Oh Yeah, OUYA?

Not a day goes by without another Kickstarter campaign poised to change gaming. Promises on the crowdsourcing platform are usually pretty big but OUYA delivers some whoppers. It’s a unified Android-based console, open to developers of all shapes and sizes. Best of all, you can have this revolution for just $99. Can it really compete with the big home console experience, or even deliver on its promises?

OUYA founder Julie Uhrman claims to be breaking down barriers, allowing smaller developers to “develop a game for the television”. She asserts that developing games on an independent level for traditional consoles is not practical and she’s mostly correct. Deals have to be struck with the big three manufacturers in order to get published and put into the spotlight, money has to change hands, and there are only so many slots available.

Countering this assertion is the PC. An established platform that any independent developer has, and is working on to release games using a variety of tools. Not only is it possible to self publish, there are more and more opportunities opening up all the time. Services like Steam and Desura are already delivering a wide variety of titles on a mass scale, and with the soon-to-be-released Steam Greenlight, a community of millions will be able to push for which games get published. If you’re looking to get a game onto the Xbox 360, on your “TV”, XNA is at your disposal. Modern PCs all come with HDMI ports, can connect to modern televisions and can be much more flexible than this device.

It’s somewhat telling that within the OUYA pitch, multiplayer isn’t directly mentioned.Within the Kickstarter description, OUYA claims that all the new games are coming out on phones because they’re “what’s hot”, but the type of games that you’re playing on mobile devices aren’t necessarily the ones you’d want on a 50” LCD TV. Take their own example of Canabalt. It was successful because it was designed specifically for a small screen, controller free platform. Canabalt controls with a single tap which makes a guy jump. Is there any real benefit from playing Canabalt on a large screen sitting on your couch? It’s still Canabalt and you’ll play for a couple minutes at a shot before wanting something more fulfilling.

A rather large reason many people enjoy console games is the multiplayer experience. All three of the major systems support at least four controllers and some level of synchronous online multiplayer. Despite my inability to do so often, getting together with friends in the same room for split-screen gaming has nearly no parallel in terms of enjoyment. Even with PC gaming at our disposal in college, Goldeneye on the N64 soaked up a lot of time simply because we were together. It’s somewhat telling that within the OUYA pitch, multiplayer isn’t directly mentioned.

Probably the biggest pie-in-the-sky inclusion is that “OUYA could change AAA game development, too. Forget about licensing fees, retail fees, and publishing fees.” This hardware just doesn’t allow for that. Yes, Nvidia’s Tegra 3 is an impressive chip, but it isn’t quite at the level of current generation consoles which OUYA desperately wants to be. Additionally, it only comes with 8GB of internal flash storage. The base iPhone 4S has more than twice that while offering similar overall computing power. When a standard, single-sided DVD holds 4.7GB, storage will be a huge concern. You just don’t want to blow up low resolution textures to 1080p. Even a title like ChAIR Entertainment’s Infinity Blade II is a monster of a download at 1.1GB. Add in The Bard’s Tale at 1.7GB and Dungeon Defenders at 900MB, and you’re already half full.

It’s hard to believe the delivery claims they are making. The device is expected to ship in March of 2013 and the OUYA team is not showing a controller or even their prototype that’s allegedly ready. They haven’t completed their industrial design or their UI. Instead they’ve got a half of a controller render shown and claims of a “a love letter to console gaming.” It will have a touchpad “for any games making the trek from mobile or tablet to the TV” – expect plenty of direct ports from your Android phone. They haven’t talked about their vetting process for publication, but they will be taking 30% of all sales revenue anyway. Lucky developers will be able to pay these soon, as apparently all of this work will be completed within just seven months.

After meeting their goal, OUYA provided the update “Do you realize what you’ve done? You proved consoles aren’t dead. You shocked the world. And us!” Combine this ostrich statement with their own spin on what “free-to-play” means, and it really feels like people running the show may not entirely know what they’re doing. Consoles are hardly dead and I’d be interested to know who said they were.

The listed hardware specs are OK, the price is reasonable, but the most important question is who is making games for it? At the current time, they haven’t announced anyone. They’ve “talked” to developers who expressed interest and gotten some choice quotes to get the masses riled up. Markus Persson of Minecraft fame has stated on twitter, “The quote from us on the OUYA kickstarter is woderfully (sic) vague, haha!”. Just about the only thing confirmed for software is a Twitch.TV application so you can watch, as their example, League of Legends and StarCraft matches, two games you likely won’t find playable on OUYA.

OUYA is mobile technology in a stationary box.In 2004, another exciting console from Infinium Labs had similar quotes from developers. A big difference between the Phantom console and OUYA’s Kickstarter is that individuals weren’t being asked to donate money on a pipe dream.

OUYA is mobile technology in a stationary box. It’s no secret that I’ve been looking forward to platform ubiquity of consoles and mobile devices, but the OUYA is going in the opposite direction. Developers like Jordan Mechner support the idea of an “indie box”, but none have committed to supporting OUYA itself. Even if the 25,000 (current) backers of this Kickstarter project buy one, that isn’t nearly enough penetration to get their “AAA developers” interested, nor is it enough to have independent developers make it their first choice.

Go watch their video again and ask yourself why the whole thing appears to be shot in their fabricator’s office. March is closer than you think.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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