The market for Android-based living room consoles is quickly getting crowded, but the most prominent participants are upstarts advertising cheap devices with their own digital storefronts.
Later this year, an established player is entering the market with a completely different approach. Longtime peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz is working on a device called the Mojo, and the company's philosophy is to remove the obstacles that prevent developers and consumers from enjoying existing Android games on their televisions.
Two major upcoming Android consoles, Ouya and PlayJam's GameStick, are sub-$100 devices. But developers have to customize their Android games specifically for those systems, and customers have to buy games directly from the storefront in each console's respective menu. And they'll have to re-buy any games they might own on their Android phone or tablet. It's the App Store model: taking a cut of all purchases from within the store.
The Mojo controller isn't ideal for touch-based games
Like those consoles, Mojo is a diminutive device that plugs into your TV via HDMI. But Mojo runs stock Android, and users can access Google Play and the Amazon Appstore right from the home screen. As soon as they sign in with their Google and Amazon accounts, they'll be able to download any games they've already purchased. If those games have controller support, users will be able to play them out of the "box" by using Mad Catz's CTRLR controller, which comes with a purchase of Mojo.
"We don't care where you buy your games from," said Alex Verrey, Mad Catz's global PR manager, in an interview with Polygon on the E3 show floor. "Developers don't have to start coding different versions of the game for our console, right? If it'll work on Android, and it's got gamepad compatibility, it should work fine on the Mojo."
Mojo and the other Android consoles are designed for controller-based mobile gaming on TVs, which essentially leaves out the biggest segment of the mobile market: touchscreen titles. Mad Catz's solution with Mojo is the CTRLR's mouse mode, which allows you to use the analog sticks as touch inputs. Verrey demoed Angry Birds that way, and was able to fling the titular birds forward, although he acknowledged that it's not the ideal way to play touch games.
The CTRLR is a Bluetooth wireless controller that is designed to work with Mojo — both devices are part of Mad Catz's GameSmart initiative, which seeks to set up a cross-platform standard for compatibility between devices like consoles, controllers, keyboards and mice. But as a standard Android device, Mojo will work with any Bluetooth controller. Mad Catz believes the CTRLR is a better option for Mojo owners because of its three modes of operation: as a Bluetooth wireless controller, as a "mouse" for touchscreen games and as a controller for Windows PC games. The company will sell the CTRLR separately this summer; a price has not been announced.
Mojo won't be the cheapest Android console out there but it may be the most powerful
Verrey declined to provide any specifics on the hardware inside Mojo, saying that the E3 model is only a prototype. Mad Catz plans to outfit the console with two USB 2.0 ports, one micro-USB port, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HDMI and at least 16 GB of on-board storage. When asked to compare it to existing Android micro-consoles, he said, "We're committing ourselves to being the most powerful Android console when we launch later this year." Mad Catz is pitching Mojo as a higher-end device than Ouya, GameStick and the like, and Verrey indicated the console will have a price to match the hardware within.
"I think I can realistically say that we're not going to be the cheapest console out there," said Verrey. "If you want a real cheap and cheerful Android device, then the Mojo's not going to be for you." It makes sense, since Mad Catz would need to make its money on Mojo with the sticker price — without its own walled-garden app marketplace, Mojo won't provide the company with a continuous revenue stream.