We’re starving for some new blood in the console market. A group of established industry professionals is trying to get in on that, and they’ve had a minor success. Meet the Ouya, an open source Android console that could be a great success, or a whimper in the wind.
Let’s look at the hardware: a Tegra 3 quad core, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal flash memory, and “support” for 1080p resolutions. The console also features a wireless controller and a single USB port. Everything is held together by the latest Android operating system. There isn’t anything too revolutionary here. It’s pretty much just a smartphone without the phone. The Tegra 3 is great for mobile devices, but its crushed by even the lowliest of desktop GPUs. Who knows if you’ll be able to overclock the processor or make your own tweaks to the hardware easily? And with only 8GB of internal memory, you can’t expect many large games to be released for the console either.
I think the makers of the Ouya are also to blame for misleading their audience, simply by calling it a console that will play AAA games. I’ve seen comments pleading for ARMA 2 with Day-Z and other graphically demanding games. I can already feel their disappointment.
The Ouya promises to follow an open-source model, so I expect to see various types of Linux distributions popping up very quickly. The open source model may also be interesting for hobbyists and developers, but I doubt the typical person that buys this console will know much about it or even care. The list of open source games is pathetically small, and most of them fit into a niche market.
The console is planning to launch with games that you can already play on your PC and your phone. Minecraft and Shadowgun are featured often. I’m skeptical of the “mobile experience” translating to the TV. The upside is that all of them will be partially free to play in some way, but then we could see some horrific business models from software developers. They could get away with it too. A person who buys an Ouya or a subsidized Xbox 360 for $99 can’t be trusted to make the best financial situations.
This is one of the potential problems of Kickstarter that we’ve been seeing lately. A group of talented people decide to make a quick test product, and then everyone on the planet decides to give them money for no reason. The Ouya is just a symptom a larger problem. People will fund anything.
Despite all these issues, the Ouya does show some promise. Like they’re saying, this has the potential to upend console gaming (if only for a moment). Bringing new payment models to the living room could change the strategies of the Big 3 and other software developers. The game industry is in a time right now where games just aren’t worth $60. Casual gamers are looking for a cheap and quick experience, and they don’t have any brand loyalty when it comes to that. Sony and Nintendo’s recent issues with their handhelds show that even the Big 3 are struggling to maintain dominance.
I don’t see the Ouya becoming a massive success. A successful Kickstarter may not translate to a successful product. There isn’t any clear direction for the hardware or software. What I see the Ouya doing differently is rapid iteration of new hardware, just like mobile devices. For a console generation we wait anywhere from four years at a minimum. The Wii-U and this venture are trying to disrupt the abnormally long console generation.
The problem with the Ouya is what does it do that my PC, phone, or dedicated consoles don’t? Will emulation be smoother? Will Angry Birds be compelling on the 1080p big screen? How will it stay relevant when the next batch of consoles is right around the corner? Do they even have enough money for stable production?
As more funding rolls in, we better see changes to the Ouya’s hardware and a tighter design philosophy. I hate to say it, but games won’t be the focus of this thing. You can get them from anywhere else. Otherwise, this will end up as one of the more high profile Kickstarter failures.