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
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.