The Exciting, Risky OUYA Kickstarter

I suppose I’m on a bit of a Kickstarter “kick” (har har) lately, but that’s mostly a good thing. After the extremely prominent (and successful) Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter earlier this year, crowdfunding has really blown up in a huge way, giving indies a solid platform for promotion and fundraising. It’s no surprise that pretty much everyone and their dog has attempted a Kickstarter after Double Fine made over three million dollars simply by asking for it, but at least the ideas are out there, even if not all of them are good.

I never thought I’d see any Kickstarter shatter the records set by Double Fine, but with almost $4.5 million in pledges with 26 days to go, the OUYA Kickstarter is truly something else. If anything, it shows that the current long console generation has people desperate for a new console, despite the fact that the OUYA is far from a traditional video game box. At a suggested retail price of $99, the thing is incredibly affordable, being less expensive than the freaking cell phone I just bought. Their console and controller prototypes are damn sexy, with the console itself taking cues from the Wii’s sleek, compact design, while the controller itself is a typical, 360-like gamepad. The latter will reportedly have an additional touch-screen interface that should make porting Android mobile games a breeze, something that the OUYA developers are banking on in terms of attracting developer support. Finally, the console is meant to be 100% digital download (yep, no disc tray) and fully hackable. The former is a good move in this day and age, and in that respect, the console could succeed where the PSP Go failed; the latter, however, is a huge risk.

To be honest, most of the stuff surrounding the console seems risky. While I’m excited by the prospect of a new, niche console and may even buy one if the team delivers on their promises, I do have a number of concerns. First and foremost is that, as Kotaku pointed out, you can’t throw a stone in hell without hitting the corpse of a dead console. Because my interest in the video game industry only really took off at the turn of the century, I’m most familiar with the Nokia N-Gage (felled by a lackluster mobile gaming scene at the time, and sidetalkin’, of course), the Gizmondo (felled by corporate scandal), and the Phantom (felled by financial mismanagement). But given the kind of high-profile media attention the OUYA has been receiving this past week, I think marketing won’t be the issue here that it was for the Gizmondo and the Phantom, both of which mostly languished in obscurity from the moment they were announced.

I understand that the notion of an “open console” will be of particular interest to homebrew aficionados, but let’s be perfectly honest: it’s gonna attract the pirates more than anything. Up until now, pirating games has been way tougher on a console than on a PC, which could be part of the reason why the PC market was left for dead from 1999 to roughly 2007. For a studio that can’t take absorb the revenue lost from PC pirating, a console release is an undoubtedly safer path. How many developers take the risk of designing a game from the ground-up for an unproven console with such potential for rampant piracy? My guess is not many, which is why most of the developer opinions we’ve seen so far are supportive, but noncommital from a business standpoint.

Of course, the ultimate question is whether there will be any games worth playing on the OUYA. Being an Android console, it’s highly likely that we’ll see tons of mobile game ports, of which the Android Market has very few that approach AAA quality. It’s being marketed as a console for indie developers, but to truly be that console, it has to give indie developers a better platform than Steam, which is…unlikely. For all the flak Xbox Live Indie Games has been receiving lately about being a terrible platform for indies, Steam has been collecting accolades left, right, and centre, and the upcoming Steam Greenlight feature looks to only improve the marketing experience for the indie developer. The system’s kind-of-underpowered Tegra 3 chip ensures that we’ll never see graphics-intensive blockbusters like Mass Effect or Skyrim on the console, but it’s certainly powerful enough to run stuff like Braid or Minecraft. The OUYA has the potential to be a great console for indies, but it’s going to have to draw developers away from Steam first. As a consumer, they’ll have to draw me away from Steam too, which will be no small feat given how much I love the service. Their promise of “all games will be free-to-play in some form” is misleading, since apparently having a demo satisfies this requirement. The mobile model of having an ad-supported “free” version and a fully paid, non-ad-supported version might be a tougher sell to the console crowd; ditto for the PC-centric free-to-play with microtransactions model. Although, as we’ve seen from the Kickstarter, consumer demand may not be that much of an issue.

