Beating Nintendo & Sony at their own game: Inside Wikipad

Features Damien McFerran 13:59, 19 Nov 2013

Wikipad joins Ouya, MOJO, and NVIDIA's Shield in 2013's burgeoning Android console space. We find out what makes the company tick

2013 is going to go down as an important year for Android gaming. We've seen the Ouya, Nvidia Shield and PlayJam GameStick, as well as the Wikipad – an Android tablet that docks into a gaming interface for the best of both worlds. The UK launch of this intriguing device has come and gone, so we thought it would be the ideal chance to catch up with Wikipad Inc's President of Sales, Fraser Townley, to discuss the initial reaction to the system, its sales and the future of the brand. 

Know Your Mobile: The Wikipad has had quite an eventful journey to market. Was the development of the product intentional, or do you feel some of the changes were a result of outside forces, or limitations you didn't perceive initially?

Fraser Townley: In terms of our vision for the Wikipad to be the first combination of premium Android tablet and dedicated game controller, everything we have done has been by design. But it’s fair to say that the length of time it’s taken us to get the Wikipad designed, built and into the shops has been down to market forces – some we simply couldn’t have foreseen. With hindsight, some of those challenges have resulted in us making a better product and being in a better position to build the Wikipad brand. 

To create a totally new product and launch it globally is a huge undertaking, and Wikipad is a pretty small team, so it’s been non-stop work for all of us for more than the last year. But we are really excited to be standing where we are today, with the first generation Wikipad launched and selling well. 

What do you feel were the biggest challenges in getting the Wikipad to market?

There have been so many it would be unfair to pick on one event in particular: some were down to the limitations of the available technology to deliver what we really wanted to. For example, the very first CES demos we gave back in 2012 were using stereoscopic 3D screen technology, but after several attempts we had to accept that the screens weren’t good enough yet for a commercial product. Often there’s too much focus on having the very latest tech in a product, when in fact that can often mean a big compromise in the experience and cost of the finished device. We hope that with this first Wikipad, we’ve managed to deliver a well-specced tablet at a competitive price, with the bonus of our unique and patented gamepad. 

What has the reaction been like from Android game developers and publishers?

As you can imagine, anyone that’s as passionate about gaming as we are gets a lot of support from developers. We deliberately created a controller that is compatible with most Android games right out of the box, so there’s no need for developers to add any code. For those that really get what we are doing, we do have an SDK that delivers the optimal control mapping, and this is also something that’s included in the latest versions of Android  - so we’ve made it as simple as possible for developers to create Wikipad-compatible games.

A lot of developers that we speak to like the fact that we have created an Android tablet that matches the gaming performance of dedicated games devices like the PS Vita and Nintendo DS, proving that you don’t need to charge £40 for a great gaming experience.

When the Wikipad was first announced it was a unique product, but since then we've seen rivals like the Archos GamePad and Nvidia Shield. What do you think makes the Wikipad different from these competing devices? 

Interesting question! Neither the OUYA nor the Shield are anything like the Wikipad beyond the fact that all are Android-based. What makes us unique is that once you slide the tablet out of the controller you’ve got a powerful 7-inch tablet that you can use for work, school or home – you’re not limited to only playing games. Whereas the GamePad and Shield are optimised only for gaming, with controls that really aren’t suited to much else. All of these products have their own niche in what’s still a very new market. So long as we have plenty of companies and brands promoting Android gaming, then we will all benefit.

Given the fast-moving nature of the Android market, it's perhaps not surprising that Archos has already confirmed that the GamePad will be getting a successor this year - do you have similar plans for the Wikipad? Will we see yearly hardware refreshes?

Much as I’d love to give you a scoop, all I can say right now is that we will announce our plans for the future when the time is right. 

Most Android devices have a touchscreen, and therefore most Android games are built around that interface. Whenever games are released which make use of physical controls - like those seen on the Wikipad - they are usually retrospectively added to existing titles, which gives gamers little reason to invest. Do you have any plans for Wikipad exclusives which really show off the potential of the hardware?

I have to respectfully disagree on this notion. Xbox One will launch with 16 titles – the Game Boy released with only 4. There are over 200 great games that we have tested and optimised for our controller, with many more available via the Play store or are in development. So in terms of triple-A titles, there are more out there that work with the Wikipad than any other console or dedicated handheld. 

We are also finalising our own touch to controller mapping software which will be available to all customers as an OTA update when we upgrade to 4.2 in the coming weeks, meaning that gamers can customise the control schemes to suit their own playing style.

What's the reaction been like from the general public towards the Wikipad? Have sales met your expectations?

The reaction has been very positive, and sales have been strong, selling out in several retailers before we managed to get a second shipment out to them. This is a marathon and not a sprint, and we understand that we’ve got a way to go before the Wikipad brand is something that every gamer has heard of. Our focus has been to learn from the market and hone our customer service skills before we hit the busy Christmas season where we expect the Wikipad to be on a lot of people’s wish lists.

READ THIS NEXT: Wikipad Review: A Worthy Ouya Competitor?

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