That means this is stock Android Jelly Bean development, complemented by a game controller. It also means that through the Mojo, players will be able to connect directly to far-reaching Google Play and Amazon Appstores -- there is no special gated Mojo storefront, or any gatekeeping by Mad Catz. "We have a vision for mobile gaming that’s open, honest and fair for developers and hardware manufacturers alike," says Alex Verrey, communications director at Mad Catz. "It’s worth noting that we’re here to assist developers and work with them, not profit from them. … Mojo is completely open, we’re not making money from the software and it’s in our interest to assist the development community in any way we can." Unlike GameStick and Ouya, which curate content for their own app stores, and collect 30 percent of developer revenues, Mad Catz won't be collecting a toll (of course, Google and Amazon will collect their standard 30 percent share).

Powerful, but niche

It's an interesting choice – that means that the cost of the Mojo will not be subsidized by software royalties, so a sub-$100 console is not on the cards here. Buyers will bear the brunt of the hardware cost, and with what will likely be a Tegra 4 processor built in, the Mojo won't be inexpensive. That will limit the audience to dedicated enthusiasts who want to play core-type Android games on TV. Full specs for the console are to be finalized, but Verrey says it will be "the most powerful Android gaming console." Nvidia's Shield console follows the same open Android model, and has a Tegra 4 processor. It retails for $300, so that might give us an idea of the Mojo's price point -- though the Shield does have a screen. Putting your game on an Android marketplace means that anyone who buys a Mojo will be able to download it. For consumers this works out well, because if they bought your game through Google Play or Amazon Appstore through their Android phone, they won't need to buy it again to play it on the Mojo. But for developers, it means that you're competing in what is still a bit of a Wild West scenario, where your game risks getting buried by heaps of other games and apps, where piracy runs rampant and where personal support may be lacking. Mad Catz has yet to announce how the Mojo's interface will curate games that are best-optimized for the console through some kind of portal ("Rest assured, we have a plan," Verrey says). And Verrey says Mad Catz is "actively talking to developers" about some sort of "Mojo certified" line of games that are optimized for the console. The good thing is that anyone who's already working on Android knows about the challenges of open Android development. And as the Mojo connects to Google Play and Amazon, developers don't need to fret too much if Mojo isn't generating so many sales for them – there are still plenty of Android mobile users out there who can buy your game, and if it's already controller-friendly, implementing controller support should be a straightforward process. Mad Catz is making the Mojo and its controller (the "CTRL^R") the centerpiece of the company's GameSmart mobile hardware initiative, but third-party accessories like Bluetooth controllers and USB keyboards will work with the console. (With mouse support and the ability to control a cursor with the CTRL^R, the Mojo will support one-touch games, albeit, probably awkwardly in many cases.)

An interesting test-bed

"We anticipate that developers already familiar with working on Android should have no issues with getting started with Mojo," says Verrey. He adds that Mad Catz will announce more details about Mojo developer support in the near future. While there are still questions surrounding the Mojo, the platform will be an interesting test-bed for truly wide-open, high-powered Android gaming for consoles. The Mojo may find itself in an unattractive core-gamer niche if the console's price approaches that of offerings from PlayStation and Xbox in particular. The good news for developers is that the risk associated with Mojo is almost all squarely laid upon Mad Catz. For game makers, it's just another way to reach more Android players, and that's a good thing. This week is microconsole week on Gamasutra. For more about microconsole game development, check out our official event page.

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