If you have read any news on the interwebs related to video gaming lately, you have almost certainly heard of the Ouya campaign on Kickstarter by now. I’m a huge fan of what the OUYA team are setting out to do, and so I’ve decided to commit to releasing a game when it ships as a “Developer Special Backer”. I haven’t completely drunk the OUYA Kool Aid, but I’m backing them nonetheless since based own my own completely unscientific risk-benefit analysis, I think it’s worth the risk.
A quick Google search will tell you that not everyone agrees that the OUYA will succeed (by various measures of ‘success’). There are wide ranging opinions here – that it won’t be popular, that it won’t be powerful enough, that it’s impossible to make at $99 with reasonable quality, that it won’t make anyone any money, that it just won’t ship in time, if at all. I can’t guess about whether it will make anyone any money – that is going to come down to some of the fine details of just how the OUYA team execute their plans.
Will it be powerful enough to play the games people want to play ? If the Wii showed anything, it’s that console gaming need not be about raw power and GPUs with bulging biceps – fun is fun. If indies (and non-indies) release cool games, it’s going to be fun and meaningful. I’m more optimistic that it will ship on time, or pretty close – I don’t think some of the critics looked carefully at the credentials behind the OUYA team before crying foul. We are not just talking about open hardware enthusiast hippies here – these guys have shipped integrated hardware+software products before. On the hardware side this is basically an Android tablet without a screen in a nice little box, with what should be solid console-style controllers. If Ruslan Kogan can manage to produce an Android device, I have some faith that the OUYA team can manage this part, even if it turns out to be delayed just a little. Maybe the cost is too low, and maybe they are intending to get additional VC funding in the next six months to meet manufacturing costs. Maybe they plan to make their money back on software sales, like every other console (and some 7″ Android tablets I can think of). Yes, there are some unknowns.
As far as the software side … well, given that software is usually easy to update after launch, chances are they will ship a minimum viable product – their take on a TV friendly Android home screen plus their app store – and then enhance it via updates from there. “Developer Special Backers” like myself will be the guinea pigs that get to trip over and report all the showstopper bugs before it hits the masses in March 2013 (40,000+ of them, as of ~20 hours till the Kickstarter campaign closes).
Way back when the Nintendo Wii was released, I was hopeful that they would open up their “Wii Shop Channel” to indies, and usher in a new era of diverse, creative console gaming. Instead, despite early noises implying they would facilitate access, they made it pretty clear that indies weren’t really welcome on the Wii. The indie or ‘community’ section of XBLA (or whatever it is – I don’t have an XBox) seems to have panned out to be pretty average for most indies too – it seems Microsoft isn’t committed to making it work. PC gaming is a lot healther for indies – Steam, Desura, not-so-humble fapfest-bundles and the the plain old web are all awesome – but so far no one has really offered a good mainstream solution to use a PC as a gaming appliance from the couch. I think OUYA will serve an unfilled niche, and I think it’s going to come to market faster than the anything from big guys who could have easily done this already (I’m looking at you Google TV and Apple TV).
There is another reason why the OUYA, despite the risks for backers, appeals to me. It was my idea. Kinda. Well, not really. But ~5 years ago, before it was clear if Android would be a thing, I was writing design notes and playing with ideas about how a console like this might happen by leveraging as much open source code as possible. Team OUYA just thought of it independently – as probably lots of people have. I won’t regurgitate all the details of my proposed (and poorly named) ‘frWee’ console here, since frankly my old notes are pretty embarrassing and dated now, but a Linux-based Mini-ITX box with Wifi, TV-out, Bluetooth (for Wiimote connectivity) with some slick couch-friendly software was pretty much 2008’s DIY answer to the OUYA. The main difference between now and then is that in 2008, we would have been stuck with a limited number of Linux games and some semi-shady retro emulators, with limited interest from both indies and big developers alike. I was only ever plausible as a hobby project. Since then a whole ecosystem of high quality Android games and devices has blossomed, and the landscape has changed. Anyhow, by backing OUYA, I’m really backing something I wanted to make happen but never really had the time or inclination to push forward, run by people far more likely to succeed at doing it than me.
So I’m excited to see how this develops, both as a sometime-indie developer and a gamer – now to get cracking on some Unity prototypes so I can have something ready to release in March ….