September 13, 2011, 7:32 AM — It was just last week that I was throwing out my crazy theories on why video game retailer/reseller GameStop would start selling iOS devices, but already the plot has thickened.
First there is news that Gamestop has now started accepting used iOS gear as trade-ins, paying for them with store credit or cash (more of the former than the latter, naturally). Gamestop calls this service iTrades and it has a page up on its site with details. What isn't clear is whether or not they'll ever sell new iOS gear. Electronista speculates that they're starting with used gear since they don't need Apple's approval that way. It'll be interesting to see what Apple thinks of that iTrade moniker.
But it sounds like iOS is just a side-business for GameStop. In a GamesIndustry interview Gamestop president Tony Bartel shared the news that Gamestop has decided on an 'official' tablet, and that tablet runs Android. Gamestop will start selling this "Gamestop certified gaming platform" tablet next year. Bartel didn't share exactly which device the company has picked, but said "I don't see any need to create a new one with the three hundred or so on the market already." Smart decision.
Last week I speculated that Gamestop would develop a controller that would pair with an iPad, and an app that would support streaming gaming to the iPad via the technology coming out of Spawn Labs, which Gamestop purchased not so long ago. I had it all right, except for the iPad part. That's exactly the plan with this certified Android tablet. Bartel says:
"So we've created a controller that we're testing to really allow for immersive gameplay. It's hard to imagine how to stream a game - let' say Modern Warfare 3 - onto a tablet and then play it with your finger.
The streaming service is already in early testing, and interestingly Gamestop seems to be working on streaming console titles. Competitor OnLive has thus far stuck to streaming PC games.
Bartel didn't offer any more details on the controller either, but said Gamestop's first order of business is to encourage developers to add controller support to their games:
I know people have tried it and shown it [streaming gaming], but it isn't a great, immersive experience for the customer. Once it is, I think that's really exciting. As it stands now, I think we're seeing developer interest in developing immersive games that use the controller as well, but our first foray is to really be working with developers to create an install base of devices with the controller to allow them to develop immersive games.
So it sounds like phase one of the plan is to have a Gamestop branded Android tablet and a real, physical controller that works with it, and to get tablet app developers to support that controller. Then as the streaming technology improves, the company will be positioned to take advantage of it via their tablet/controller combo.
This is all good news for Android gamers. Honeycomb already supports gamepad controllers (assuming you can connect them; my Acer A500 has a USB port and I can plug a wired Xbox 360 controller into it and it will be recognized) so any time Gamestop convinces a dev to add controller support to an Android title, it should work on any tablet, not just Gamestop's certified hardware.
Of course all this leaves me scratching my head over why Gamestop is going to start selling iOS devices.
I'd also argue his point that streaming gaming isn't currently a great, immersive experience for the customer. I use OnLive and it works well, though I'll admit that Gamestop customers tend to be hardcore gamers who won't tolerate the slightest bit of lag, so perhaps Bartel was simply considering his customer base when he made that comment.
Of course, OnLive has also promised to bring the streaming gaming experience to tablets, but as far as I know they're still at the 'viewing, but not playing' stage. Since HTC invested $40 million in the company, we can expect a lot of focus on Android from OnLive as well.
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