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Beyond the XBox and Playstation: gaming alternatives

By Tobias Hanraths

Have you checked out the newest games from Ouya, Unu, GameStick, Mojo or Shield? These alternative game consoles to the XBox and Playstation might cost you less than 100 euros (132 dollars) and still give you the option of a home media player or streaming games from a PC.

Ouya might be the best-known of these alternatives, most of which rely upon Android. Ouya’s creators gathered almost 8.6 million dollars via the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter in the summer of 2012, beyond their goal of 950,000 dollars.

The device is now easily found in America and Britain. For 99 dollars, customers get a box and a controller. Games are available from a special platform. However, the console has met some negative reviews.

”The Ouya is actually a half-finished product,” read a review on Golem.de, which was also critical of the range of games.

Gamers will be happy to hear there are alternatives. The GameStick (80 euros) is barely bigger than a USB stick. It is inserted into a TV’s HDMI port and then connects to a mini-console via Bluetooth. It is set for a US release soon.

Mojo from Mad Catz works similarly. However, the Unu from Snakebyte resembles nothing so much as a 7-inch tablet. It is delivered with a controller and a TV docking station, with which the tablet is docked to become a console.

The cost of the mainstream consoles is one of the reasons for the sudden emergence of such alternatives, says Joerg Mueller-Lietzkow, a professor of media organizations and systems at the University of Paderborn, in Germany.

”A lot of gamers are casual gamers who don’t want to spend 50 euros for a game they can get somewhere else for free, along with a little advertising,” he said.

Technology has also played a role. Cheap and easy-to-manufacture chips can still pack a lot of power, keeping production costs down, says Mueller-Lietzkow. ”You can see that with modern smartphones.”

But the alternative consoles could still fade from the market if they don’t get their software up to standards, he says.

”It could be hard for developers to create a business model for high quality titles on the alternative devices,” he said. ”If Android users are used to not paying for a game, why should they suddenly pay 20 euros?”

But there is still room for an alternative. Graphics card producer Nvidia might have a chance with its Shield, which is already available in North America. It’s a controller with its own mini-display. It plays Android games, as well as ones streamed from a PC.

And all the consoles are more than gaming machines. They offer apps and the chance to switch to different operating systems and become a household media player. They’re also good with emulators for old systems, which might appeal to fans of classic games. (dpa)