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Amazon Needs Heavyweight Content if It’s Developing a Games Console

3 minute read

Amazon’s mystery set-top we keep hearing about like an elusive whale that surfaces distantly for moments before plunging into unlit nether regions is making a few new ripples off reports — rumors, to be sure — that the company’s still toiling and troubling to develop a game console that might compete with, well, everything.

It’s an obvious (if too often glossed-over) point, but the one that matters most in the end: If Amazon (or anyone else, Roku to Apple to Android-based game box X) wants to compete with established industry players like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, it needs what so many have tried and failed, deleteriously, to secure — broad, mainstream, third-party developer support.

Without it, you could be the cheapest console on the planet and you might as well be selling snowblowers in equatorial Guinea. This is why, when it comes to hypothetical games platforms in particular, I could care less about stories that Amazon’s at work on a sub-$300 or sub-$100 game console, because the only news that matters, games-wise, is “Can I play Grand Theft Auto Whatever’s Next on the thing?”

Anyone can pull together competent hardware nowadays, but as we’re seeing with too many of these one-off game cubes and USB sticks and funky processor-laden gamepads, people won’t pay for promises, no matter how counterculture or cool-sounding. If you want to throw your hat in the new-platform ring, you’re either selling a first-party experience that’s so novel and compelling, soup to nuts, that it’s longterm sustainable enough to lure those third parties, or you’re paying those third parties prohibitive amounts of cash to be on your platform.

I’ve seen no evidence Amazon’s up to either. Like Apple and Google with their occasionally brilliant but mostly junk-riddled app store gaming catalogues, I predict we’ll see Amazon back gingerly into gaming as a supplemental component, not turn platform vanguard and launch a bona fide pace-setter. If the company’s elusive set-top exists, I’d wager we’ll see games on it as adjunct to more prominent Amazon Prime-related features, say streaming video and hypothetical TV-related services.

Down the road? Who knows, but at launch, your pivot point is content. If you have it, you’ve got a shot. If you don’t, you can prattle on about hundreds of thousands of apps and channels and future partnerships, but you either have Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty and Madden NFL and Assassin’s Creed — or something of your own vintage that’s at least as sought-after — or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re just a glorified shelf, however brand-gilded and media-storied, in search of a library.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com