OUYA: The revolution?

Posted July 12, 2012 by Paul Walker in Editorial

A new console going by the name of “OUYA” has started to attract some attention after its Kickstarter campaign raised over $2.5 Million in little more than 48 Hours. Having already smashed the original funding target of $950,000, it will be interesting to see how the funding campaign develops over the remaining 28 days. But what exactly is OUYA? And should we even care?

Billed as an open-source games console, OUYA’s developers claim that the console will make games less expensive to make and, more importantly for us gamers, less expensive to buy.  OUYA’s games will be download only and will all contain a free-to-play element – this could simply take the form of XBOX Live style trial versions, but may also include micro-transactions and subscription models.

The console itself looks like a slick silver version of the Nintendo Gamecube and while I’m no tech-spec expert, it seems that the power held underneath that silver exterior is fairly respectable. OUYA comes packaged with a controller equipped with all the standard trappings – dual analogue sticks, a d-pad and eight action buttons, plus the addition of a touch pad. Presumably the inclusion of a touch pad reflects the fact that OUYA runs on Android 4, with the idea being that this will appeal to mobile developers who either want to port existing games, or try something new with OUYA using the knowledge of Android they already have.

But it’s not just mobile developers OUYA is aiming for. The console itself functions as a development kit, so theoretically, anyone can develop their own games at home. When you also consider that the people behind OUYA are saying that they are willing to give people specs for the hardware design and that hacking the console will not void the warranty, it’s clear that the console’s developers are keen to push OUYA’s indie credentials. Whether or not indie developers will embrace the hardware remains to be seen.

All in all, OUYA’s approach is in interesting one, but can they find success in a market which is notoriously difficult to break into? Pricing the console at a reasonable $99 (just over £60) is the right start – with OUYA costing little more than a copy of a brand new AAA game, OUYA might just convince enough gamers that it’s worth a punt.  It’s no secret that the digital download market has yet to be fully embraced by the likes of Sony and Microsoft; OUYA might just prove capable of filling that gap. In any case, with the digital market likely to play a much bigger role in Sony and Mircrosoft’s next-generation offerings, both companies will be following the fortunes of OUYA closely.

OUYA is console that seems caught in the middle-ground in some respects and this could be the root of its success, or its failure. On the one hand OUYA seems to be pitched towards small companies developing for mobile platforms, but there seems little reason why these developers, or indeed gamers, would want to see their games on a home console. From a developer’s point of view, the install base of OUYA is never going to complete with the likes of Apple and from a gamers perspective, mobile games work perfectly well on mobile devices. Indeed, the whole point of mobile games is that they are perfect for those times when you’re, well…mobile. On the other hand, OUYA’s developers claim that OUYA is not just about supporting small titles; they claim that the console can support AAA games as well. Perhaps OUYA is technically capable of running AAA games, but these games costs millions to produce and again, when you consider that OUYA is likely to have a very modest install base at best, the numbers just don’t add up.

If OUYA is to have any success it has to offer something that nobody else can – this means games that fall somewhere in between big AAA productions and small indie titles, games developed by companies that don’t have the resources to make big blockbusters, but who want to offer something with more depth than you tend to find in mobile gaming. There are games like this, made by companies such as Doublefine. These mid-card games have been squeezed out of the retail market in recent years and now make their home on XBOXLive or PSN when they can. Yet, there is so much more potential for growth when it comes to these kind of mid-card experiences, particularly in an age in which every failed AAA title seems to lead to a studio going bust. In my mind, OUYA can only be successful if it can foster the growth of an affordable mid-card market, a market which is complemented by, but is not reliant on, a healthy roster of cheap indie titles.

As to whether OUYA can really be a success, I have my doubts. Ultimately, I think the challenge of fending off competition from a growing mobile market and the AAA console big boys will prove a step too far. If the early days of OUYA’s Kickstarter campaign are anything to go by, there are plenty of people who disagree with me; only time will tell. Whatever the outcome, OUYA has certainly caught my attention and I will follow its progress with intrigue.


About the Author

Paul Walker

PKD aficionado, Slavoj Žižek enthusiast, Arsenal Fan and gamer. The last racing game I enjoyed was Carmageddon, because you didn't have to race.