Opinion: Unconsoled or not, Amazon's momentum in the games market remains relentless

Ouya competitor maybe 'just a station on its way'

Opinion: Unconsoled or not, Amazon's momentum in the games market remains relentless

The internet rumour mill has been working overtime with suggestions that Amazon is about enter the unconsole race.

Whether or not that happens, if you look hard enough you'll see that launching an Ouya or GameStick competitor isn't Amazon's end goal.

Its vision is much broader and more strategic.

Virtual cash up

It's easy to join the dots of Amazon's recent announcements.

Early in 2013, it created its own platform-wide virtual currency: Amazon Coins. Neither Apple or Google has its own platform-wide currency, and that's why neither has given away $5-worth of currency to its US users as has Amazon. Those users are now pretty happy.

There's more good news for consumers, as when Amazon Coins are bought in bulk, they will receive a discount, meaning that by exchanging their cash for virtual currency, they're getting more bang for their buck.

Equally for developers, the Amazon Coins system is an open invitation to come and make games for Amazon devices.

And should Amazon decide to launch its own Android-based unconsole, the universal nature of the virtual coins means it will neatly plug into that ecosystem - or, more correctly put, the unconsole will neatly plug into Amazon's ecosystem.

Putting the pieces into place

Other news. In July, Amazon announced its cloud saving and social gaming network, GameCircle, would be coming to all Android devices - after previously only being available on Kindle Fire.

It's another good move for consumers and developers, providing (technically at least) an all-Android social layer, as well as demonstrating Amazon's growing appetite to be a part of the wider gaming industry.

Added to this came Amazon's free-to-play games discovery service, Game Connect. The service was introduced with the purpose of allowing users to "discover a new category of free-to-play and MMO digital games".

More recently, Amazon signaled its intent with a subtle, but shrewd staff acquisition, as Eric Nylund, the acclaimed author of Halo: Fall of Reach, and writer for Halo Reach and Gears of War, joined Amazon Game Studios as director of narrative design - whatever one of those is.

Amazon's debut game - Air Patriots

Yes. Amazon has a game studio too - and it has lots of open positions...

A couple of weeks ago, Amazon announced its bulk email and SMS notification service now has the ability to fire out push notifications across iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. Boring but important.

Then, just this week, Amazon announced a new affiliate deal so developers can take a 6 percent cut of any real-world items they sell through their games.

Oh, and I almost forget. You can distribute HTML5 apps through the Amazon Appstore for Android.

There's also the small matter that Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud services is the world's pre-eminent cloud-based web server infrastructure.

Unconsole, uncare

The point is that neither Apple or Google can offer a similar suite of services, let alone the same recent momentum when it comes to rolling out new services that help developers target gamers on their platform. (In fact, Apple seems to have been doing the opposite.)

But does this mean Amazon is going to launch a mobile-sourced games technology into the livingroom (what I call an unconsole)?

To be honest, it doesn't matter.

After early excitement, it doesn't seems as if Ouya is going to extend its market beyond the initial group of early-adopters who backed it on Kickstarter.

We await the arrival of GameStick, Mojo, Unu and Gamepop, but in the shadow of Xbox One and PlayStation 3, it isn't clear any of them will do any better.

Of course, an Amazon unconsole would be technically superior, come with more, higher-profile games, and be pushed by the best and most powerful online retailer in the world. But that doesn't mean it would necessarily be more significantly more successful; that depends on how big the unconsole market is.

This train is bound for glory

Indeed, you could argue that taken in isolation, Amazon's entry in tablet hardware hasn't yet been as successful as say its e-reader business.

Everyone has a Kindle (even if they can't or don't use it), and while Kindle Fire sparked strongly in the US 18 months ago, it doesn't seem to be a go-to device for many mobile game developers in the way iPad or even Nexus 7 is.

Of course, with Amazon refusing to release hardware numbers, we just don't know.

The point is that Kindle Fire is just one element in Amazon's overall strategy, as would be any unconsole.

So, once again, we find ourselves in a situation where the internet rumour mill is spinning hard on a detail but missing the bigger picture.

An Amazon unconsole might be coming, but what really matters is that step-by-step Amazon is becoming a key player in the games space, not just as a retailer, but as a powerful vertical - developer, publisher, distributor, OEM and service provider.

As Leonard Cohen puts it, then, an unconsole would 'just be a station' on Amazon's route to its final destination.

It's time to get onboard.

[Additional reporting and analysis from Christopher Kerr]
Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.