Ouya: A Wake-Up Call for Video Games

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Ouya

In less than 24 hours, Ouya’s $99 game console has created as much buzz as anything from Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony.

No one who’s written about Ouya has actually seen the thing, but the concept alone is intriguing: an Android-based TV box that will run inexpensive video games–likely the same ones you play on your mobile phone or tablet–and will include its own controller with analog sticks, buttons, triggers and a small touch pad. All Ouya games will have a free-to-play element, whether it’s a brief demo or a full game replete with microtransactions.

(MORE: 15 of the Best Games at E3 2012)

On Tuesday, Ouya put its product on crowdfunding site Kickstarter, allowing people to pre-order one for delivery in March 2013. More than 25,000 people have already done so, and Ouya has raised more than $3 million from consumers and developers, far exceeding its $950,000 fundraising goal.

Beyond this initial push, I’m not yet convinced that Ouya will be a long-term success. There are too many unanswered questions about performance, developer support and mainstream distribution. Still, the underlying concept of a cheap, app-driven video game box is hugely important. The big guys better be paying attention.

A Broken System

Consider, for a moment, the current state of home console gaming. To join the fun, you must pay between $200 and $300 for a high-definition console. New games cost $60, and many of them don’t offer demos, so if you buy a critically-acclaimed game and it doesn’t click with you, you’re out of luck. You can buy used games for cheaper, but then you’re treated like scum by publishers, who have removed more and more features from used games to discourage second-hand sales.

Either way, forget about downloading games directly. Retail stores always get first crack at new games, and when a game finally becomes available for download, you can almost always find it cheaper in a store somewhere.

It’s a broken system. The problem is that traditional console makers are too entrenched to do anything about it. Retail is still a huge part of their business, so they can’t ignore it. New games need to cost $60 to recoup the massive costs of development for publishers and to allow console makers to profit after making huge hardware investments. The home video game empire has grown so large that no one wants to disrupt themselves with an inexpensive console and small-scale games.

(PHOTOS: E3 2012 Video Game Conference)

Time to Think Small

There’s a market for something smaller, and the proof is in the explosion of mobile gaming. I hear the same story over and over from people my age, who grew up on Nintendo: They like video games, but don’t have 10 hours a week to commit to the hobby, and therefore can’t justify spending $300 on a gaming machine. Instead, they play games on their phones and tablets. Why not make it cheap and easy for them to play on their televisions? Ouya is the first company to address that question by actually building the hardware.

Julie Uhrman, Ouya’s founder, seems shocked that the company’s in this field all by itself. “The ironic thing is, when I pitch people, the most common response is ‘Huh. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, I can’t believe no one’s done that,’” Uhrman told me in an interview. “And I think it’s because it is such an entrenched business.”

The fact that Ouya’s all alone right now might be its biggest concern. Ouya’s problem isn’t Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft, not unless their next consoles radically change the way games are priced and distributed. The real threat comes from other tech titans who are just as unencumbered by the past.

If Ouya’s a modest hit, it may only validate the market for Apple and Google, who already have huge app ecosystems and fully-invested consumers thanks to their hit phones and tablets. Ouya will be starting from scratch, and Urhman was cagey about whether the company would ever expand its gaming platform beyond televisions to mobile devices. Ouya can only hope that Google and Apple never decide to take big-screen gaming seriously.

Before anyone puts words in my mouth, I don’t think Ouya signals the death of the established video game industry. I like big-budget games, and I hope the best ones find a way to survive even as the industry as a whole tumbles. (One scenario that at least addresses AAA gaming’s distribution issues: Cloud gaming services like OnLive and Gaikai finally take off.)

But there needs to be an alternative. Smaller, cheaper video games have been a huge source of innovation on phones and tablets, and they deserve to find a home on televisions as well. Even if Ouya doesn’t live up to the hype, it’s the first step in snapping the games industry out of its doldrums.

MORE: Sony Bets On Cloud Gaming with Gaikai Purchase, but Don’t Expect Drastic Changes

34 comments
CheyneyParsons
CheyneyParsons

This console seems redundant to me.  Couldn't phones and tablets be designed to hook up to an external monitor and a full sized controller?  That's where things are eventually going to end up.  Desktops, laptops, and consoles will be fringe markets.  Do-it-all "phones" and tablets will be plenty powerful for the average consumer and will be designed to hook up to full-sized keyboards and screens through a dock.  Cable will be replaced by internet services.  Ouya might make a little money for now but I doubt it will open up a big market. 

Rocco DeVenanzio
Rocco DeVenanzio

 Okay I was holding off on backing this until I had funds to buy a

developer kit but I see some BS going on that needs to be addressed.

I've been tracking the nay-sayers on this list and we have people

backing the project just long enough to come on here and spread

misinformation and then withdrawing their backing. So here's the

deal....if you go check out the forums and reddit a lot of the "fears"

here have already been addressed.....

