This is truly going to be a momentous year in gaming if the rumors are true – ones concerning possible console competition from major companies. We are awaiting the shipment of a new generation of gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony – the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have been generating tremendous interest. At the same time, we’re seeing a wave of consoles based on mobile technology from smaller companies: Nvidia’s Shield, the OuyaGameStick, and the Gamepop. So far those haven’t made more than a minor stir, probably because the marketing budgets are so small as to be invisible. There’s a chance one of these might sell well enough to be noticeable, but so far none of the traditional console companies appears to be concerned.

That may be about to change in a big way. Rumors are increasing that some very large players are about to enter the console market, effectively. That would be Google, Apple, and Amazon. Those companies can all deploy marketing budgets in the billions if so desired, and that should be enough to cause some sleepless nights among Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo executives.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is developing an Android-powered game console, saying that ‘people familiar with the matter’ have provided details to the newspaper. Google declined to comment. According to the WSJ, Google is “reacting in part to expectations that rival Apple will launch a videogame console as part of its next Apple TV product release.” Apple also declined to comment on the matter. Google’s device is expected to ship this fall.

What about Apple? Apple has sold over 12 million Apple TVs, but there’s no App Store for it. However, that could easily change with a simple software update. Apple could easily put an even more powerful CPU and GPU in the current Apple TV and add an App Store, all for the current $99 price point. The newest version of iOS (iOS 7) includes support for game controllers, and Apple has been rumored to have a controller in its labs.

Amazon has also been rumored to be working on a Kindle Fire TV box for this fall, which along with streaming movies would no doubt play games. The company has grabbed significant market share for the Kindle Fire Android tablets, and is expanding into 200 countries with its lineup. Amazon is also said to be working on its own smartphone, perhaps with a 3D display.

Lest you think this is all just speculation from bored tech journalists, it’s important to note that both Amazon and Google have hired veteran game designers (Jonathan Tweet for Amazon and Noah Falstein for Google). Why pay those guys a salary if you aren’t planning to do something with games?

This idea that Apple, Google and Amazon might make a play for the living room and directly assault the business of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft has come up before. Hardcore gamers tend to be dismissive, saying that mobile platforms (which would include consoles based on mobile technology) don’t play ‘real’ games. Stated more elegantly, mobile platforms lack deep, immersive games like the best console titles. Is that really true? And if it is, will it necessarily remain that way?

Power isn’t really the issue; mobile platforms are already around the power level of the Xbox 360, and we all know great games can be made for that console. Controls? Yes, lack of classic controllers can limit some games, but now both iOS and Android have controller support. We’ll be seeing even more controllers available, and prices will dive because of competition. No hardcore games? Many publishers are racing to fill that void with hardcore and so-called ‘midcore’ games for mobile. (Midcore games are just hardcore games made more approachable to attract a broader audience.) Check out Solstice Arena on the iPad or iPhone for an example.

Game size is perhaps a more substantive issue; many consoles games weigh in at multiple gigabytes, far beyond easy downloading or storage. Yet that’s really a design issue; often videos take up a lot of that space, and those could be streamed. Massive game content is included because games cost $60 and player’s expect their money’s worth. If you’re getting the game for free or only a few dollars, there shouldn’t be an expectation of a huge lump of content. With proper design all of that content can be parceled out over time, or for a fee.

Really, there’s no technical barrier to having $99 consoles from the new Big Three of Apple, Google and Amazon. The main difference between those and the $399 PS4 and the $499 Xbox One is sheer graphics rendering power. That may be critical to the hardcore fan, but there’s a far greater audience that’s perfectly happy with lesser graphic fidelity if the game is fun and the price is right. Check out Minecraft’s success if you don’t believe me, or Angry Birds.

The new Big Three are interested in selling movies and music alongside of games, though of course games are the biggest revenue component for mobile. If any or all of these companies decide to step into the market this fall, massive marketing budgets will come with them. That will certainly have some impact on Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. How will they respond? It’s going to be a very interesting holiday season. Better have lots of popcorn ready! The marketing battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of gamers this year will be more epic than ever before.

By Steve Peterson via @alistdaily