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GameStick Interview with CMO Anthony Johnson

GameStick, the upcoming Android console that will make playing games on your Television super simple, successfully ended a Kickstarter campaign that raised $647,658 and is releasing next month. The team originally only sought to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter!

We wanted to learn more about GameStick, where the idea came from, their thoughts on hardcore players, developers embracing Android, the future of GameStick, and more. To get these answers, we spoke with Anthony Johnson, CMO of Playjam, the company behind the GameStick.

CVG: For the uninformed, can you tell us what GameStick is?
Anthony Johnson: "GameStick is the world’s most portable TV Games console targeting a rapidly growing global audience of casual to mid core gamers. The device plugs directly into a TV's HDMI slot and comes with a fully featured Bluetooth controller - ready to go right out of the box. When on the move, the two combine into a single unit, putting a world of big screen gaming directly into the pocket. All for just $79."
 
CVG: How long ago did the team at PlayJam start work on GameStick?
Anthony Johnson: "We initially came up with the concept around 12 months ago. PlayJam, the company behind GameStick has a core mission, which is to bring affordable gaming to TV. The company has been doing so via Smart TV where it now serves over 35% of all the games played on such devices.
 
We wondered how much further we could go if we also controlled the hardware using Android as the O/S and the huge content eco-system that it supports. We worked with an R&D team in South Korea to build the technical specifications and bring the concept to its pre-production phase. The success of Kickstarter has enabled us to move into the production phase with partners in China."
 
CVG: Do you feel hardcore gamers will embrace GameStick or do you anticipate this being a device only for casual players?
Anthony Johnson: "GameStick is not going to compete with the high-end consoles of today for AAA, hardcore game-play. That was not our intention today. We are targeting the huge and rapidly expanding casual to mid-core market with an affordable big screen experience. We coming at the market very much from a more accessible bottom up perspective Vs the traditional top down model. We believe there is huge scalability in our approach."
 
CVG: Did you ever think the GameStick would receive the response it has? Would this response be possible without Kickstarter?
Anthony Johnson: "We knew we had a good idea but we were taken aback by the scale of the support we received both in terms of the pledges via Kickstarter but the very positive response in the media. Without Kickstarter, we would not have been able to fund production. We have gone from an idea 12 months ago to negotiating placement of the product within some of the largest retailers in the world. It has been quite the whirlwind."
 
CVG: You made some changes, like the MicroSD card slot, based on community feedback. Were there other changes you weren't able to include?
Anthony Johnson: "One of the tings we were not prepared for in Kickstarter was the willingness of backers to help shape the product. The additional memory slot was an example of this - one that required us to re-design the PCB but such was the demand, it made absolute sense to do so.
 
We went further than most projects in supporting requests by also announcing additional equipment that we had not previously specified – quite a feat within the 31 day period. We announced the GameStick Dock –an optional, multi-function accessory for GameStick that allows you to wirelessly charge the GameStick controller, store a ton of content, connect peripherals and using APS, power the stick."
 
CVG: With the rapid changes in mobile hardware, do you anticipate the GameStick needing upgraded hardware in the next 12 to 24 months?
Anthony Johnson: "Hardware will have to keep up with the content roadmap. As games become more sophisticated, GameStick will need to adapt to support them just like any other hardware play."
 
CVG: The controller is probably the most important part of a console. How does your analog sticks, buttons, and d-pad compare to other consoles on the market?
Anthony Johnson: "We have taken care to ensure that we work with experienced R&D and manufacturers to create a great controller. Our partners work with some of the largest names in the industry, so we are expecting great things."
 
CVG: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the GameStick?
Anthony Johnson: "Aside from its price point of $79, GameStick’s greatest strength lies in PlayJam’s heritage. PlayJam has spent years developing and perfecting the back end systems required to power a TV games service. It has delivered literally billions of games on Pay and Smart TV over the years and knows what it takes to make such a proposition work. It also has some amazing relationships and investors that are well positioned to steer the product to a successful retail launch.
 
The challenge for GameStick and other contenders in this space will be securing decent content for the device. The team is currently engaged with some very established developers who see a huge opportunity in the affordable TV console space."
 
CVG: Do you feel the GameStick will change the way games are developed?
Anthony Johnson: "GameStick is designed to support the current crop of Android games currently on the market from a processor point of view. Not all games will be compatible with the gamepad as some are touch only. To address this, we have created a companion app which turns any iOS / Android phone / tablet into a controller leveraging touch and gyroscopic inputs."
 
CVG: At an impressive $79, is the GameStick hardware be sold at a loss? What other revenue stream is there for GameStick?
Anthony Johnson: "No – we felt it critical to ensure there was a sound business model behind GameStick comprising of a profit on that hardware as well as a revenue share on the content – both of which we feel is essential to funding our roadmap and assuring developers that GameStick is worth their while supporting. When it comes to retail – solutions that are not able to deliver a margin on hardware will find it difficult to get the kind of point of sale support that is will be crucial to any launch success. We understand this to be a key differentiator for GameStick."
 
CVG: Most mobile games come on iOS first. Do you feel consoles like the GameStick will change this?
Anthony Johnson: "GameStick opens up the big screen and provides a console-like experience through the use of its dedicated game pad. This is a new route to market for the developers we are targeting and will provide a home to many of the games already out there configured to work with a controller. Going forward, we expect to see games purpose built for the controller and cannot wait to see what comes through."
 
CVG: What are your thoughts about the OUYA, Project Shield, and The Razer Edge Tablet?  Do you plan on trying them out?
Anthony Johnson: "This is going to be a big year for affordable gaming with a number of players launching new products – its going to be great for consumers and developers alike. As I have mentioned above, the success of affordable gaming consoles will come down to ensuring there is a sound business model behind the proposition. This means that devices will need to be priced sub $100 to effectively target the casual to mid-core gamer community.
 
Where PlayJam further differentiates itself is in its willingness to offer its back end technology to power any device that want to enter the market. We are keen to accelerate this opportunity and intend to remain at its heart."
CVG: Are there any other details or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Anthony Johnson: "We have opened up pre-orders for people now, details of which can be found at www.gamestick.tv. This means that anyone who missed out on the opportunity to get their hands on a GameStick during the Kickstarter campaign can jump the queue ahead of the global retail launch in a few months time. The standard GameStick bundle is $79 and you can also pre-order the case and dock for $9.99 and $24.99 respectively."

Thanks to Anthony Johnson and Playjam for spending some time with us in learning more about GameStick. We are looking forward to covering the product and wish you guys much success!

By Kaleb Rutherford - 02/19/13

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