I’m interested to see where this whole thing goes. Now that some of the initial fervor has subsided, some are critical of the OUYA, like the Penny Arcade Report’s Ben Kuchera (read his scathing report here). I remain intrigued by this strange upstart console, and if this thing actually ends up carving out a comfortable niche for itself (I highly doubt it will compete directly with the Big Three), I might buy one. But I’ve got to see some great Android games for it first. Playing Angry Birds ports on my TV ain’t gonna cut it; they’ve got to be new games on the level of Super Meat Boy, Limbo, or Bastion, and they’ve got to be Android exclusive. There can’t be a reason for me to play them on Steam or my iPhone, because I will invariably play them there instead (Steam if I want to get them cheap and play them in HD, iPhone if it demands a touch-screen interface, like Angry Birds or Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery). So I’ll remain slightly skeptical for now, if optimistic, because I’d love to see the OUYA succeed.

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5 thoughts on “The Exciting, Risky OUYA Kickstarter

  1. I could be wrong, but as of this moment it looks like a lot of promises without any real guarantees set in stone. I think the main reason for this success is not only the desire for an Indie focused piece of hardware, but the delayed hardware announcements from Sony/Microsoft.

    I think people are throwing their money at a pipe dream or the “pie in the sky”. I fully support new and innovative technology, however I don’t support promises and very vague references to what they are going to deliver. Also, for a group of people that have never released a console they are making some very tough promises. Like their release date for example, they barely have a supposedly working prototype, and they want to release approximately in one year? I was also very turned off by the fact they literally stated Minecraft WOULD ship with their product, then Notch himself tweeted that there was no such agreement. I understand they are trying to build momentum, but straight out misleading your audience is wrong and very dangerous.

    All in all, they have a lot to deliver on. I hope they pull something off for the sake of all the people that threw their hard earned dollars at them. If there is one thing history has taught us about hardware (and what people seem to forget), is that no matter how awesome-o your hardware is, if you release with bad or nonexistent software…… you will fail and join the lengthy list of failed hardware.

    Good article by the way.

    • I agree on all points. One of the most off-putting things about the Kickstarter were the dashboard images showing a hit parade of games (Minecraft included), and then in the fine print we find out that exactly zero of them are confirmed. Makes me wonder if they even got permission to use those games in their mockups.

      And you’re right, people are desperate for a new console. It’s taking Sony and Microsoft far too long to announce their new systems, and the OUYA seems poised to feed off all that pent-up fan restlessness. I’m still curious as to how they plan to make that March release date with only a working prototype. Shouldn’t they have the design finalized by now? They’re gonna have to start manufacturing soon, and given they don’t have the advantage of huge, dedicated factories and warehouses like the Big Three, and hell, even Apple and Google, their hardware production times will probably be slower than expected.

      I still want them to succeed, but despite almost $5 million raised on Kickstarter by this point, the reality of hardware production and software agreements will still be an uphill battle for them.

      • They definitely have a lot of promises to make good on. Assuming all of that works out for them, I will probably never own one because of the fact that they are openly encouraging and designing it to be hacked. That is all well and good, but I am not going to store personal or credit card information on a system or service that is so easy to be hacked. I don’t like to rain on peoples parade but I think once the smoke clears this will be the first major kickstarter failure. It has to come sooner or later given the kickstarter craze.

  2. I’m excited. In a day where the major publishers are always thinking of another way to bend us over the table, I’m all for a platform that shakes things up. Also, I’m sick and tired of being asked to re-purchase every game I own if I want to play them on my HD television. Once is enough, thanks. I look forward to emulating the classics (that I own) with Ouya.

    • Oh yeah, I imagine OUYA will be a big hit with the emulation crowd. All those homebrew guys who do HD remasters of last gen/Wii games will finally have a console to safely practice their work on, without fear of an update bricking their console.

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