Let's Talk GameStick

In light of the many hardware and marketing endeavors springing up around the Android gaming platform; I - along with many others - have posed many questions surrounding the future of the platform as this fracturing continues. Yet, not much speculation can be made until some more cards are out on the table. In an attempt to set some of the record straight, and reveal to players and consumers what exactly the market will be looking at this year; I got the opportunity to sit down and question the voices behind one of the projects getting some buzz - The GameStick.

Q: As you've all ready stated the driving motive behind GameStick, it would be quite foolish to ask again. Instead, I'd like to open with a bit of a qualification. An Android based platform, determined to bring smaller, independent games normally unable to appear on larger, more expensive consoles, to a larger audience - and a larger screen - all ready exists in the OUYA. The incredibly portable and sleek design of the GameStick establishes an easily recognizable and distinct separation between itself and the OUYA; but, what else distinguishes your console from its competition?

A: You have covered the obvious visual elements. What GameStick has as an advantage over any current offering in this space is access to a built-for-tv games platform that has already delivered over 6 billion games across Pay and Smart TV devices. PlayJam, the company behind GameStick has had a single-minded obsession with bringing affordable games to the big screen since its inception 12 years ago. Since then, the team has invested significant time, resource and energy in building a platform that has proven itself in the real world.

In addition to this, we have gone to great pains to ensure that our business model is sound. By that I mean GameStick, (currently the most affordable such device), is able to maintain a $79 price point and still make a profit on hardware as well as a revenue share on the content. We feel this is extremely important if we are to gain the buy-in from anyone that invests into the ecosystem we are building of gamers, developers, investors, chip manufacturers and retailers. It’s all well and good that traditional console manufacturers subsidize their hardware but we do not think that model will not work at our end of the market.

Q: I intend to steer the rest of the questioning away from qualifications and comparisons with the OUYA; alas, there is one more stirring in my mind. The OUYA currently has roughly 300 confirmed games in development, as well as the ability to play existing Android games. While the extensive catalogue of current Smart TV developers serves as a wonderful buffer, do you expect any difficulties swaying developers toward the GameStick? What hurdles have you encountered in marketing your system against competition?

A: We are taking a slightly different approach. Firstly, we intend to ensure that GameStick provides the user with a true console-like experience and that any game purchased through the GameStick store will work as intended with the controller or with our smartphone application that leverages a sufficiently large phone or tablet touch screen to control a game at 10 ft. There is little point running games that do not run as intended. We want people to recommend GameStick after all.

Secondly, we are serious about offering developers a true incentive to come to GameStick. An additional revenue stream and a fuss-free porting effort without restrictions will be key in singing up those that are serious about bringing content to the big screen. We have well over 300 developers registered with GameStick from Indies to the larger development houses and will be making some big announcements at GDC so stay tuned!

Q: Finally away from the ever bothersome comparison questions. In the development guide on Kickstarter, the ability to handle four controllers at a given time was mentioned. How exactly does the GameStick go about handling local multiplayer? Do player accounts sync with the controller or the stick? Do all local controllers sync to a single Console in the event of a local multiplayer match up? Is localized multiplayer even an option without the Docking station´s allowance for peripheral support?

A: GameStick supports up to four HID Bluetooth controller simultaneously allowing for local multi-player game-play or what we like to refer to as truly social gaming!

Q: When reading every bit of documentation on the GameStick I could get my hands on, I was quite impressed with your apparent choice to separate your console from the existing Android marketplace. Was the notion of operating through the Android marketplace ever a viable option, or would it have created too much brand confusion? Or, rather, had you intended from the start - much as with Smart TV - to remain an independent entity?

A: There are a number of reasons – firstly, the number of games available on Play Store that will work out of the box with a controller without the need to first configure the game using a mouse are very few if any at all. That does not make for a great user experience. Secondly, working through Google Play would have required a different business model given that Google would have required a revenue share. Lastly, as I have touched on above, we wanted to incentivize developers to create big screen editions for which they could generate an additional income stream.

Q: Your controller design manages to combine the nostalgic shape of the SNES controller, while maintaining the current, ergonomic set up of the XBox 360 layout. What inspired the controller design? Was it intended symbolism of a coalescence between good-old gaming notions and intentions, separate from high price tags and corporations, and modern gaming mentality?

A: Yes absolutely – in fact you have phrased it better than I could... We are aiming for the casual to mid-core gaming market. These people have largely discovered,or more to the point ‘re-discovered’, their love of play through their smart phones and tablets or via Facebook and other online resources. These are not people that have necessarily been born with an X-box controller in their hand but many will remember the consoles of their childhood and the fun they had playing on the TV. We hope the GameStick design will inspire people to bring gaming back to where we think it belongs – the big screen.

Q: The GameStick, with the recent memory upgrade in line with the Docking station, currently is able to house 100 standard sized games of 100MB - weighing in at 104GB. That amount of space stands competitively with current consoles, an impressive feat given how compact the GameStick is. Though, in the development application, a cloud storage system was mentioned. Will this storage method be restricted to save-states, achievements, leaderboard holdings and other convenience based data? Given the ease of portability that the GameStick provides, and the average size of games, not much extra storage would be needed. With the average length of current Android developed games being between four and ten hours, and their easily swallowed pricing, it is possible for that 100 game space to get taken up quite quickly. Do you have plans for future memory enhancements once demand reaches this point?

A: In addition to the 104GB of memory that a GameStick with Dock can support, we also offer a download manager that enables users to move games between memory cards and delete then re-download them at any time, providing they are signed into their account.

Future iterations will also support larger memory cards so we think between the memory expansion slots and the download manager - we have it pretty much covered but will wait to see what the feedback is.

Q: Much speculation has been made under the notion that the GameStick, and the OUYA, will change the console realm entirely. Honestly, I’m becoming inclined to agree; at any rate, it is certainly a welcome change. On the more immediate side of things, though, the GameStick is not quite on shelves yet. What is the immediate future for your project? Where do you stand currently in terms of marketing and eventual accessibility? If all of that is too early to estimate, what do you have planned?

A: Everyone seems to want this market to take off – the support from gamers and developers alike has been phenomenal and that I think is half the battle. I think it is important to keep it real in terms of how we will affect the traditional console market and like I have said, we are operating in a different space right now but we think that this will grow to become very significant quite quickly and that’s when we could start to see a big shift.

In terms of our future – it’s all about retail. We are in advanced conversations right now with some of the world’s leading hardware and games retailers. Our immediate concern is to make sure we fulfill our commitment to our Kickstarter backers.

Q: Lastly, in line with the previous question, when can we expect to see the GameStick on shelves?

A: Any who wishes to be one of the first to get their hands on GameStick can pre-order today at www.gamestick.tv. In terms of retail, we expect to be on the shelves in June. Exciting stuff.

I give my sincere thanks to the GameStick team for granting Darkstation, and our viewers, this interview. We wish you luck!