Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Oh, Yeah – The OUYA!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 11, 2012

It’s a new kind of video game console. Now the fastest-funding Kickstarter yet. And on track to possibly become the highest-earning Kickstarter project. Though since most of the Kickstarter donations are actually more pre-orders for the console, this may not be quite as impressive as it sounds. But still… two million dollars in 24 hours is pretty frickin’ amazing.

(And yes, I’m a backer… Here’s hoping I don’t regret it…)

So what’s the big deal, anyway? It’s a console. It’s a console in a world of consoles. Apparently I didn’t get the memo that console gaming was dead, but even after three years out of that side of the biz, it’s clear that it’s kind of on the rocks. So why the heck are they launching yet another console – and one that will obviously be woefully underpowered with the next-generation consoles? (Well, okay, maybe not compared to Nintendo, but we’ll see).

It’s basically an open game console that also acts as a gaming portal. The console manufacturer takes its cut of the sales, just like Apple does with its app store, or Microsoft does with XBLIG. Since it’s basically running on the Android O.S., it’s even something that can be ported from portable devices. At it’s core, it is basically a high-end Android tablet with a cool controller that plugs into your TV instead of having its own screen.

So technologically, it’s pretty simple. The business model is familiar. I’ve seen this kind of thing (maybe not with the app store concept) launch and fail several times during the mid-late 90s, and as recently as the vaporware ND handheld. The big difference here from some of the past failures  is the number and quality of games industry vets that are involved or supporting the project. Individually, several of these folks do have track records in the biz to give them some credence.

Their take is this: If you ignore things like XBLIG (which Microsoft seems pretty content to ignore most weeks, anyway), the existing consoles are still very closed platforms and very expensive to make games for. Not only the indies, but a lot of publishers are jumping onto doing games for mobile devices because the games are much cheaper to make (thus less risky), and the platform is becoming ubiquitous.  So… why not make a living room console that is as easy to develop for as the mobile devices, is pretty wide open for indies and hackers, yet still capable of producing high-def, modern(ish) 3D games (at least by current-gen console standards)?

The other “trick” is that every game available on the system must have a free-to-play component. Which includes good ol’ fashioned game demos that can be unlocked.  Not a problem for the majority of indies.

So it’s a game platform that is easy to make / port games on, where consumers have “free games!” at their fingertips. I’d assume the market is pretty crowded with consoles already, especially with rumors of next-gen systems on the horizon. But as of this point, they’ve effectively got over 20,0000 pre-orders for the console through Kickstarter, which isn’t too shabby. Especially for a system almost nobody had heard of on Monday.

It’s too early to say that this will truly be a viable market opportunity for indies on release, but by the time there are guarantees, a platform is usually already saturated.  That’s always the risk developers have to take. I think the question is whether the early Kickstarter hype will be enough to make the platform a success in the long run. Usually a console has to release with some “must-have” exclusive titles to have much of a chance in the marketplace. The Ouya has a potential Minecraft port. Maybe there are more things “in the works” for the system they’ve not announced yet, but there’s definitely a risk that their niche is too narrow.

But I am in love with the concept.  And in the last 24 hours, I’ve gone from being a complete skeptic (“Oh, boy, it’s the Phantom or ND all over again…”) to being hopeful, to pre-ordering a console.

I’m just a little fascinated by how the indie “revolution” has really challenged the established industry over the last few years. When I first began this adventure,  it was all very much an ‘upstart’ concept, and the trick was just figuring out how to survive in the shadow of the big publishers. Now we have Valve crowd-sourcing its indie-game publishing functions, a ‘crowd-funded’ game console that may actually get some real traction, and of course mobile devices (with tons of indie games) eating away at the big console business. Big publishers are even starting to have to play a little bit of defense. These are amazing times.

And my answer to the inevitable question is: Probably, at least Frayed Knights 2. Assuming Unity ports okay for it.

Filed Under: Biz, Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • Charles said,

    I clicked on Remind Me for now. Will see. I don’t even have a TV to plug it into…

  • Dave Myers said,

    It is an interesting concept for sure. I remember the Phantom guys showing our game on their console at the one E3, though, so I’m still a *little* skeptical. 😉

  • Jonathan MacAlpine said,

    My understanding is that Ouya is actually partnering with Unity… Soooo… 😀

    Reference: https://twitter.com/playouya/status/222764652474544128

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Good news on Unity. I’d think it would be a pretty critical component, as it already supports Android and is possibly the most popular third-party engine out there right now.

    If they have the right people in place to make it happen, it has a chance. I don’t mean “has a chance” of not being vaporware – unless they really goofed up on figuring out their costs after Kickstarter’s and Amazon’s cut, I really do expect to see hardware. I mean it might have a chance of being more than a flash-in-the-pan Atari Jaguar. (While 20,000 pre-orders sounds like a lot, the Jaguar was a major failure at more than 10x that many sold…)

  • Charles said,

    Trending bigtime on twitter. This’ll make doublefine look like… something poor.

