Nvidia made a big splash yesterday with Project Shield – a handheld games console. Like the in-development Kickstarter darling Ouya, Nvidia’s Project Shield is Android-based – but it’s quite different from Julie Ehrman’s indie project.
First off, Shield sports some of the strangest console ergonomics since the Virtual Boy – it looks like an LCD screen mated to an original Xbox controller. Secondly, it will do more than just play Android games – it also wirelessly connects your PC to your TV, allowing you to stream your Steam games onto the bigger screen and then play them with Shield’s built-in controller.
The tech punditry universe had their say about Shield yesterday (have a look at Mike Rose’s critical take and Tom Dawson’s swooning love letter for some contrasting opinions), but I wanted to know what game developers would have to say about the console. My Wired feature from October still holds true I think – Android doesn’t sport any exclusive titles that will get the gaming public excited about a console running Google’s OS. Is Project Shield exciting enough to get prominent iOS devs to start producing titles for it?
Simogo‘s Simon Flesser (creator of iOS hit Beat Sneak Bandit) seems perplexed by Shield. “I really don’t know what to make of any of the new devices popping up everywhere. To me they seem more like something for the enthusiast/techie/homebrew-crowd.”
It certainly looks like the Shield is a device aimed primarily at hardcore gamers, an audience that Android games (and frankly, mobile games in general) have a hard time catering to. Ryan Wiemeyer, from Organ Trail makers Men Who Wear Many Hats, doesn’t think that hardcore gaming will be dislodged from PC and consoles anytime soon. “I find myself using the iPad/Android for a few minutes and if I want a long gaming session I use the PC or a TV where I can get more comfortable. I don’t think I’m excited to get [the Shield] right now.”
Many of the devs I talk to about Android highlight the difficulty of getting noticed on the enormous and poorly-curated Google Play Store. Thomas Hentschel Lund, developer of the forthcoming Space Hulk remake for iOS, wants to know more about what Nvidia plans to do about that discoverability problem. “Will the device simply hook into existing Android game channels? If so, then we would drown out and never make back our expenses. If its a Nvidia store, its down to what kind of sales they can guarantee us.”
Lund also points out the single biggest problem that worries devs about Android: hardware fragmentation. “I am rather sceptical that yet another Android device is the answer to our prayers about less QA cost and a better monetization on Android.”
Simogo’s Flesser is also wary of yet another device to have to test his games for. “I can’t see this getting us more interested in Android than we were before. Actually, it’s growing the fragmentation of the platform even further, so it’s rather the opposite for us.”
It’s not all bad – some developers I spoke to about Shield are excited about the prospect of a high-quality integrated controller. As Ryan Wiemeyer says succinctly: “I can understand the desire for good controls in an open handheld platform though. I personally hate touch controls in 90% of mobile games.”
Ian Gregory, creative director at Ravenmark devs Witching Hour Studios is cautiously optimistic. “We have actually put in a little legwork into developing for OUYA. So if the Shield can do a good job of attracting new users from the core gamer crowd, I think we’d be happy to support Shield development.” But even that optimism is tinged with concern over fragmentation.
“If more hardware makers join the Android console bandwagon, it’s gonna be fragmentation city all over again,” Gregory told me. “The install base of each Android console is going to determine whether we end up spending time supporting that console, and by extension, the price of that console is going to make or break the Shield or any of these other consoles.”
Reports coming out this morning suggest that Project Shield won’t be cheap. Games are part of the value proposition of any console – if Nvidia wants consumers to open their wallets for the Shield, they’re going to have to generate some new motivation for devs to create for Android.