I'll be posting this after every nay-sayer so the microsoft amp; sony pr agencies can go back to doing real work.

Absolutely no reason to be skeptical here is why:

There is a new type of hardware out that is basically System on chips

they are small computers used for things like media services. Netflix,

Hulu, etc

Here is an example: http://www.alibaba.com/product...

OUYA is like that but it's focus is on gaming. It is android based,

but unlike phones it doesn't have to run phone, text messaging, etc apps

in the background so it will be quite a bit more powerful than it's

specs let on. This is also how consoles games are able to look like pc

games despite inferior specs. They simply dont have the overhead of a

full OS.

Ouya is backed by some very well known and savy people. They have one

of the highest profile design firms in the world behind it, www.fuseproject.com

(google it or search on TED), Xbox co-creator Ed Fries, a Paypal exec

as an angel investor, inexile owner (wasteland 2) an investor, the CEO

and founder was a high level 7 figure a year exec at IGN, gamefly,

vivendi. The amount of money raised doesn't equal these peoples yearly

combined salary, so no worries about it being a "scam". Not to mention

NONE of them would ever work in any senior level position EVER again.

Here is a list of supporting Developers: https://docs.google.com/a/moai...

There are some nay sayers who say it is impossible to have this

console under $100 . They are wrong.There is nothing pie in the sky

about the hardware it is all off the shelf.

This is very easily going to cost them less than $100.

You can grind out controllers for $5 a pop. (heres one for $3 http://www.alibaba.com/product...

The processor is $25 (http://news.softpedia.com/news...

RAM is $1 (link to 4gig ddr2 if you buy 5000:http://www.alibaba.com/product...

What's the board, bluetooth,wifi, and ports? $10 max. (heres a link to something pretty close to OUYA :http://www.alibaba.com/product... for $36)

It's safe to say this console might be costing them $60 - $70 shipped.

Regardless of how successful it is, this is what you can expect in the way of games.

1.Emulators: Emulators are definitely going to support this. You can

count on launch support. Whether OUYA allows them or not is another

matter entirely. IOS doesn't and Android sometimes takes them down. But

being the console is hackable, they'll definitely be there.

2.Android ports: All an android port would require is controller

support. Even though OUYA may have a small user base it will still be

attractive to those who would like more traction on their games. For big

names like Angry Birds it's a no brainer they can afford the cost if

for no other reason than presence.

3.3rd party markets: Onlive is on android. Supports a controller so

it's pretty likely these guys will port just for the presence.

4.OUYA specific launch titles: Double Fine has said they are on

board. Wasteland 2, Inexile owner is an investor. Wasteland 2 is being

built on unity 3 which makes a port a matter of using the proper plugin

to compile. I know a bunch of smaller guys are on board but they haven't

announced anything concrete.

This console is not meant to go toe to toe with the big three. Where

it will compete with them is the Indie, back stock games. If OUYA has

any kind of following emulation alone will wipe out the PS1/PS2/Nintendo

catalogs. Who's going to buy back dated games at $10 a pop when you can

grab an OUYA and get all and more for $100? Even at 500,000 install

base OUYA will be as compelling to devs as xbl,android and ios market.

The crowd maybe smaller but so will the OUYA market place, easier to get

above the white noise.

Scott O'Connell
Scott O'Connell

 Just Pledged $99, looking forward to following the development of this, I am looking to build a community for those that have pedged and look to create projects that will push the OUYA to its limits - www.ouyamod.net

Jesse Jojo Johnson
Jesse Jojo Johnson

Open source coming to the gaming platforms is welcome news. I hope these folks are not looking for great profits, because I don't see much coming to this box. But the concept is just wonderful. A hackable, Linux-based console. Finally :)

John
John

It's also possible the majority of people on consoles don't want to play those types of games. Look at something that was originally an Xbox indie title like Cthulhu Saves the World. That posted a huge increase its sales when it was ported to PC, but it wasn't due to better visibility or pricing on Steam...it was because the PC is where the particular segment of gamers attracted to a product like that were already entrenched. 

It just seems likely to me that the people that are interested in a hackable Android ARM device with AV outs are the same people that were already driving the PC gaming segment. Maybe the consoles could do more to attract those gamers, but- critiques about level of visibility aside- Xbox Live Indie Games does exist. And nobody really cares.

symbolset
symbolset

Consoles are finding the same "good enough" problem that PCs an laptops are. A modern ARM core gives console quality gaming, and W2K level laptop experience, on almost no power at all. Since those things were good enough, the low watt wins.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Sad to say, console gaming these days really sucks.

Why: well for one, game innovation is dead.

Everything is a remake or a sequel of the original really successful game.

