2013 can boldly claim the crown of the most bizarre year in gaming history. 1UP was shuttered, LucasArts is no more, THQ went bye bye, and there’s a seemingly weekly controversy involving gender inequality or questionable journalistic integrity. Still, there are plenty of positives, too! Namely, the handful of new players leaping into the unsteady waters that is video game hardware.
The PlayStation 4 and upcoming Xbox 360 successor are grabbing headlines and keeping the rumor mill churning, but the OUYA, Razor Edge, and Nvidia Shield look to snag a portion of the industry’s multi-billion dollar industry. These, however, aren’t your typical video game devices that require you to connect to a big screen and plop in a game. This trio represents new takes on gaming — takes that are unlike any others currently on the market.
Let’s check them out.
OUYA, the $99 Nvidia Tegra 3- and Android-powered Kickstarter darling, recently began shipping to those who dropped dollars on the console while it was in its most nascent stages. Early OUYA reviews have been less than stellar, but founder Julie Uhrman has gone on record stating that the platform is “constantly evolving.” That, hopefully, means a deeper game library and a snappier interface by the time OUYA reaches retail on June 4th, but even with those issues addressed, Uhrman and company have to convince the public that they need units in their living rooms.
OUYA isn’t a home video game console, at least not in the traditional sense. OUYA’s powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 mobile chipset platform — and will receive annual updates, much like cell phones — but doesn’t tap Google Play for content. Instead, OUYA’s designed with a television in mind — and even comes with a console-like game controller — but isn’t designed to compete with the PS3, Xbox 360, or Wii U. This “neither fully this or that” mini-console design will leave people scratching their heads, especially when they notice the lack of familiar franchises.
Final Fantasy III leads the list of games heading to the OUYA, serving as the mini-console’s launch title. Core gamers will recognize Square Enix’s cash cow, but few will likely rush to purchase a game that currently resides on Android, iOS, PSP, and Nintendo DS. The Cave and Fez are known titles within the gamer circle, but lack mainstream swagger.
That said, OUYA has intriguing positives that may put it over. It’s an open platform that comes bundled with several emulators — it may be the ROM user and homebrewer’s dream machine. Plus, I can see the OUYA succeeding in a very specific channel should it make its way there: The Home Shopping Network. The system’s price merged with HSN’s ability to put a product in front of millions of people at a time equals a potential impulse buy. Never underestimate the power of budget electronics.
Prediction: Decent launch numbers with solid (but unspectacular) growth.
The Razer Edge is a Windows 8 gaming machine (1.7-GHz Intel i5 dual-core CPU and Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU with 1GB of memory) engineered into the body of a 2.1-pound tablet with a 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display. As such, the Razer Edge is one of the lightest, most mobile methods of taking PC games like Hawken, Guild Wars 2, and League of Legends on the road without the heft of a gaming laptop. The problem, however, is the price.
The Razer Edge starts at $999, which is double (or triple) the cost of most quality tablets. The relatively high price is directly tied to the parts that give the slate its gaming chops. That isn’t the only cost. Hardcore gamers who want to partake in all-night frag sessions will need something to grasp. Want to add a physical keyboard? The keyboard dock will give you just that when it arrives this fall. Want precision controls? The Gamepad Controller offers a D-pad, physical buttons, and dual analog sticks for $249. Want to add a second controller or connect the Razer Edge to a big screen? The $99 console docking station holds that down. It’s not outrageous coin, but it is pricey. It’s also a lot of items.
PC gamers carry the big-spender perception, but few will want to drop this much cash on a tablet and accessories (especially while the $999 Nvidia GTX Titan super-GPU is on the market). Those that do will primarily use it as a gaming rig during flights/car rides/train rides, or moments on the recliner.
Prediction: Plaything of playboys with money to burn for a secondary gaming PC. Everyone else ignores.
Nvidia Project Shield
Nvidia entering the handheld gaming space was one of the more surprising announcements of CES 2013. The handheld, which resembles a Xbox 360 controller with an integrated 5-inch (720p) flip-top touch display, runs on the Android Jellybean operating system and is powered by the Nvidia Tegra 4 mobile chipset and Nvidia GRID. It’s easily the most bizarre/genius device of the year.
The handheld connects to Google Play, which lets gamers purchase and play a variety of Android games like Angry Birds Star Wars , Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, and N.O.V.A. 3 (though I’m not certain if anyone truly longs to play Android games on a non-smartphone or tablet device). It also acts as a portable PC gaming rig, but in a totally different manner than the Razer Edge. Nvidia Project Shield connects to Keplar-based GeForce 650 and 660M GPUs to stream PC games over Wi-Fi. Suddenly, World of Warcraft and Torchlight II are now in the palm of your hand. Project Shield’s design gives it more “lean-back” points than Razer’s 10-inch tablet, but its PC gaming capabilities are limited to being within range of your router — the Razer Edge lets you play PC games anywhere, anytime.
What may make or break Project Shield is pricing. If it’s positioned under $300, the handheld has a shot at being a solid ancillary PC gaming machine. The time I spent playing Borderlands 2 on the Project Shield at PAX East was impressive — images popped on the crisp display and it handled like a dream. I could very easily see myself streaming my Steam library to it while I sit in bed. But if the price is $300 or over? I’ll wait for the price drop.
Prediction: The well-designed tech may carve out a niche PC gaming audience if smartly-priced.
The Razer Edge is the only one of the three devices available for retail purchase at the moment, but by the time the summer dawns, all of them will be on store shelves. Time and market reception will determine whether the Razer Edge, OUYA, and Nvidia Project Shield will fly or crash, so the next few weeks will be quite interesting as we go deeper into 2013.