Can smartphones replace video game consoles?

Chris Allen, of Brass Monkey
Chris Allen, of Brass Monkey

The Entrepreneurs Grill is a live stream webcast on hosted by Innovation Economy columnist­ and blogger Scott Kirsner that features a business pitch from a start-up, followed by feedback from a Boston-area investor and questions from viewers. Below is an edited version of last week’s show:

The pitch

Chris Allen thinks video gamers should cut the figurative cord to their game consoles. Allen is founder of Brass Monkey in Jamaica Plain, which allows gamers to use smartphones or tablets to play online video games simply by using common browsers, instead of the dedicated controllers that come with popular game systems. His proposal was reviewed by Lee Hower of NextView Ventures.

Allen: The philosophy is you no longer need a full video-game hardware system to actually play this type of experience. One of the things that people carry with them quite often is a device like this, an iPhone or an Android. The capabilities of these devices are quite remarkable. They come with accelerometors on them so we can get the movements of the Wii. We have a golf game on there for example. You can swing your phone like a putter.

The other point is, a browser, which is pretty ubiquitous. Technology and a browser for video games is just increasingly becoming more and more viable for creating console-quality games.


We sell the games with virtual currency on a phone you can buy through the app store and then we’re going to be introducing advertising, as well as a subscription model. We have about 40 games on the system now and probably about 11 of them are paid.

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Hower: So the games you have in the system today, are those all games that were developed by third-party developers, or have you developed some of these, or what’s the relationship there?

Allen: The vast majority are developed by third-party. We did create a few of the first ones to see the product and give some examples of how to best use these things. Four of the games are ours, and the rest are all third-party.

Hower: Do you think you need a big hit game to draw, you need the Angry Birds to get the wide recognition?

Allen: I think so. Platforms are driven by their games. People don’t buy a game console because they want the game console. They buy it to play a particular game, so once we have that, yeah, it’s going to help tremendously.


Hower: Do you see most people using a laptop or a desktop computer as the end point on the browser side, or do you see people using tablets or even connected TV’s — other types of devices that have a browser?

Allen: The answer is yes — both. Today laptops and PCs are really the ones with the power to do this kind of stuff, although now we’re seeing TVs with enough power to run video games. I just saw Samsung launched a QuadCore processor in a smart TV, so as that starts to increase it’s going to become more of a common thing. Same thing with tablets — although I think the tablet is really a small screen.

Hower: On the topic of monetization, just to play devil’s advocate for a second, what was the decision to be a console and a place where games are developed and played in this experience, as opposed to taking this technology and be akin to a game engine? Instead of making the console, so to speak, letting people develop their own games and just trying to charge a small amount for usage?

Allen: We took that approach and there was a lot of resistance. We were probably too early. The other thing is, game developers notoriously underestimate the actual work involved in doing something, and we ran up against that a lot. ­Ultimately we found it was such a slow process. Working with the triple-A studios was difficult, and then on top of that it’s hard to accommodate every use-case someone would want.

The decision

Hower: I’m intrigued to learn more. We at NextView have done a number of investments into gaming space. We’re actually pretty big believers in what we call ubiquitous computing. A lot of people lump the smartphones and tablet into one bucket, but what’s actually happening is people are computing more often with different devices in different ways. And so we’re pretty interested in not just gaming but new interaction paradigms. I had some concerns certainly in that, is it the best strategy to have a console and have third party games built into the storefront? But I can understand why as a start-up building this as a proof-of-concept makes sense.