OUYA The $99 Console of The People
The next generation just got more interesting and unpredictable with the announcement of Ouya, an Android based console that costs just $99, features a library of free-to-play games and hands over a development kit to everyone who buys the hardware But do a few unanswered questions suggest Ouya is too good to be true?
Anyone who thinks the next-generation console war will be fought only by Microsoft. Sony and Nintendo. think again The videogames landscape is changing almost beyond recognition, with the likes of Steam, iDS and Facebook all muscling in and redefining how games are played, where they are played, who they’re played by and how much they cost. As a result, the future of the videogames industry is looking more unpredictable than ever before, and anything could and probably will happen. Perhaps the time is right for something totally different to step in and take over.
Games on a TV cost ten t1mes more than they do on other platforms. And we are challenging this
If initial response is anything to go by, that new contender to the console crown could very well be Ouya. It’s not a name that’s as well known as PlayStation or Xbox, but it sure has captured the public’s imagination. After one of the most successful campaigns to ever grace crowdfunding website Kickstarter, Ouya pulled in 63,416 backers, who pledged a combined total of $8,596,475 to ensure that this unusual new console can be released in March 2013.
So what is Ouya and how did it capture the interest, and the credit card details, of so many people? Running on Android-based hardware, Ouya is an open-source games console with a 100 per cent digital distribution platform, where all games feature some sort of free-to-play component and every single unit is also a development kit without an expensive SDK or licensing fees. Oh, and it only costs $99.
“I think there are a number of things that are unique about what we’re doing,” says Julie Uhrman, CEO of Ouya. “First and foremost, we are really challenging the status quo. The games industry is increasingly entrenched in the business of running the business. Games on the television have historically been closed while every other platform is open. Games on a TV cost ten times more than they do on other platforms. And we are challenging this; we are saying that we want an open platform where every game has an element that is free, and it’s affordable and accessible to gamers. That’s why we priced it at $99.”
It’s a rousing argument, at the very least. The idea of paying just $99 about £64 in the Queen’s money and getting a console and an entire library of games is an extremely enticing one. Even as a platform for indie development and publishing, it seems like a bargain, so it’s easy to see why so many people have stumped up the cash on promises alone. And it’s not just ordinary gamers. A wealth of big name developers and publishers have pledged support for Ouya, whether it be through verbal acknowledgement of the console’s strengths, by donating money toward the Kickstarter project. or even confirming games for the platform. When Square Enix announces a launch title for a system, for example, you know this is serious business.
Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment, who also enjoyed huge Kickstarter success with his Wasteland 2 proposal, is one of the biggest supporters of Ouya and attributes the console’s excited reception to its open nature. “The television is the last screen that smaller developers have essentially been locked out of,” he says. “There has been wonderful innovation on PC and iDS, but while the console games are truly amazing in scope and fidelity, there has not been creativity like we have seen in the other formats. This is all part of a bigger movement of democratising creativity and allowing us to connect with our gamers. It is officially exciting to be in the games business again.”
The explosion of indie gaming in the past five years has, as Fargo suggests, brought new life into open platforms like PC and mobile. But consoles have yet to enjoy the same level of creativity. WiiWare got off to a good start but ultimately fizzled out as developers struggled to get a licence from Nintendo, while Microsoft’s Xbox Indie Games programme failed to give games the limelight they deserved by burying them right at the bottom of its Xbox Live Marketplace. Ouya, if handled correctly, could level the playing field and bring truly creative indie games to the TV screen. And though Ouya has Android hardware and Nvidia’s ubiquitous Tegra 3 processor at its core, Uhrman assures us that the console will be about more than just ports of existing mobile games. “We believe that new, exciting, creative games will be brought to Ouya that not only want to leverage the television screen with the HD graphics and surround sound but also with our controller, which is unique in that it has traditional controls as well as the touch pad,” she confidently asserts.
Indeed. of the first few games to be confirmed for Ouya. the majority are console-style games Final Fantasy Ill may be a port of the remake that first appeared on the OS before going to iOS, Android and PSP, but its original incarnation was on the Famicom. The Ouya port, remarkably, is the first time the English-language version of the classic RPG has appeared on a TV screen, where it belongs. Likewise, Ouya’s first exclusive game, an episodic prequel to Human Element, the forthcoming survival horror game from ex-Call Of Duty dev Robert Bowling, is another example of a console-style release. Offensive Combat, a multi player shooter from the ex-Activision team at U4iA Games. is the sort of experience that works best with a controller, a big HD screen and a stable internet connection. That connection and controller have also allowed On live to step in and pledge day one support for Ouya. With Onlive streaming big-name PC games through its subscription service, the console also gets genuine, high-quality, next-gen titles to sit right next to its catalogue of indie games.
But for anyone who is paying attention, this initially exciting line-up of launch titles poses one big problem: a lack of true exclusives. Final Fantasy III is a port of a six-year-old remake of a 22-year-old game. Offensive Combat is also in development for desktop web browsers. Onlive is available on plenty of other systems and only offers games that already exist on multiple formats. Andeven Robert Bowling’s game, while exclusive, is a low-risk series that ties in to a bigger game that isn’t currently announced for Ouya.
Does Ouya have what it takes to attract a high number of exclusive games and does it actually need exclusives? Opinions are mixed, to say the least. “What is Ouya, to be honest?” asks Markus Kassulke, CEO of HandyGames, one of the first developers to pledge support. “It’s an Android controlled with a game pad. It’s nothing special like the Wii, which came out with a special mechanic. I think they don’t need exclusives at this moment. They have support because people want to play games they know on the TV or games that are in the app store at the timeframe of launch.”
Robert Bowling believes otherwise. “We’re at a state in our industry where we’re hungry for new IPs, yet we continue to focus on extending our existing properties to the point of exhaustion.” he argues. “We do this because it’s simply too risky and expensive to devote millions of dollars to a property that could fail to connect with players. Ouya is taking a lot of that risk off the table by allowing us to build innovative experiences without betting the farm on it and release it easily and cost-effectively for an indie budget to a super-dedicated audience of early adopters. An opportunity to me, that is pricelessly beneficial.”
“Ouya will have exclusives by virtue of it being an open platform at a great price point.” says Mark Kern, former World Of Ware raft designer and a top-tier backer of Ouya on Kickstarter. “Many titles will start on Ouya by independent devs and then trickle onto other platforms. Ouya has turned the model on its head.”