MAKE Magazine caught up at CES with Sifteo co-founder David Merill and chatted with the man behind the wireless digital gaming blocks about taking a product developed in the DIY community to the mass market:
We talk a lot about how the barriers to game development are lower than ever. It may also be true that the barriers to hardware development, while still prohibitive for people without money and expertise, are coming down slightly. OUYA and Oculus Rift were both Kickstarter-funded, of course. And even though they come from huge, rich companies, the new gaming hardware from Steam, NVIDIA, and to a lesser extent Razer show that new hardware doesn't have to come from the big console makers. Of course, there are risks, as Microsoft Studios exec Phil Harrison was quick to point out after the unveiling of the new systems:
"Entering the hardware business is a really tough business," he said. "You have to have great fortitude to be in the hardware business and you have to have deep pockets and a very strong balance sheet. It's not possible for every new hardware entrant to get to scale.
"They can be successful at small scale. But it's very rare for a new hardware entrant to get to scale, and I mean tens or hundreds of millions of units. There are a very small number of companies that can make that happen.
"And it's not just having a great brand or a great software experience. It's about having a supply chain and a distribution model and a manufacturing capacity and all the things that go with it. It's a non-trivial problem to solve and it takes thousands of people to make reality."
Of course, Sifteo cubes, marketed mostly at children, are in a different category from mini-systems that are attempting to grab business in the core gaming market. Perhaps this uniqueness is what will make them successful, regardless of concerns about scaling: there is no product on the market that is anything like them.