Game On: Using the Amazon Fire TV as a Gaming Device

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Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is hoping that consumers look at its Fire TV set-top box as more than just another entry into the already-crowded fight for the living room. One advantage the company is trying to use as leverage over the competition’s devices — including Apple TV (NASDAQ:AAPL), Roku, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chromecast – is the Fire TV’s ability to play video games. Which begs the question: Just how good of a gaming device is the Fire TV?

From a hardware perspective, it’s significantly more powerful than the other set-top boxes, which makes it capable of pushing nice-looking graphics to the screen. However, it’s significantly less powerful than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which is to be expected, seeing as it costs a fraction of the price of those gaming consoles.

In order to play most of the games available on the Fire TV, customers must first purchase the Amazon Fire Game Controller, which retails separately, for $39.99. Regarding the build quality of the controller, Apple Insider reports that “Chassis build quality is good, with zero flex and a matte finish that feels robust. Ergonomics are fair, though the grips are not what we would consider comfortable.” In addition, the publication found the buttons to be “mushy and unresponsive,” and the analog sticks to “[lack] proper sensitivity.”

Wired thought a little more highly of the controller, its reviewer saying, “It has a functional if derivative design and I especially like the solid feel of the analog joysticks.” However, the reporter was quick to plug a wired Xbox 360 controller into the Fire TV’s USB port and use that instead.

The Los Angeles Times found the games released so far — specifically Minecraft, Sev Zero, and Asphalt 8: Airborne – to be unimpressive graphically. “They’re basically games built for smartphones and tablets that are blown up to fit on the big screen,” according to the publication. However, the reviewer found the games entertaining, especially Asphalt 8, “which felt very responsive to all my commands.” The reviewer for Wired particularly enjoyed Fibbage, a Balderdash-like game that’s currently exclusive to the Fire TV.

Engadget wasn’t quite as thrilled with the gaming experience, at least for some titles. “Some games look great and fit on TV without a hitch, while others cut off some UI elements (and, ultimately, pieces of the game being played). It’s clear that many titles are rushed conversions from other platforms, something that’s evident whether it’s the gamepad not doing anything beyond standing in for a touchscreen or the game not displaying correctly.” But Engadget also included a list of games to buy, in order of quality: Sev Zero, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Outland, Rayman Fiesta Run, and Minecraft.

It’s clear that not many high-quality games have been released for the Fire TV yet, which may explain why Amazon hasn’t been trumpeting the box’s game-playing abilities all that loudly. But don’t let that fool you — Amazon has plenty in store for gamers in the coming years, as illustrated by its recent big-name hires the company is using to assemble Amazon Gaming Studios. These small teams of talented developers will make games exclusively for the Fire TV.

Summing it up for Wired, the reviewer says: “Just like iPhone did to the dedicated handheld gaming market, Fire TV (or something like it) could seriously disrupt consoles over the next generation. Out of the box this week, it’s not exactly setting the world on fire immediately. But if you look closely, you can see where the tiny sparks might start.”

Apple Insider is similarly optimistic about the Fire TV’s future as a gaming device. “As expected, Fire TV gaming is nowhere near console levels, but that was never the goal,” its review said. “Amazon wants to target casual gamers with pick-up-and-play mid-tier titles. And for that, Fire TV is fairly successful.”

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