The video game console industry has been stagnant for a while, with Xbox and PlayStation's dominance going unchallenged. But there could soon be a challenger from an unexpected direction. "The most powerful console ever" with 4K and VR readiness has just been announced by...Slightly Mad Studios, a developer with no previous hardware experience. Here's what we know so far.
Slightly Mad Studios is an independent London based developer best known for the Project Cars racing-game series on PCs and consoles, which includes a fantastic VR mode on PCs. But the company hasn't built hardware before, so it was a surprise when Slightly Mad CEO Ian Bell's Twitter account (apparently made for just this purposed) announced the 'Mad Box', with 4K support, a free developer engine and a somewhat confusing "VR at 60fps"
What is the Mad Box? It's the most powerful console ever built... It's literally 'Mad'... You want 4k, you want VR at 60FPS? You want a full engine for free to develop your games on it? You have it.— Ian Bell SMS (@bell_sms) January 2, 2019
When pressed, Bell clarified that he meant 60fps per eye, or 120fps total, but it still differs from the way fps is usually calculated for VR headsets (with the HTC Vive now running 90fps, and the PSVR potentially up to 120fps for select titles).
Variety quickly reached out to Bell, who said he expected the console to ship in around three years' time, with hardware specs "equivalent to a very fast PC two years from now." He also said that the Mad Box would be competitive with next generation offerings from Xbox and PlayStation in terms of price.
In terms of games available, Bell also told Variety that there would be no exclusive games for the Mad Box "We think exclusives are 'exclusionary'...we have no plans to pay developers ‘incentives’ to exclude other hardware vendors". And, although Slightly Mad is "still in early talks with manufacturers of components", more information including design concepts is expected to be revealed in four to six weeks.
As for funding, Bell explains that that Slightly Mad Studios already has offers from interested parties:
"We have multiple investors already offering the required funding for us to see the product to completion, but it’s still early days and we’re looking at the best offers right now," writes Bell. "All that we have approached are discussing standard partial ownership investment deals."
Does this sound more than just slightly mad? After all, it's easy to make such a claim, but previous efforts to break the Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo console stranglehold from the likes of Valve were failures. Nonetheless, the market can't remain the same forever and a shake-up from a new challenger could be just what the industry needs. And, after 2018's saw Epic Games, a respected but by no means dominant name, thumb its nose at both Google and Valve, a dark horse success is always possible. Of course, the big names, with all their money, resources and market expertise, aren't going to make it easy.
As PlayStation continues to make strong VR support a key strategy going forward it may be that the upcoming PS5 will be the one the Mad Box really needs to beat. Slightly Mad makes 'simulation adaptions' using its Madness game engine, not just for Project Cars, but for industrial VR use in the automotive and mining industry among others. This VR expertise could be leveraged into a strong selling point for the Mad Box, provided they can nail the hardware development.
What do you think of this surprise announcement? Do you think the game console industry needs a shake-up, and will VR be a big part of it?