Age of the Geek


Amazon's Identity Crisis


     When is a gaming console not a gaming console?

     That's the question I, and many others, have been asking about the Amazon Fire TV.

     According to Amazon, the Fire TV is a "tiny box that connects your HDTV to a world of online entertainment." It offers an easy way to stream Netflix and YouTube to your television. Its comparison chart puts it up against other streaming devices like the Roku 3, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast.

     The biggest difference between the Fire TV and its competitors? The processing power of the system and the number of games that can utilize it. The Fire TV brags that it supports more than a hundred games, including its own version of "Minecraft," "Sonic CD," and "The Walking Dead."

     It even supports a fully fledged game controller with a layout familiar to anybody that has owned any incarnation of the Xbox.

     With that in mind, the Fire TV looks less like a buffed up streaming device and more like an underpowered video game console. A view that Amazon is reluctant to embrace.

     In spite of the fact that it is a device with a library of games that you hook up to your TV and play with a dedicated controller, an Amazon VP has expressly stated that the Fire TV is "absolutely not a gaming console."

     It just goes to show how much the lines have been blurred when it comes to the devices we use to absorb media.

     That's not to say the Fire TV should actually be considered a competitor to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Wii U. The games you see on the Fire TV will be much closer to the kind of games you see on your tablet computer or smart phone than the latest AAA title. It looks like the Fire TV wants to bring everything you love or hate about the mobile gaming market to your television.

     Don't look for "Titanfall" or "The Last of Us" here. It appears that the Fire TV's gaming library is going for the quantity over quality approach, releasing thousands of games at $2 a pop and letting the market sort things out. I would expect "Candy Crush" and "Flappy Bird" clones to be readily available.

     The thing about trying to find something to compare with the Fire TV is that there really isn't anything else out there that does what it does.

     No... that's not exactly true. There are a lot of things out there that does what it does. There are literally a dozen devices in my apartment that can stream Netflix. In fact, most dvd/blu ray players come with streaming apps nowadays. You can even buy smart TVs that cut out the middleman and do it themselves.

     Likewise, it's not hard to find cheap games. There's no shortage of disposable titles on the Xbox Marketplace, Steam, or Google Play Store, but they've never been a selling point until now.

     This makes Amazon's reluctance to own-up to the fact that the Fire TV is a video game system somewhat understandable, but still begs the question of what they were thinking to begin with. Why make your games library your only unique selling point and then run away from that fact?

     Especially since, if the Amazon Fire TV truly does have a competitor, it would be the OUYA, which absolutely does market itself as a video game console.

     Right now we're in a weird spot. There's potential for a new market to develop that bridges the gap between casual and hardcore games, but Amazon is unwilling to develop it and the OUYA is unable.

     I suppose I can wait for Google to throw their hat into the mix.

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and already has a Chromecast anyway.