Kindle as Gaming Device

About two weeks ago, I purchased a Kindle off of a young woman via Craigslist. While I was a staunch proponent of the dead tree format, I was running out of books that were small enough physically to comfortably read one-handed on the subway. When I was researching books based on physical dimensions rather than on content, I knew I had a problem.

You could say I am a fan. I’ve read the equivalent of 1300 physical pages in less than two weeks. When reviews say “the Kindle will change the way you read”, they are right. You will read much faster. Perhaps it is just my quirky ADHD-ness, but in physical books I often find myself paging ahead to see where chapter breaks are or I get distracted by noticing something on the opposing page. These distractions are gone on the Kindle. It displays a digestible chunk at a time and the chapter markers are clearly delineated at the bottom of the screen.

But since I am a Game Nerd, I’ve found myself wondering about how games could work on the device. Amazon has released a Kindle Development Kit and is actively courting developers to make ‘apps’ for the device. But there are harsh limitations to the Kindle as a gaming device:

  1. No Touchscreen – We are spoiled with our iPhones and smartphones and Nintendo DSs that offer that most intuitive of interfaces. Puzzle games and card games benefit greatly from having a touch interface. Well, that’s okay, right? The NES didn’t offer a touchscreen and it had some great games.
  2. Shitty D-Pad Nub – Well crap. You need tweezers to move the tiny directional toggle and it often doesn’t trigger in the direction you desire.
  3. Awful Framerate – eInk is a very interesting technology, but it isn’t an LCD replacement. The screen refresh can top out at about 2 hz where you need at least 30 hz for a reasonably smooth gaming experience.

So, are folks going to be putting games on Kindle just to say they could? Will this be akin to running doom on an old iPod or linux on a toaster? Perhaps. Certainly you will see shitty games a-plenty, especially if any of them make money. But I reckon that you can minimize those weaknesses and play to the strengths of the device:

  1. Ergonomics – The device is ergonomically pleasing. The ‘Next Page’ buttons are easy to reach and responsive.
  2. Free Internet – The device is always connected to the internet for free. While Amazon charges a different royalty rate for those that use a lot of data, that doesn’t mean the device has to stream video to take advantage of this.
  3. Large screen – The screen itself is large and can hold a lot more information at a readable size than the iPhone or Nintendo DS.

So here is a brainstorm idea off the top of my head:

Short, episodic D&D style modules that range from dungeon-crawls to graphic adventures. Players subscribe and receive a new adventure every month, like Telltale’s games. Some months you have a little rogue-like in the vein of an Etrian Odyssey. Some months you have a whodunnit like a Phoenix Wright. Focus on storytelling and keep it short. Controls in both of those games are not real-time and surprisingly light on options. Refresh rate is irrelevant. The two “Next Page” buttons and the “Previous Page” button should be sufficient for most functions and the keyboard could take speciality functions. It keeps with the user dynamic of the Kindle (light reading, on the go) while introducing the vast possibilities of interactive entertainment (letting the reader make decisions).

Hell, I’d subscribe even if it was mediocre for the novelty and to support that kind of risk-taking. But that is just off the top of my head. Surely someone more clever than I will come along and put something together smarter. The question is whether the market is there on the device or whether it will only hold fertile for Sudoku and Hearts developers or folks that don’t pause to take in the constraints and strengths of the device and try to make Mario work:

What other ideas could take advantage of being on a Kindle? What kind of game would be better on a Kindle than on any other platform?

4 Comments

  1. Wrong direction. For gaming on the Kindle I think people are going to go back to old text adventures. “You are in a maze…”

  2. Gotta disagree, man. Interpreters have come a long way, but people don’t want to fight with “I don’t know what that means” messages. Frotz is free on iPhone but have you tried using it?

  3. Yeah, I’m kidding. I haven’t played a text adventure since my computer used cassettes for drives.

    However, with the limitations of e-ink, I wonder if the kindle’s gaming future is in more of a choose your own adventure style game rather than a twitch style game. They could even do some early RPG style stuff. There are just too many other platforms that do gaming better than a kindle for someone to want to submit to its limitations to play a graphics based game.

  4. Greyscale Myst. Strategy games where you don’t need to scroll much and can see almost everything you need to on one screen. A deck editor/analyzer for Magic: The Gathering. Choose your own adventures.

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