Editorial: Ouya Will Actually Be Released, but Can It Survive?

The solution to piracy is easy, just do not have any games people want to play!
Ouya: The Hacker-Friendly Console

Nine months and nearly nine million dollars worth of pledges later, the Ouya console has a release date. Kickstarter backers had their consoles shipped out last week, while everybody else will have to wait until June. Ouya’s developers have made it clear that their goal is to upend the home console market. An extremely lofty goal, especially when the Ouya represents a photo-negative of what the console gamers are used to. The Ouya will have a low one hundred-dollar price tag, however it enters a home console market that is preparing for two huge releases from Sony and Microsoft.

At its core, the Ouya represents a high-end Android tablet sans the screen. It is powered by the quad-core NVIDIA Tegra3 processor, a powerful CPU/GPU hybrid. This processor, along with one gigabyte of RAM is housed inside a tiny box the utilizes a HDMI port as its method of connecting to a TV. The biggest feature of the Ouya is that each console also serves as a dev kit. That means that everybody who owns the console can develop games for it. Besides being a developer-friendly console, the creators have deemed the Ouya to be friendly to hackers as well. Software hackers will find that the console is easy to root, while hardware hackers will discover it is easy to disassemble.

These features are quite nice, but a console needs games in order for it to sell. With just north of one hundred launch titles confirmed, Ouya will have the quantity for sure, however quality is a different beast. A quick breeze through the list, and I am hard pressed to find even one game to justify the purchase of the console. Most games were developed initially for touchscreen phones and tablets, because of this, they lack depth to their gameplay mechanics that a console gamer would expect. To further compound issues with the library of games, it would appear that not all Android titles will be ready to play on the console. It would seem that a bit of extra development is required for the Ouya to play titles that were initially developed for Android smartphones/tablets. While I assume that the process is not too painful, it means that many titles on Google Play will not hit the Ouya. App updates for ported games could also be hindered because of the potential for additional development.

While Ouya will be the first home console release this year, it is easy to gaze forward and see a rocky road a head for the little box. Not only do Microsoft and Sony have their next-gen hardware coming out, but NVIDIA’s Project Shield and Valve’s Steambox have also been confirmed for this year. Both of these other newbies to the market will undoubtedly be more expensive the Ouya, but they also seem to target home gamers much more directly. While Project Shield is closer to a handheld console and the Steambox will not have Android support, both consoles will be looking to steal the Ouya’s thunder

Both Project Shield and the Steambox project to be more expensive than the Ouya. They also project to offer an experience more in line to what console gamers are accustomed to.
It will not be just Sony and Microsoft the Ouya will square off against.

Utilizing a Tegra4 CPU, Project Shield will have a huge boost in graphical prowess over the Ouya. Project Shield will also feature a more traditional Android ROM than the Ouya, allowing it to run most apps without needing to be converted. The big selling point for Project Shield will be for the PC gamers that have a NVIDIA 600 series graphics card, as any self-respecting PC gamer should. Using the graphics card and a Wi-Fi connection, it will be possible to stream PC games directly to Project Shield, making it so that even bathroom breaks will not hinder my progress in a game. While the streaming only works when the console is on the same network as the PC, not having to be confined to my desk while gaming is always a good thing.

Although little is known about the Steambox, it is the upcoming console that should at least put a bit of fear into the big console makers. Steambox will allow gamers to play their entire Steam collection on a TV, all while using a box not much bigger than the Ouya. This is the same Steam that frequently discounts games to obscene levels(ten dollars for Hitman: Absolution to give one example). Besides the fact that Valve is one of the last good gaming companies out there, their rivals should be weary of the Steambox because it will feature many of the same titles that will be on the home consoles. Steambox could represent a a true competitor when it comes to the home console market, albeit at a higher price than its competitors.

The Ouya faces some stiff competition in the living room. The biggest hurdle Ouya will need to overcome is to prove that it is more than an Android tablet hooked up to a TV. Ouya exclusive games can help, but they will need to be more in line with current console games rather than Android games. The biggest question is what market does the Ouya truly appeal to? The console crowd is routinely spoiled with huge budget AAA titles, while the casual crowd would rather play touch or motion controlled versions of games. While one hundred dollars is dirt cheap for a console, I suspect many console gamers would prefer that money be spent on the next big release.

The Ouya’s best features could also be the features that lead to its downfall. A low price is great, however it also means that each yearly release for the console will only be to meet the current technology standard. Also, every console serving as a dev kit could quickly lead to the Ouya’s store being overrun with shit. The Ouya is a strange little console with a stranger name. If properly executed it could be successful, although not to the levels the creators believe it will be. However, the more likely scenario is that it quickly becomes an afterthought, a lesson to the more than sixty thousand Kickstarter backers.

12 comments

  1. I don’t think I have anything more to add to this. You have pretty much outlined this perfectly as to the problems of the Ouya and the possibilities.

    I would love to see an end to the Big 3 thinking that they have a lock on the console market but is the Ouya it? I am skeptical.

