Fire TV: Amazon’s console that isn’t quite a console.


Mojang's "Minecraft" is one of the featured games for the Fire TV. (Photo by Hayley Tsukayama)

Amazon added another string or two to its bow this week, announcing not only that it's releasing a streaming video set-top box, but also using that device to take a major step into the wider world of video games.

The tech titan has dabbled in gaming in the past, thanks to its tablet business. The Amazon Kindle Fire, simply by virtue of being one of the most popular Android tablets on the market, has obviously picked up some users who play mobile games. Building on that audience, Amazon is using the Fire TV to address a gap in the gaming market -- the space between the phone or tablet and the full-fledged console.

Plenty of people play games nowadays, but don't necessarily consider themselves "gamers," said Forrest analyst James McQuivey. Who are those people? Probably you or someone you know, he said.

These are the people who "say they're not gamers, but they just play some Candy Crush," he explained.

It's actually a pretty sweet spot in the gaming space right now, since more people than ever are playing games on a regular basis but don't quite play enough to spend their cash on  Sony's PlayStation 4, Microsoft's Xbox One or Nintendo 's Wii U. So while Amazon's a little late to the party when it comes to video games, it's coming at just the right time for this audience.

The introduction also puts Amazon at the leading edge of a major trend in the future of gaming: streaming games.

Just a few years ago, playing games processed completely in the cloud meant dealing with frustrating, often unworkable delays for players -- even a few milliseconds make a huge different in some games. Even streaming the lighter games Amazon has packed into its 4.5 inch by 4.5 inch box would have been very difficult to for any console maker. But with technology advances and the fact that the games on Amazon's device aren't the graphics-intensive power hogs that tax dedicated consoles, the Fire TV seems more than able of handling that load.

Not that it's all super-casual stuff. "Sev Zero," a launch title from Amazon's own in-house game studio looks and feels like a game that you could have seen in the early days of the Xbox 360, with a control scheme that all-but requires the company's dedicated, more traditional looking $40 controller:

And connectivity is a key part of the new slate of Amazon games. Sev Zero's tower defense/third-person shooter mechanics are fun, but the game also has a unique approach to cooperative play. Players can control different aspects of the game using a Kindle Fire HDX tablet -- similar to the asymmetrical play we've seen on the Wii U. And the Fire TV version of Minecraft, which is just the game's mobile "pocket edition," also has a cool co-op feature that lets players on the same WiFi network collaborate in-game from any device that also has the mobile Minecraft app.

Finally, Amazon's also being smart about pricing. Executives said that the average price of a game will be just $1.85  (though many of the title shown today are $6.99).

They know that the games they're putting on Fire TV aren't the same as the big-budget titles that dominate the hardcore gaming space, so they're not even flirting with the $60 or $70 price tag of most new console titles. But they also know that some of the Fire TV's target audience is willing to put a little more cash to get a really good game -- just a tad more than the 99 cents or (maybe $2) people are willing to pay for a mobile game.

It's just the right price for their target audience: those who may crave more than what they get from free games, but not too much more.

Disclaimer: Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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