Issue: Volume 36 Issue 3: (Mar/Apr 2013)

Issue Extras: A Unique Style of Gaming

By: Karen Moltenbrey

Every five years or so, game console vendors have upped their game, so to speak, by introducing a new generation of gaming platform that will take gameplay and game graphics to new levels.

Given the unofficial schedule of shipping a new system every five years or so, the industry is overdue for the next-gen systems. Nintendo already rolled out its Wii U, and Sony recently did a quick introduction of its PlayStation 4-just enough to whet our appetites until the product is offered later this year. Microsoft, meanwhile, is keeping their new console close to the vest. However, there are some newcomers to the field that plan to release their products this year as well. One of them is PlayJam. (For an in-depth feature on the new gaming systems, see "Console Wars Redux" in the March/April 2013 issue of CGW.)

PlayJam is preparing to enter the market with something called the GameStick. The GameStick looks like a USB drive, but it contains all the necessary technology to convert a television into a full-fledged gaming device for Android games. It epitomizes "gaming on the go" with its ultra portability.

PlayJam is a casual games company that got the funding for this technology through Kickstarter.

CGW recently caught up with Anthony Johnson, PlayJam CMO, who answered some questions about this new system and venture.

GameStick is unique in its design and concept. Will it be difficult to get users to embrace it?

We hope not. The underlying principle behind the hardware design has been to make using the device as intuitive as possible. Users familiar with plugging USB sticks into their computers while on the go will find GameStick just as simple to operate. The UI has been very carefully designed to lead the users through a number of very simple setup screens to get the device connected to the Internet. From there, it's as simple as highlighting a game that you like the look of, watching the demo, and then downloading it to play. 

What are some of the best features of GameStick?

We're proud that we managed to shrink a games console down to the size of a stick-that took quite a bit of engineering. From a technology standpoint, we have a achieved what we believe to be a world first in terms of combining HDMI with MHL, which will enable users with an MHL-powered TV to power the stick without the need for plugging in external power. The user experience, however, will a key defining factor in GameStick's success, and we have employed our significant know-how in operating games on TV to ensure this will be as robust as possible.

Why take it to Kickstarter? 

GameStick was a skunk-works project within PlayJam, which traditionally powered games on Smart TV. We always wanted to control the hardware to enable us to get around the fragmentation issues that dealing with multiple manufacturers posed in terms of delivering a great games service. Kickstarter offered us a way to fund the manufacturing phase of the project as well as gain extremely valuable input in terms of design and functionality that potential users would want. The costs of doing that privately would have been prohibitive.

What was your reaction in how successful and fast you received the requested amount of funding?

We knew we were on to something, but we were not expecting the response we received. Support for the concept has been extraordinary and a validation of our efforts to shake up an industry that is struggling to innovate, and address a massively growing market of casual to mid-core gamers brought on by the explosion in mobile gaming. The campaign gave us the opportunity to significantly refine the proposition on the fly and was responsible for a number of changes to the original concept.

How was your company uniquely set up for this type of gaming device?

There are few companies that understand running an affordable games service on TV as well as PlayJam. The company has delivered over six billion game-plays via Pay and Smart TV over the years, and has developed a robust and proven back-end infrastructure to support a full gaming proposition on the big screen. These built-for-TV systems took significant investment to build and perfect, and combined with the company's understanding of user engagement and retention, places PlayJam in a very strong position. 

Is the fact that you have your smart TV technology a big boost?

It's a huge boost. PlayJam exits the gate with an established games network that spans tens of millions of devices worldwide, with GameStick set to be latest hardware platform. The company can build upon this existing community to provide a cross-platform user-base that will add true value to GameStick's proposition. 

Is "open platform" key with this device?

Our overriding aim is to bring affordable gaming to the big screen. Having an open platform is key to achieving this, as it removes traditional barriers for developers looking to address TV. The traditional, closed, and proprietary platforms operated by traditional console manufacturers are too costly for the vast majority of developers to engage with. This fact is reflected in a recent poll of GDC attendees, 58 percent of whom have listed open mobile operating platforms as the target for their next title. Moreover, 53 percent of these attendees have identified themselves as "Indies," with 51 percent of those having started up in the last two years. This shows huge growth in this sector and bodes well for GameStick as a device that will fully support their efforts.  

How will Android/open platforms open up some doors in terms of game development?

The Android developer community is huge and currently supports in the region of 75,000 games. Access to this wealth of content was a major factor in adopting the Android OS. We have worked hard to ensure that porting games to GameStick will be as low friction as possible. Developers will need only to map keys to our controller and choose from a menu of monetization and engagement options that they can drop into their games using a few lines of code via our SDK. 

Any parting words?

Following the success of the Kickstarter campaign, GameStick is available for pre-order via www.gamestick.tv. Due to popular demand from the Kickstarter community, the stick will also have an SDMicro card of up to 32GB. Users will also have the option to buy the GameStick Dock as an optional extra providing wireless charging for the controller, support for peripheral hardware such as mics, cameras, and dance mats. It will also support 64GB of additional memory, giving the user up to 102GB of total system storage.

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