A few days ago a co-worker sent me a story about the OUYA. Don’t know what the OUYA is? I didn’t either.
That’s okay because the OUYA doesn’t actually exist yet. It is a prototype console that has been developed by Julie Uhrman and Yves Behar (of One Laptop per Child fame) and their respective teams. They recently launched a Kickstarter project, with a goal of receiving $950,000 for investigating mass production of the OUYA. After just a few days, the project has almost 38,000 backers, pitching in for a grand total of $4.9 million at the time of this writing. Needless to say, there is some interest in the device.
So why is OUYA cool?
- Old School TV Console – With so much emphasis on social and mobile gaming in the last couple of years and the aging of next-gen consoles, the prospect of gaming returning to the TV is highly appealing.
- The device is open – This means that anyone can sit down at their computer and write applications (read: games) for the machine all and be required to pay the $0 in licensing costs. This is a great boon for developers as the licensing costs of other consoles can be crippling to any but the largest developers. I couldn’t just sit down and start writing the next killer title for my XBox 360; but I can for the OUYA.
- Powered by Android – All of the programmers familiar with Android architecture will get a jump-start in their abilities for the OUYA. I also wonder if this means that many games available on Android phones will be either immediately available or easily portable.
- Hackable – The OUYA is being designed to be hackable, in the sense that anyone with a screwdriver can open it up and poke around with the hardware. And it won’t void the warranty.
- Game Trial Heaven – Players will be able to try any game on the OUYA before they fork over money for it.
- Twitch.tv – The console allows you easy access to Twitch.tv’s channels. Watching Starcraft 2 matches is something that I do regularly, so this is definitely something that I’ll take advantage of.
- Price Point: $99 – The unit and a single controller will cost less than $100. That’s about the cost of 20 sandwiches. Or about 26 sandwiches if you get an extra controller (+$30).
What might go wrong?
- Marketplace Quagmire – It’s possible that the OUYA’s marketplace will be inundated with crappy or barely playable games, hurting the console’s reputation as a serious gaming platform. This discourages gamers from picking up the system and developers from building games on it. The openness of the marketplace is definitely a double-edged sword.
- Limited Units – The Kickstarter project is only for the first 83,000 or so units. Which, while it may sound like a lot, is rather small compared to the aging XBox 360’s 257,000 units in June 2012 alone. It remains to be seen if the groups behind OUYA can make it profitable at $99 and get the appropriate infrastructure in place to manufacture units to meet the demand.
- Limited Penetration – I doubt that the OUYA team will have much money for advertising and this will ultimately hurt the unit’s market penetration. While I don’t consciously decide what to buy based on what’s popular, this phenomenon causes other problems. For instance, will it be a pain in the butt to buy a replacement controller if the one that ships with the console breaks? I can go to the local Best Buy and choose among several XBox 360 controllers, but I doubt that will be the case with the OUYA.
- Short Timeframe – The team wants to ship the units early in 2013. That’s about 9 months from right now. I’m concerned that the production will be delayed or, even worse, corners will be cut (not literally) and the product’s quality will suffer because of it.
- Next Generation Threat – While the PS3 and XBox 360 are showing their age I doubt that Microsoft and Sony are sitting on their hands. The sheer advertising resources of either company could steal the thunder of the OUYA.
- Lack of AAA Titles – I doubt that many of the AAA titles will be ported to the OUYA. The majority of the Skyrims out there will go to the more established consoles, leaving the OUYA with a collection of indie games and a different market entirely.
- Modest hardware – The hardware inside is a bargain for $99, but it isn’t hugely impressive in terms of raw processing power or RAM (1 GB), or storage (8 GB). The plus side is that you can open it up and add in upgraded equipment.
Overall, I’m excited about the project and am intrigued to see how it ends up. I think that even if the device isn’t enormously successful commercially, it will prove that there’s a niche market for gaming enthusiasts who want to poke and prod their console, develop their own games, or even build their own controllers from whatever happens to be in their pockets MacGyver style. Philosophically, I believe that the console is a step in the right direction and I hope that it succeeds.