Editorial: The False Savior of Console Gaming

I don't remember learning about OUYA Christ in any church.
This is not the savior I was promised.

Nintendo made headlines last week when it revealed the pathetic sales numbers the Wii U had last quarter, but they are not the only company with a struggling console. The first thirty days have not been easy for the OUYA. Nobody with a tenth of a brain expected the OUYA to post sales numbers similar to the Wii U, but it is not a good omen that OUYA, Inc. has been reluctant to announce any sales figures for the Android console. If the console was exploding off the shelves, OUYA, Inc. CEO Julie Uhrman would be plastered on every gaming website making wild claims about a revolution beginning. Instead, her company is trying to spin low sales numbers as being better than expected.

The big reason for the console’s slow sales stem from the company’s record-setting Kickstarter campaign. Nearly nine million dollars from over sixty thousand backers helped make the OUYA a reality, but the heavy exposure for the campaign acted as a curse in disguise. While tens of thousands of people pledged enough to guarantee one of the initial units, it harmed the launch as most of the potential buyers had already purchased their console. Using the numbers listed on the Kickstarter campaign, a mere five thousand backers did not receive a console as a result of supporting campaign. Just over eight percent of the OUYA’s supporters had any reason to run to a store to purchase the console once it released.

Even with the millions that Kickstarter brought the company, the OUYA’s release was anything but smooth. A shipping delay caused many backers to not receive their consoles before the street date, something that was promised as a reward for supporting the Kickstarter. Once the console actually arrived to their door, many people were disappointed by other problems that plagued the little box. Missing controllers, long firmware updates, and a lack of promised features out of the box are a few things that frustrated the early adopters. On the positive side, the purchasers that found their console was shipped without controllers did not have to experience how terrible the official OUYA controllers are. Thankfully, the OUYA allows gamers to use controllers from the 360 and the PS3, so nobody should have to deal with the pile of shit that shipped with (most of) the consoles.

TowerFall Screenshot 1
The OUYA’s killer app has only generated $21,000 in sales

Botched launches and hardware issues are disappointing, but nothing like the current lineup of OUYA games. The selection of games is so terrible that as of the end of July, only a fourth of OUYA users had spent any money on software for the console. TowerFall, the game that has generated the most revenue on OUYA, sits around twenty-one thousand dollars generated. Based on TowerFall‘s price of fifteen dollars, only around fourteen hundred people have actually purchased a title that has been heralded as OUYA’s killer app. Despite these numbers, Julie Uhrman has said that the OUYA’s game sales are going better than expected, which makes me wonder how low they set the bar. Part of the issue is OUYA’s mandated free-to-try model. Every OUYA game must have a demo to allow gamers the chance to try the title before they plop down any money. While this model is a great idea, it does have its drawbacks, especially if the majority of the titles on the console are crap (as appears to be the case).

The OUYA’s open nature is proving to be a hindrance for the console. With OUYA, Inc. stating that neither rooting nor modifying the OUYA’s hardware will void the consoles warranty, hackers can run free with little fear of repercussions. While it is great that the designers have promoted the openness of OUYA, it is this same openness that is stalling the sales of the OUYA’s games. Piracy is a problem on any platform, but Android users have quite an easy path to installing pirated software on their devices. Many times it is as simple as downloading a APK file from a website and sideloading it. The OUYA’s firmware allows this as well, even allowing apps that are not found on OUYA’s store to be installed on the device. Of course, just because an app can be installed on OUYA does not mean it will work flawlessly on the console.

While it is much too early to deem the OUYA a complete failure, it is not looking pretty. OUYA, Inc. is attempting to right the ship, their “Free the Games Fund” will donate to Kickstarter projects from developers that agree to keep their games exclusive to the OUYA for at least six months. Unlike Nintendo, the OUYA can not fallback on well-known exclusives and instead has to hope their growing developer pool can put out appealing games. Unfortunately, as I said back in April, letting anybody develop for the console is not a great idea. Just one month after launch and the OUYA Store is already flooded with crap content. With over twenty thousand registered developers, I expect the crap to keep flowing. Despite all these missteps, there is one thing the OUYA does better than any other home console, it is a fantastic device for emulators.

2 comments

  1. The required demo thing is a big deal. It’s amazing for gamers because we can be more choosy about our purchases, but it almost always harms game developers and publishers. The only case where it helps them is if the demo is great but the game sucks, which is really difficult to pull off. Extra Credits did a video about this a while back that was very informative.

  2. Poor, poor OUYA. And poor, poor Chris Privitere. Hahaha. The idea of keeping it open and modifiable is a nice one but if I were them, I wouldn’t allow that stuff to keep their warranty intact. I’m not really sure how I feel about the OUYA. It sounds like it could be something fun for a specific audience but it also sounds stupid to me at the same time. The whole idea of people playing Android games with a controller and on their TV seems to clash with the type of audience that plays phone games in the first place. But then, 60,000 people funded it so I don’t know what’s going on. I just don’t want it to become so popular that (EVEN) more console game developers start focusing their attention on mobile games.

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