I loved Halo and Half Life and the last new thing I can think of was Portal (by the Half Life guys).

World War 2 has more battles on the console than it did in real life.

Get over it, take a chance, make some NEW! games.

Also, the Kinect, great idea, great hardware, totally mismanaged to try and sell the XBox to a whole lot of people who were already perfectly happy with their WII.

They could do so much better, head mounted displays, head tracking, true immersive VR 3D gaming and NEW GAMES!

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

 I get where you're coming from, but there's plenty of innovation in gaming. We are in a bit of a sequel crisis, but that's coming to an end. The major titles that are coming out right now we knew would have sequels when they came out 4+ years ago. The Mass Effect series is done, so Bioware will inevitably move forward and make great games. Assassin's Creed is fast approaching its end. Bungie is free of the Halo franchise and I'm sure they're cooking up something fantastic, and we knew MS would keep milking Master Chief for all he's got, but with an ever evolving Forge it's hard to say the game isn't innovating. As all of these companies wrap up their current IP, they're inevitable cooking up new IP for the future. I'm tired of people looking at a trend of a few years and acting like that's the way we're headed for eternity. We've only been starved of new IP for maybe 4-5 years, and when you put that in terms of development cycles it's hardly worth taking seriously. And if portal is really the last new innovative IP you can think of, you're not trying hard enough. Did you play Mirror's Edge? LA Noire (don't call it a GTA clone, the tech behind the development and focus on a quality narrative were amazing)? Then if you take a look at a flourishing indie game industry, well I'm just left scratching my head wondering why everyone thinks games aren't innovating. Maybe its because they can't see innovation unless it's attached to a new name.

Blank
Blank

Anyone who actually donated to this thing is actually supporting gaming being taken over by smartphone shovelware.

Sam
Sam

As if that wasn't going to happen anyway? Sorry, but if you're a hardcore gamer, you're now a minority. Gaming went mainstream. Businesses that want to make money follow the market. There are going to be more games catering to the massive casual crowd than the small-but-loyal hardcore crowd. Time to accept that.

That said, there are still lots of high-quality games in the indie (and yes, even mobile) space. Overpriced console games don't have the market cornered on quality.

Projects like this allow small, smart teams to build interesting and creative experiments that would never be green-lit by risk-averse super-publishers.

Yes, there will be tons of shovelware and bad phone ports. There will also be amazing indie projects. Hopefully the Ouya team will put some effort into ratings and discoverability systems for their store and we'll be able to see the best games rise above the cruft. 

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

I think Ouya is overestimating the desire to play mobile games on a large screen. I mean there have been some hits on XBLA, but they're few and far between. We had Castle Crashers, Limbo, and Bastion, but I honestly never see anyone playing those anymore. So I'm not really sure where they're going with this, or what part of the market they're trying to squeeze themselves into.

Rahat Rashid
Rahat Rashid

I can not honestly see this console pick up more than what it already has now among the mass consumer market, which I still feel is entrenched in the retail too much to go fully digital.

That said, OUYA has shown that there is a huge demand on mobile bite-sized games and I think the big guys will take that into consideration when they are developing their upcoming consoles.That said developers must love this. Being able to push low-budget titles with potential high revenue results? I can see a lot of people in the industry putting their faith on this one.

Stephen MDB
Stephen MDB

The current system isn't really that broken, if at all.

The Ouya box is really cool, and I love everything Android, but the one thing that wouldn't make buy it is Free To Play games. They're fun when you're bored and on-the-go, but are designed and paced for the sake of having micro-transactions at the optimal parts, rather than really engaging.

Jared Newman
Jared Newman

To clarify, Ouya's definition of "free to play" can also include demo-type setups, not just microtransactions. They just don't want people to get burned on expensive games that they can't try before buying.

Curious to know why you don't think the current system is broken. Not only can I not download a new console game the day it's released in stores, when it finally comes out as a download I don't even save any money despite the lack of printing/shipping costs related to physical media. I can't even get a good discount on downloadable versions of older games. Ouya aside, even if you look at how PC game distribution works, it's far more convenient than disc-based console gaming.

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

Did Time forget about the Nintendo Wii? It didn't sell it's consoles by appealing to hardcore gamers, it targeted the casual gamer and it offers app like games on it's wiiware. Ouya is only refining that same idea.

Jared Newman
Jared Newman

I totally agree that the Ouya is a refinement of what made the Wii a hit. Wiiware, however, has been a total dud for Nintendo, and not anywhere on the same level as the mobile app market in terms of being a thriving marketplace.

Quincy78
Quincy78

I don't think the author has quite considered what the console can do. Not only does it have incredibly aged hardware to bring that price down to $99 (meaning it can play flash games, and that's about it), it's also just a glorified gamepad. You can already hook your phone up to your TV and a low price gamepad, and it has about the same, if not better, hardware.

