I don't know what to believe anymore. Earlier today, Amazon debuted the Fire TV, a $99 device meant for streaming apps to your TV. And, as was the rumor for months, it can also play games--albeit, only those made for Android hardware. That's already a damn tough sell to the core gamer, who largely ignored the Ouya when it offered a similar experience last year. But now I'm even more confused, because it seems like Amazon itself isn't sure whether or not the Fire TV is meant to be a gaming platform at all.
A PR email about the Fire TV excitedly states "The affordable $99 media streaming box beats out Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast for serious gamers because it comes preloaded with Splashtop to enable 3D gaming /remote desktop to TVs. For $39 you can get the ultimate gaming controller for an even better gaming experience…. Watch out game consoles!" Yes, Amazon made a special controller for the Fire TV that's aimed squarely at gamers, with the familiar XYAB button configuration with a D-pad and twin joystick layout that mirrors the 360 controller. Luckily, for folks like us who already have enough controllers as it is, Fire TV will be compatible with third-party gamepads, including a trusty wired 360 gamepad. With a premium-priced controller made for comfortable gaming, Fire TV has to be a gaming console, right?
Maybe not. Peter Larsen, the vice president of Amazon's Kindle unit, stated very bluntly "This is absolutely not a game console," according to the Twitter of Engadget's Ben Gilbert. Ohhhhhhhhkaaaaayyyyyyy…? So the Fire TV is a game console (and one that other game consoles need to "watch out" for), but it's also absolutely not that at all. Perhaps Larsen's statement was taken out of context, implying that with Android hardware as a base, there's no way the Fire TV could match the experiences offered by a PS4, Xbox One, or Wii U. But there's a palpable vagueness as to what the Fire TV was actually made to do, or who counts as its target audience--and unless you're trying to promote a viral movie trailer, confusion is never the right path towards getting people excited about your product.
Larsen's statement also massively undermines the existence of Amazon Game Studios, which was presumably founded to make games destined for the Fire TV. It calls into question Amazon's acquisition of Double Helix Games, which might seem squandered on an Android-only system after the studio's exceptional recent efforts like Killer Instinct and the Strider reboot. If Fire TV isn't a game console, why start a studio dedicated to developing for it? Why hire Kim Swift (Portal) and Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2)? Why, Amazon? WHYYYYY?!
Messaging is incredibly important to the success of a newcomer to any market; when you're going against established brands, you need to clearly state what makes you different and worthwhile. Microsoft learned this the hard way with the Xbox One, trying to promote it as all manner of dissimilar entertainment products. The fallout from that PR disaster was so drastic, it led to gamers' struggling to trust the brand, and an eventual full-scale reworking of the Xbox One's functionality. If Amazon doesn't want to make the same mistake, it needs to plainly convey if the Fire TV is made for gaming, or if it isn't. If gamers can't figure it out on their own, then they're going to have an even harder time taking notice.