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OUYA: Next Gen or Next Gimmick?

August 10, 2012

If you’ve not heard of the open-source console that encourages hackers to pick at its innards, you may well be hearing a lot more about it soon. OUYA is now available for preorder for the general public, but does it have the potential to rival the Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo-dominated console market?

Initial interest seems to indicate that people want to see this project succeed. You don’t need to go far to be able to find a story about OUYA’s phenomenal success with its fundraising project. The project was the second highest earning in Kickstarter’s history, with a total of $8,596,474, which is 904% ahead of its initial goal of $950,000.

OUYA’s Kickstarter page details its vision out in full: “Anybody who wants to develop a game for the television: we allow them the ability to do this,” says Julie Uhrman, founder of the OUYA project, in the page’s video broadcast. Amongst other games and features, Minecraft, indie favourite, will feature on the console, as well as Twitch TV for e-sports fans to watch livestreamed matches of Starcraft II, or League of Legends. It boasts that its games will be free-to-play, mimicking established F2P systems seen in games such as Team Fortress 2 and LoL. Its launch price is a fairly modest $99, and will also ship with OnLive game streaming capabilities.

What’s the problem so far? Largely, it is scepticism worthy of the Marmite label. People either love it or hate it.

For example, some people love the idea of a rootable console. Developers can get stuck in without having to traipse around roadblocks put in the way of developing for current console ports. Other people are worried that this will lead to piracy.

Some people love the idea of any game being free-to-play. Other people believe that this will turn into a system dominated by demos and micro-transaction games.

Some people love the idea of opening the floodgates to any and all comers. Other people think that it’s going to be like playing Bejeweled on your TV.

It’s very hard to predict what is going to happen, because the console industry has never seen something quite like this for a while. To me, it sounds like a throwback to bedroom programmers circa late 1970s. There’s certainly a lot of potential in this for programming enthusiasts, small businesses and even bigger gaming houses, but it is their content that will determine the worthiness of OUYA to its fanbase, the gamers themselves. It’s no good comparing the console to mobile games or apps because it shares the Android’s OS. Mobile and console gaming – in whatever form – are two completely separate things. To try and predict what sort of content will be released on a rootable, dev-friendly console is like trying to predict the next five winning sets of lottery numbers, but it’s the most important thing about this idea. That can be both its blessing and its curse.

 

 

Something that struck me as I was writing this article is the inclusion of a game in the Kickstarter video broadcast that struck me as familiar: Canabalt. I first played this game on Newgrounds, and I spent a good hour or two trying to get as far as possible in what is a very simple premise: run the fuck away.  There are some great games on Newgrounds as it is, and whilst they’d need to be expanded to be a legitimate purchase (or even just a playthrough) on the OUYA console, it’s a bitesize version of what we might come to expect: a digital market full of games, with all of the red tape of publishing handily put to one side.

An oft-cited criticism abounds that the quality of content will nosedive thanks to the sheer amount of resources available, and this argument is not just confined to video games (stand up ebook versus print debate, take a bow). True, a rating system would be welcome in what is essentially the Amazon Kindle of console gaming, but ask yourself this: how many games are in the mass market right now that are all different kinds of rubbish?

 

Early stages

 

Knee-jerk reactions – both positive and negative – are largely redundant. The concept is still yet to be established, and heralding it as the greatest thing to befall console gaming, or trashing it as an expensive way to play low-key games on your TV, is premature.  It is unashamedly open for anyone: a console for games developers, by games developers. It is trying to revive the bedroom developer tradition. It might even act as a platform for teaching others how to code video games. First of all, it needs to succeed commercially.

“An open game console that gives independent game developers the flexibility to experiment with their games and business models on the TV, is something that’s long overdue,” says David Edery, one of the many developers quoted on the site. However, it is the quality of these experiments that will determine the commercial viability of this admirable, yet ambitious, project.

Original Sources: OUYA.tv; BBC News: OUYA game console smashes funding target; Kotaku: Ouya’s Ridiculously Successful Kickstarter Ends With Millions In The Bank; Kickstarter: OUYA: A New Kind Of Video Game Console; Wikipedia: Ouya; Newgrounds: Canabalt

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