Last year, Game Informer reported that Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) was working on a video game console. Then, in February, TechCrunch said the retailer had acquired Double Helix Games, the developer of Killer Instinct, a launch title for Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One.
While Amazon's video game debut could put pressure on the existing console players -- Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY) -- the most recent leak doesn't look particularly promising.
Leaked images of Amazon's controller (via Zatz) show something not too terribly different from any other video game controller. Two thumb sticks, a circle of buttons, some triggers, and a D-pad complete a design that looks more than capable of playing the latest Call of Duty title.
Amazon uses Fire OS, a modified version of the Android operating system, on its Kindle Fire tablets. It seems logical to assume that it would do the same on its video game console, and if the controller is any indication, it will do just that -- the three center menu buttons on the controller correspond directly to the buttons found on any Android-based phone or tablet.
But overall, the controller design looks horrendous -- an ugly, uncomfortable rip-off of Microsoft's Xbox design. I'm not only gamer to think this -- commentators on NeoGAF, a gaming enthusiast forum known for leaking details on, among other things, Microsoft's Xbox One, came to a similar conclusion.
"Ugly," wrote one poster. "It looks so sad. Someone needs to cheer it up," wrote another. "That looks like it'd be really uncomfortable to use."
Controllers can make or break a system
The importance of a video game console's controller cannot be understated: Microsoft reportedly spent $100 million developing the Xbox One's controller, while the success of Nintendo's last console, the Wii, was predicated almost entirely on the (then) revolutionary Wiimote. The successor to Nintendo's Wii, the Wii U, has largely been a failure at retail, due partially to its expensive, and under-utilized tablet controller.
It's possible that the images of Amazon's controller are of an earlier version, a prototype, and not indicative of the finished product. It's also possible that it feels much better in the hand than it looks. But based on these images, I wouldn't expect Amazon to obliterate the competition.
It looks like Amazon is serious about video gaming
Still, Amazon's move to offer a full-fledged controller, rather than say, a touch-based control scheme using a tablet, suggests that the retailer is serious about competing in the traditional video game market.
Last week, TechCrunch's Natasha Lomas argued that the console market was "in crisis." Lomas' argument involved a certain amount of cherry-picked data (focusing on January's poor sales and ignoring a strong November and December), but sluggish console sales suggest the market is ripe for a shakeup: Nintendo's living room console, the Wii U, has fallen far short of Nintendo's expectations, while Microsoft appears to have overestimated the demand for its Xbox One console.
Given Amazon's extensive cloud assets, and the data it has compiled over the years on its customers' video game preferences, Amazon could eventually emerge as a formidable competitor -- but it might need to redesign its controller first.