Google may be developing both a Google-branded game console and a smartphone-connected wristwatch powered by its Android operating system, reports the Wall Street Journal in what’s shaping up to be a mammoth game of musical chairs between the big name players and a bunch of plucky upstarts. The Journal claims that Google also plans to resurface its Nexus Q Android-powered streaming media orb, which Google unveiled in 2012 but never released to the public.
That’s all we know about this mystery Google games-console and wristwatch so far, though the Journal adds that Google plans to release at least one of the devices by this fall (presumably the Nexus Q, given its recent almost-released vintage).
Aren’t game consoles supposed to be on the outs, like Jurassic dinosaurs squaring off against stealth bombers (i.e. smartphones and tablets)? If so, we’re in full-on light brigade mode: Ouya, Nvidia Shield, GameStick, Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, MOJO, GamePop and Xi3’s Piston, all either coming this year or next, to say nothing of the existing market (thinking about both physical and digital content): Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, all the other legacy consoles and handhelds still in circulation on the secondary market, Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Has electronic gaming ever looked anything like this multifaceted from a platform standpoint? Perhaps we’ve slipped through a crack in space-time into some alien temporal flow where set-top consoles and dedicated gaming handhelds survive the onslaught of smartphones and tablets after all.
Rumors about Google developing a smartwatch have been bouncing around the echo chamber for a while now; the Financial Times suggested the company was up to something back in March (and there were even earlier rumblings), so the Journal‘s story, which offers no new information about the device itself, functions more as a signal repeater. The smartwatch market is starting to fill up, too, with products incoming or already available from Pebble, Sony, WIMM One, Nike, Martian’s G2G lineup, the Fossil Metawatch, i’m Watch, the inPulse BlackBerry and, if we stretch a bit, Apple’s iPod Nano snap-in wristband.
The Journal‘s take on all of this, citing “people familiar with the matter,” is that Google’s preparing to do battle primarily with Apple, the assumption being that Apple plans to out its own dedicated game device and smartwatch in the near future. Factor in the longstanding rumor that Apple might release a souped-up Apple-branded “smart” TV down the road — the Journal‘s wrinkle is that Google may choose to bundle a dedicated game console with the TV — though built-in, standalone…who knows?
There’s one comment in the Journal story that’s misleading: this notion that mobile games are “growing more quickly than games made for the big-name consoles,” the latter referring to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U. Yes, Google Play and Apple’s App Store have gazillions of games — more than all the ones released for every game system since games went electronic. But we’re also talking about “Top Charts” lists that include the same games, month after month: Angry Birds, Minecraft, Plants vs. Zombies, Infinity Blade, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja, Words with Friends, Cut the Rope, Doodle Jump, Scribblenauts and so on. If Apple’s App Store were the Billboard Hot 100, we’d be listening to the same Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Daft Punk, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars tunes we were two or three years ago.
In any event, the economic health of the industry depends more on revenue than volume. According to an NPD Group survey of core and mobile gamers published in September 2012, while the audience for mobile gaming has been outpacing core gaming (whose audience shrank slightly in 2012), the total revenue from the most popular mobile game series in history, Angry Birds, is a pittance compared to the revenue from a single game like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which topped $500 million during its initial 24 hours and went on to surpass $1 billion by its two-week sales mark. In NPD’s words, “It’s the revenue contribution of the Core Gamer segment that continues to outpace all other segments, and remains vital to the future of the industry.”
In the meantime, next up: Ouya, the $99 Android startup console that got this crazy “console-everyman” train rolling last summer. I’m staring at the final, unopened retail box for the system right now — it launched and instantly sold out on June 25 — and plan to dive in this weekend.