Roku’s new streaming set-top boxes are smaller and sleeker than ever, but the bigger news is that the Roku 2 is the start of a serious push into home console gaming.
The high-end Roku 2 XS, which will launch later this month for $100, will include a Wii-like motion controller with a directional pad and two buttons (like an old-school Nintendo), plus a free copy of Angry Birds. The lower-tier Roku 2 HD ($60) and Roku 2 XD ($80) will also support the game controller, sold separately as a $30 bundle with Angry Birds and a 2 GB MicroSD card.
Roku expects gaming to be a big deal on its set-top boxes, and is working with casual game publishers to expand the platform. “Between now and Christmas you’ll see the games selection on Roku grow dramatically,” Anthony Wood, Roku’s founder and CEO, wrote on the company blog. “My goal is to grow Roku into a major low cost family oriented gaming platform, with games in the $5 range rather than $30 range.”
Wood may be onto something. I know dozens of people who played Nintendo as a kid, and play games on their smartphones or iPads, but they’ve avoided game consoles because the controllers are too complicated and the investment–in both time and money–is too big. Surely, there’s a market for smaller, cheaper, simpler gaming in the living room. Roku will be the first company to give it a shot. (Although as Dave Zatz notes, the Roku 2′s internal storage can only hold four games out of the box. That’ll have to change if Roku wants to drive lots of game sales.)
Oh, and I’m as sick of hearing about Angry Birds as you are. I’ve asked Roku what other games it’ll be offering on the new set-top boxes, and will post an update if I hear anything.