  • getter77 said,

    There’s a few roughly similar things also working through Kickstarter right now, the Pocket TV having just recently finished. That said, this is the only one aiming for a portal/gaming specific controller of the lot, so time’ll tell. As somebody lacking a tablet and smartphone, it would probably be the best possible way to gain access to the Android gaming library providing everything actually worked out beyond the skepticism.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    $3.2M right now, with 28 days to go… I guess people are going to have high hopes for this thing!

    Not sure I’m hugely convinced really, but then I’ve almost always been a PC gamer, and the only console I really liked was the Megadrive (Genesis for the US!). Even on my android phone, I only have a couple of free games.

    Still, it will be interesting to see how this works out.

  • Xian said,

    I think a lot of the appeal is due to the open nature of the console – many people are getting tired of the Microsoft/Sony/Apple walled gardens. They have stated that it is hacker friendly and that rooting it will not void your warranty. Let’s hope that people use that capability to create rather than plunder.

  • hexagonstar said,

    There they make a new video game console and are so uninspired to give it yet another cheesy name. We do already have enough consoles with cheesy names. Wii and Vita, just to name a few.

  • Xenovore said,

    Dunno, the whole Android thing is offputting; this thing sounds like a glorified smartphone. Will that actually have the power to run the games that I’d want to make/play???

  • Steffen Itterheim said,

    You know, buying into OUYA right now is a little like buying an XBL Indie Game by its (admittedly fancy) description and gallery.

    What killed my respect for OUYA is how it wants to be everything gamers want in it. There are literally no downsides to it. So where’s the catch?

    I think the catch is this, assuming the console does come out and sells several ten thousand units at least:
    * the marketplace will be flooded with crappy apps
    * realistic indies will make very little money back, so there’ll be a lack of even the decent games
    * even well written apps will crash or behave abnormally due to the device being so open (think: PC)
    * multiplayer will suck (no matchmaking, no players)
    * marketplace and therefore content discovery will suck big time (if Apple & Android Stores suck, how can theirs be any better?)
    * it sells only to those who already own a console, which means most devices will settle dust once users realize that the really good content is only available on the established consoles

    I’m impressed only by the marketing they’ve been able to pull off so far. Their words and videos go down like oil. It catches everyone’s attention, and gets gamers excited.

    I wouldn’t be totally surprised if this turns out to be a total scam like Pandora. It just sounds *too good*. There’s got to be some catch, and it’s not going to be a minor one. Or just “one”.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I don’t expect it to be able to go head-to-head against the big boys. But it may have a niche as a “second console” (which was largely a niche occupied by the Wii… so maybe that’s already “taken” right now, I dunno).

    But everything you say is definitely a risk. And I do have a tendency to be a little optimistic about these things. But they do have people on the team who seem to have a clue about what they are doing, which gives me some reason for confidence. I WOULD be surprised if this was a scam, because the people involved have not-insignificant professional reputations on the line.

    I *could* see some reasons for failure for technical reasons – they botch the hardware or the software (or both), rendering the box prone to glitches or the app store / matchmaking prone to errors. The latter would, of course, be easier to recover from.

    But by far, the biggest risk factor – at least out of the gate – is not enough market penetration. I do expect to see a box, and see it work as advertised (I don’t expect them to promote it’s weaknesses during their market pitch). If they have a low market penetration (< 100,000 sales) and their users turn out to be pretty low-end customers (no more than $2.99 a game or something like that), then neither developers nor the company itself will continue to support it for long. But if they sell 10x (or more) at or near launch of what they currently have in pre-orders, then I think it may have a chance as a niche console.

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  • Greg Squire said,

    I agree that the “jury is still out” on the success of the OUYA. However it does hold a lot of promise and what they are claiming is in the realm of possibility. The appstore model they will be using is essentially the same one that Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are using. I’m sure that their store will get flooded with tons of crap games, but again that’s no different from Apple’s or Google’s right now. They might be able to do better than the other appstores if they can enhance the discovery element of the store. The idea being that the best games rise to the top and the crap games stay at the bottom.

    The hardware they describe could be manufactured that cheaply. Also it’s $99 for the kickstarter, but I don’t think they said it will be $99 regular retail as well (it might be more than that once they get to that point). Also with the kickstarter at nearly $5 million it shows there’s already demand for this type of console.

    I’m a backer now, but one beef I do have is that the console will only have 8 Gb of internal storage. That might be enough for small mobile games, but this is a console and that amount seems like it would hold many AAA like titles. It seems you’d have to pair it with an external drive to be useful and that would use up the one USB port. It would be nice to have more USB ports for expansion and a larger internal storage perhaps.