This isn't going to create any kind of buzz after it releases, it's going to flop because it's a scam.

Nicco Janelli
Nicco Janelli

I bought a cable for less than $10 that let's my Samsung Galaxy SII output to HDMI for televisions, projectors, whatever.  My computer, also, outputs to my TV (as does my Xbox, Playstation, etc.)  The last thing I need is another thing to plug into my television.

I don't find this exciting, in the least.

Matthew Kupka
Matthew Kupka

Author is missing the big thing here:  This box isn't just about games.

This has the potential to do everything the Nexus Q can and more.  It's going to be an entirely open platform, open to not only games but applications, or apps, as well.

There are a lot of people who spend 350 dollars or more on an HTPC -- basically a desktop computer that acts as a media center for the living room TV.  This thing will work as one at a fraction of the size and price

I am a backer of this product, not for the gaming potential, but for everything else it offers.  Although I did feel the need to buy a second controller.  

Remember your NES, SNES, Genesis, and other gaming systems you had as a kid?  The OUYA is virtually guaranteed to have emulators available for download which will allow you to play any other console before the Nintendo 64.

This thing might not revolutionize consoles, but it might create a whole new market for living room media centers.

UDDanB
UDDanB

Are NES/SNES/Genesis emulators (like the ones you can easily download for a PC, complete with thousands of free ROMS) even legal?  If it isn't, I highly doubt Ouya could officially condone that market.

Joshua Boyd
Joshua Boyd

Emulators are legal as long as you own the actual system and game being emulated.

Casey Yardley
Casey Yardley

 Yes, they are legal. What is illigal is pirating roms. No law against ripping your own roms (although of course in reality very few people do this).

That being said, this is a terrible idea.

Ha Chung
Ha Chung

Well all thats required to play a retro game is intalling an apk emulator... I don't think its about manufacture support or not.

hajmola
hajmola

They don't have to condone it. That's the beauty of an open system, the community will provide.

Matthew Kupka
Matthew Kupka

 OUYA will be completely open.  I assume that means even if they are forced to remove the apps from the official store, side-loading them from a 3rd party would be a piece of cake.

Kevin Bender
Kevin Bender

The emulators are perfectly legal, whereas roms are technically only legal if you dump them on your own (which isn't hard nowadays).

Jared Newman
Jared Newman

The potential is definitely there, though it's worth noting that Ouya isn't pitching its box as a multimedia device just yet. (I believe they've mentioned the possibility of a Twitch.tv app, but that's it.)

Anyway, there's already a market for multimedia streaming devices such as Apple TV and Roku (the latter, in fact, is much cheaper than Ouya will be). The thing that interests me most about Ouya is how focused it is on games. With all other competitors, gaming's been an afterthought at best.

Ryne Andal
Ryne Andal

Building a platform on Android opens up a world of possibilities to hackers that simply aren't available on the competing platforms you mentioned (AppleTV/Roku).

I also think the reason they neglected to mention the multimedia possibilities is because the options are limited to the consumer's aptitude with a platform such as Android. A very limited audience knows their way around hardware/software enough to root/flash and give yourself access to these multimedia capabilities.

Robin Uney
Robin Uney

There is an Android OnLive player app available. If Ouya and OnLive could agree on terms, there is a place for a partnership on this device.

Patrick Cavanaugh
Patrick Cavanaugh

Has this author heard of XBox Live Arcade or WiiWare? you can buy a new Wii for $150 with a game, and buy cheap/retro games on WiiWare and Virtual Console. I don't think the market is as ripe for disruption as he thinks.

Gamers are still buying the $60 Call of Duty, Halo, etc. A-list titles because they are willing to pay for high-quality games, even with cheaper alternatives available in the arcade/online stores/retail backlist.

Jared Newman
Jared Newman

I have. XBLA/WiiWare/PSN games are cheaper than retail titles, but the market is still a lot different than the free-to-play and sub-$5 mobile space. And compared to the mobile market, the selection of small-scale downloadable games on consoles is still tiny, largely because it's hard for devleopers to get their games approved. Of course, there's Xbox Live Indie Games, but Microsoft likes to act as if it doesn't exist.

No major disagreements on your second point, although the number of people buying those $60 games seems to be shrinking. I still think there's also room for the type of market that mobile games offer.

Tom - mooedia
Tom - mooedia

 Im looking forward to the days of playing "big budget" games, on my mobile, and continuing on the TV. This really appeals to me so this will be interesting to see how it pans out.

The thought of being able to play a mutiplayer shooter / racing game on my phone, then continue when i get home on my TV would be great.

I don't know why Windows Phone didnt come up with something like this as they already have the platform there! Even if it was a mobile that played the Xbox Live Indie games.

We shall see!