Gamestick, Leap Motion and the issues with early tech adoption

On November 3, 2013

This week I walked out of class and bumped into the college receptionist: “You have a package!”

“Huh”, I lazily replied, “it’s probably for someone else”. I hadn’t ordered anything recently, and audio department stuff usually comes in my name. On opening said package, I was surprised to find a Kickstarter product from London-based PlayJam that I backed in January 2013, and sort of forgot about aside from a few sarcastic tweets when the product was pushed back again and again. Finally, my GameStick had arrived.

Gamestick box

Gamestick Thank You NoteGamestick Unit

The concept is great: Utilise pre-existing tech such as ARM processing, Bluetooth connectivity, Android architecture and flash memory and install it into a USB bus powered HDMI unit. Make it compact, make it portable and allow people a mobile solution for big screen gaming. Bring the Android marketplace and mobile gaming to your TV, or your hotel TV or your college projector.

The Kickstarter campaign was well run, and their communication was great. KS backers who bought early have limited edition units, credits in the software and special icons that are supposed to appear next to backer user accounts to show how awesome we are. KS backers also got an insight into the design changes, technical glitches and delivery issues that occur when trying to get a product like this to market. There were quite a few setbacks in delivery dates, but all were explained in details and it never felt like they were simply making excuses for messing up. But I did begin to switch off and eventually stopped wondering when it would arrive – until finally it did.

So now I have it in my hands, in my TV and ready to rock. The install was simple and everything connected smoothly. After loading everything up and browsing the marketplace, I hit my first and biggest issue: Content. “Gamestick brings a world of Android games direct to your TV” is the line on the company’s website. I read this as “Android games on your TV”.  There was my naivety kicking in. So, the Gamestick doesn’t offer the whole Android marketplace, but is rather its own marketplace powered by Android with optimised games for Gamestick. So instead of having access to the wealth of games already on Android or the Google Play store, you are limited to the few titles ported for Gamestick.

But this isn’t the only bit of early tech I’ve jumped into this year. The Leap Motion gesture interface controller promised to bring Minority Report futurism to our fingertips. The demo videos were so swish it not only made me pre-order over a year before delivery, but could have taken me out to dinner and charmed its way into my will. I was sold, easily!

Again, the first issue is content. Only a handful of useful apps were worth playing with at launch, and the real life experience was initially much more frustrating than the promo videos made it seem. Still, I continued to have the unit at my desk, and every so often I dip into the Airspace app market to see what’s new.

The unit arrived in July – again, months after its expected arrival date. I don’t want to make delivery a huge issue for either device because after all these are startup companies doing this for the first time and hitting their first road bumps. Leap and PlayJam provided info on the delays, which was enough for tech savvy consumers to understand – but I wonder how the general consumer would react, given the meticulous fulfilment from larger companies like Apple, Sony and Microsoft on their releases. The difference here is that Apple et al don’t discuss anything until the product is ready, so setbacks are usually kept behind closed doors.

Managing expectation

For both units, and for many of these tech startups using crowdfunding or pre-ordering schemes, the expectation from the consumer is still very high. We are used to the highly polished product deliveries from Apple & Co, and therefore naturally expect any device we invest in to follow suit. But these small firms don’t have the same pulling power to get scribbles on the right deals as yet. It is frustrating to see so many great classics on Google Play and Apple’s app store that remain unavailable on the GameStick store. Leap have a lot more issues in terms of integration as this is a new way of interfacing on your desktop, but it feels like PlayJam just haven’t done the deals to get the content.

Developers thin on the ground?

With many app developers focusing on the bigger stores, could it be that the Leap and PlayJam app stores are simply not generating the interest amongst developers to get this content going? Smartphones and tablets dominate the focus for app developers due to the large audience available and better monetary returns, plus their truly mobile and “always on” nature. Although the Leap Motion and GameStick have mobile elements, I can’t really use either on the bus or in a bar and they are therefore not mobile. This means impulse purchases or trend buying are less likely with anything that goes on their stores. Developers want to access markets with lots of customers, quick turnover and an ability to go viral. Only 10 days ago Apple reported that they have returned $13 billion back to developers, and have had 60 billion cumulative downloads since they first launched.

Disrupting the market?

Leap, PlayJam and others hold a common key indicator for success – market disruption. Leap wants to erase the mouse and trackpad, while also introducing a new type of interaction to everyday computing. Microsoft has tried this with Kinect – a product which had been on the market since November 2010 and has yet to find itself regularly embedded in the top 10 of AAA game titles. Kinect has had almost cameo-like roles in FIFA and Skyrim, but as a voice controlled peripheral rather than touchless gesture. For many reasons, the Kinect didn’t have the impact it was supposed to, hence Microsoft’s “brute force” approach with the Xbox One. So Leap will try something similar, and has paired with Asus and HP to install the gadget into a new line of laptops. To integrate an untried and little known piece of tech is a bold move, and is yet to deliver the market stir it was supposed to.

PlayJam’s GameStick is also hardly revolutionary; Android consoles are on the rise with the Ouya, Nvidia Shield, MOJO, Gamepop and so on. The common aim: disrupt the market and challenge the big boys (Xbox, Playstation, Wii) by capitalising on the rise of mobile and indie gaming found on android and iOS. Given the lack of content, especially when frustratingly comparing them to their nearest smart device siblings, it is unlikely they will damage the established footing Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have. The market for high-def, innovative gaming still lies in the £30-£50 price tag, not the free-£3 range. The only real market disrupter for the AAA market will be the Steam Box or Steam Machines – a bridge between console and PC gamer which may be the real game-changer for the living room market.

Breaking the trend

The biggest challenge facing these startups is breaking the habitual buying habits of loyal consumer. With the launch of the new iPad, it was interesting to see PiperJaffray stating that 75 percent of US iPad Air purchasers on launch day already owned an iPad. Apple fanboys are synonymous with early adoption and have bought into the the core of Apple’s product philosophies. The Xbox vs Playstation war has reignited with the impending arrival of next-gen console gaming. Consumers become passionate and at times highly defensive about their choice of products, choosing their banner and sticking with it while attacking rival products – sometimes without ever actually using them. With so many battle lines drawn by both the companies and their impassioned “fans”, where do these micro gaming systems really fall in the market? The next year will surely tell…

I’ll continue to support these projects in hopes they do gain some traction and take off. I feel we need to keep investing in startup tech, at least to push to bigger players and to keep the industry fresh. I love browsing Kickstarter to find something to get involved in and don’t want to completely rubbish startup tech. However, when I received something that is “finished”, I don’t want to sit twiddling my thumbs until the content becomes available. I guess it’s a chicken/egg scenario, and many consumers (myself included) are used to having a mass of content for our iOS or Android devices. It will be the content that makes or breaks these projects, and unless they can populate these app stores quickly, the fickle consumer attention span will move on.

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