  2. I’m a bit beyond skeptical about this console. In fact, if anything in that second screenshot in the article actually survives I’ll be shocked.

  3. As the resident naive optimist, I have to say I am hopeful. Whereas previous consoles couldn’t have survived on a marketing plan like the Ouya’s, with the rise in Indie game appreciation and Indie developers I have to wonder if it might stand a chance.

  4. Hmm. I didn’t know we already had a resident naive optimist. What the hell was I hired for then!?

    I think the Steam Box will be big. I don’t think you should be shocked if it survives, Mel.

    I like the idea of a friendly and cheap console but just like Mr. Pagel said, what exactly is the primary appeal or primary target audience? It’s basically for people who like Ipad games but want to play them on their TV? Does that audience exist in large numbers?

  5. Man playing tablet games on your tv, don’t you have something better to do? So far I haven’t seen screenshots of how these games look on a big screen. Honestly, the whole concept sounds like the pinnacle of dorkiness and bad taste. Although that has no predictive bearing on its success nowadays.

  6. Why would anyone want to play cell-phone mobile games blown up onto a 42″+ screen?

    Those games are fun for about five minutes. They are meant to distract from one’s bus ride. How sad must one’s home life be if Ouya-style games are preferable?

  7. @Jahan: I really don’t think the “Steambox”, actually the “Piston” (Valve has since distanced itself from the project), is going to do so well. I say this principally because the damned thing costs $1000 at the base price. Who is that priced for??

    The Snapintoaslimjim OUYA is priced much better, but does ANYONE outside the truly gaming industry literate know about it? I’m betting not enough do. I think it could be a cute hobby machine, but I don’t expect it to content with the mainstays.

    And the Nvidia Shield thing is “Hi-end handheld that plays console/PC games or graphically similar games Attempt #156”. No one wants to play Bioshock Infinite on the train. When will the would be handheld makers realize that every console with the higher specs has sold WORSE than the competition with the lower specs?

  8. I’m having a hard time saying something without being offensive to someone who maybe, possibly thinks Ouya is a good idea. Every imaginary scenario of a person playing cell phone games on their tv bothers me heavily. Like if there was a dad who needed to get some time to himself from the family… so he buys a console to play cell phone games on the tv?? How hurt and offended would his wife and kids feel to find that out? Or a kid who busts out the Ouya when his friend comes over? I mean, I have sympathy with dorks, but this goes over the line like furries and steampunk mermaids. This is just the lamest.

  9. Many people are looking at the Ouya for what it currently is and not what it could be. The console can work as it’s own dev kit so anything that WILL run on the machine can be developed for the machine. Don’t discount it for what it is but look at the hard tech specs and what they are capable of doing.

    While I don’t feel excited I am willing to play the wait and see approach with this machine. Give it one year; if it hasn’t gotten it’s act together by then I think it would be safe to say that it’s beyond redemption.

    Don’t be so quick to shout down competition without giving it a chance to prove it’s self. This is why there is a lock on the console market already. Rabid fanboys (and girls) defend to their dying breath the console they chose and shout down anything different. You have to be receptive to change and realize that progress cannot be made without trying new stuff every now and again.

    Saying that it’s like playing cell phone games on a big screen is a straw man and you should be ashamed. Give it time to get developers behind it first- encourage them to develop for this system.

  10. That would be great if it was an alternative development platform for independent and experimental games. There are lots of them out there. Do you need to buy an Ouya to play them…? The best possible outcome I can see for this console-as-devkit is if makes it easier for more people to develop games than usual, but take this metaphor: it would be to games what FruityLoops is to electronic music. Yes it’s easy, and not mainstream, but who ultimately want it? Hobbyists? Then it should stay in their public awareness arena for now, while they work on it, enjoy it, and it becomes their cool thing. Like Cubase or Reason is to electronic music. The cellphones-on-your-tv was the first impression I individually got from this, and nothing has diminished that. We can hope for possibilities all we want by a “crowdsourced alternative console,” but who else are you really expecting to come out of the woodwork to produce for this thing? Like, if 2 or 3 people can get together and produce Cthulu Saves The World or Anodyne or whatever without being diminished by the systems set in place, because they knew they had to produce a game of some quality to be noticed if for no other reason, what do you practically, not hopefully think would happen with this? I don’t mean to be pessimist, but trying to think about this, and if I’m wrong then for heaven’s sake, great. I just see it being a new medium for shovelware. Like a damn Wii without Nintendo games.

    Sorry for the run-on paragraph of sub-Joycean quality. I don’t know where to indent that.

  11. @Matt Dance You have pretty much pummeled the nail on the head.

    The chances are MUCH greater that each console serving as a dev kit bites the Ouya in the ass rather than bringing a new age of console gaming. Actually much is an understatement. If the Ouya ends up being the harbinger of a new age, it will be against all odds. The bigger the success the Ouya sees, the more polluted it will be with shovelware because every dickhead who owns the console will want to create a game.

  12. Thanks, James. I wasn’t sure if my comment made sense or was a product of sickness and robotussin. Probably both. BUT you make a great point that success could make it worse.

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