Ouya’s Lesson for Kickstarter Backers: You’re Buying the Beta

The first reviews of Ouya's $100 game console are in, and they're pretty ugly. But this is not an issue specific to Ouya.

  • Share
  • Read Later

The first reviews of Ouya’s $100 game console are in, and they’re pretty ugly.

Here’s David Pierce at The Verge:

For $99, everyone who backed Ouya’s Kickstarter has unwittingly signed up to beta-test a game console. Alpha-test, even: this is a product with some good ideas and a potentially promising future, but it’s a million miles away from something worth spending your money on. Even if the concept is right, the Ouya misses the mark. The controller needs work, the interface is a mess, and have I mentioned there’s really nothing to do with the thing? I’m not even sure the concept is right, either: there are plenty of fun Android games, but currently few that work well with a controller and even fewer that look good on your television.

And here’s Tim Stevens and crew at Engadget:

The version of OUYA shipping now should be considered a beta release, and anyone hoping for anything more is in for some disappointment. It’s simply not ready for retail. The system is rough around the edges in many ways, quite literally when regarding the controller, but the interface and menus also could use work.

The common thread is that Ouya (or OUYA, if you must) isn’t a finished product, and anyone who paid $100 for the Kickstarter edition of Ouya is essentially getting a beta, or worse.

But this is not an issue specific to Ouya. When you back a project on Kickstarter–particularly one that involves software–there’s a very good chance you’ll end up with an incomplete product. I’ll remind you what Engadget said about the Pebble smartwatch just a few months ago (with a slightly more upbeat conclusion):

Functionality remains somewhat limited, but this is a first-generation device from a small manufacturer that’s currently only in the hands of a very limited number of lucky backers.

Android Police also warned the general public to stay away:

While the Pebble is OK as it is, with just a few software tweaks it could be much, much better. It may become a truly great piece of hardware if developers can catch the excitement that the device created in the general geeky public.

And it’s not just hardware products. Remember Taposé, the iPad app that was supposed to revive the spirit of Microsoft’s killed Courier tablet? It was pretty terrible at launch as well. Here’s me, a year ago:

Taposé is still an interesting idea, just as Courier was. As a writer, I can imagine using an app like this to take notes or organize story ideas, especially once the team releases a Web version for accessing notes on a PC. But until the bugs get squashed and the interface gets cleaned up, Taposé  is tough to recommend.

So for all the people saying “I told you so” about Ouya–and I’m seeing a lot of that on Twitter right now–you hardly need to be a prophet to make that call. Of course you’re buying a beta product by backing it on Kickstarter. The makers of these products aren’t multinational corporations like Samsung or Apple. They’re tiny startups without much experience bringing hardware and software to market. The odds are pretty high that they’re not going to ship a product with a fine layer of polish. Heck, even gigantic tech vendors ship beta products sometimes.

I’m not trying to defend Ouya or encourage people to buy it. My point is that being a beta tester is par for the course with Kickstarter projects. You might even argue that it’s part of the journey. If you were enthusiastic enough about the concept to hand our your money sight unseen, you should be willing to give feedback and try to make the product better. Kickstarter even offers backer-only forums for this very purpose.

As for Ouya, I’ll reserve judgement for when it ships to retailers in June. It sounds like it’ll take every minute of these remaining two months–and maybe a lot longer–to get the product up to snuff.