Tiga's Richard Wilson takes an optimistic look at the changing shape of the console landscape
We are embarking on exciting times in the games industry, a time when the wider public and the mainstream media sit up and take notice: the release of new games consoles. Little excites the average gamer more than a fresh next-generation machine and all of the promises they hold for the future of gaming.
Last year saw the launch of Nintendo's Wii U and Microsoft’s Windows 8. Now we’re dissecting Sony's announcement surrounding the PlayStation. In the coming months we’ll be focusing our attention on the Xbox 720 or whatever it may end up being called.
Yet of all of the console announcements which have been taking place recently, perhaps the most interesting are the Ouya and GameStick. These first appeared on Kickstarter looking for crowd-sourcing money.
Neither may not be the most advanced machine out there, but they are among the cheapest. They are also based on Android. The barriers for development are therefore low. It is an open source machine for all and it offers considerable potential to the small development studios which are regularly springing up in the UK.
For the past few years, the UK games development sector has been turning to mobile and tablet devices. The distribution deal in which companies such as Apple or Google take 30 per cent, leaving the rest for the developer has proved very attractive. The fact that developers do not need to spend money on packaging and physical distribution is positive too. Additionally, there are great opportunities in mobile and tablet gaming: the market is growing and the UK is an attractive market because there is a relatively high proportion of players and paying customers. Research undertaken by the internet technology business comScore suggests that almost three quarters of all new handset acquisitions in five EU countries in October 2012 were smartphones. Other research predicts that one billion smartphones will be shipped globally in 2013.
So many UK developers have been building up the skills needed to develop games for mobile platforms. The Ouya and those other Android consoles makes it is relatively easy to transfer games from mobile to these devices and this makes it more likely that developers will embrace Android consoles. Developers can now produce big screen gaming using the same low-cost resources as those used on mobile.
This is important. In the age of austerity there is a need more than ever to keep an eye on costs. Small developers want to be able to concentrate on creativity and not be hamstrung and hindered by lengthy development time and all of the costs associated with it.
Developers who are just starting out need to be able to get a game to market as soon as they can and begin to profit from it. Only then will they be able to move on to the next game and use some of the profits to make an even better and more successful title.
The UK games industry is going through a period of considerable turbulence. The industry is moving from retail towards digital distribution and not all studios are making the transition. TIGA research shows that between 2008 and 2011, there were 197 closures and we have seen some high profile ones including Bizarre Creations, Eurocom and Sony Studios Liverpool.
Yet encouragingly there has been a big increase in the number of start-ups: 216 new games businesses emerged between 2008 and 2011. Many of these developers are producing games for mobile, for platforms like Android. With consoles like the Ouya and GameStick, developers have more opportunities to create games for home consoles.
Developers entering the industry today have much to be excited about. New console announcements and a rising number of these low-cost machines that take advantage of platforms such as Android are providing new outlets for developers and fresh revenue streams. The challenge for developers will not just be the creation of great games but also the creation of growing and sustainable businesses.