Bluestacks Bites Back at Ouya with Free (at First) Android Game Console

The race to disrupt traditional game consoles already has a few hopefuls, including Ouya, Gamestick and Nvidia.

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The race to disrupt traditional game consoles already has a few hopefuls, including Ouya, Gamestick and Nvidia.

Now, you can add GamePop to the list. GamePop is an Android-based console from Bluestacks, a company best known for software that lets you run Android apps on Windows and Mac. It will ship with a controller, and it will also allow users to control games from their smartphones by tilt and touch.

But instead of charging up-front for the hardware, Bluestacks is giving GamePop away to those who pre-order in May.

Well, sort of. Bluestacks’ goal with GamePop is to be the Netflix of gaming, and as such, it will charge $6.99 per month for unlimited access to its catalog. To get the free console, you must pre-order this month and commit to a year of service. Factor in $10 shipping, and you’re paying $93 up-front.

Bluestacks is staying quiet on other key details, including tech specs, the design of the controller and the actual release date. The company also won’t say how much GamePop will cost after the May pre-order period. (A spokesman merely said the console and controller are a “$100 value.”)

As for games, Bluestacks isn’t talking specific titles, but the company says it will have 500 games to start, and is touting support from some big names in mobile gaming, including Halfbrick (makers of Jetpack Joyride) and Glu (makers of Gun Bros). To lure game makers, Bluestacks promises to handle all the engineering work to get games running on televisions. Developers will get 50% of GamePop’s subscription revenue, divvied up by play time, and they’ll get the entirety of any earnings from in-app purchases (more on that shortly).

I’ve got some doubts about GamePop’s approach. Personally, I’d want to see actual hardware, a games list and some sense of real-world performance before committing to $84 worth of subscription costs. While Ouya managed to attract interest without demoing an actual product, at least Ouya’s Kickstarter backers knew they wouldn’t be on the hook for ongoing service costs just to keep playing.

In-app purchases are another concern. If too many of GamePop’s titles attempt to nickle-and-dime players, that $7 per month charge could start to seem like an unnecessary fee.

Also, the “Netflix of gaming” concept isn’t new, and it’s never really taken off. Services like GameTanium and GameTap haven’t reached Netflix-like levels of popularity, and I still remember Sega Channel, the colossal failure from the mid-1990s.

Sony‘s Playstation Plus service could be proof of a successful subscription gaming model (the company says it’s “extremely proud” of its subscription numbers, but won’t reveal them), but Plus is a supplement, not a requirement to keep using the hardware. Besides, Plus has demonstrable value; you can compare the available games with their standalone pricing, and see how Plus comes out way ahead over time.

In fairness, GamePop is promising a $250 value from its game selection, and Bluestacks’ own surveys found that people greatly prefer an all-you-can eat model. I just wonder if people will see that kind of value in mobile-style games, when so many of them are free-to-play on other platforms.

Whether it’s a hit or not, GamePop is more evidence of how much interest there is in shaking up the established game console business. Sooner or later, one or more of these efforts will pose a serious threat to more expensive consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

The promo video for GamePop is below: