Ouya console

Unless your head has been buried under the sand for the past few days, you have no doubt heard of Ouya by now. This little machine is taking up the gaming industry by storm, and if the Kickstarter campaign is of any indication, gamers are drooling themselves dry for this thing.

At first glance, it would be silly not to drool yourself dry with something this amazing. Just look at some of the crazy promises and buzzwords that have been thrown out: “all games are free”, “hackers are welcome”, “open market for developers”; a wireless traditional DA controller with a touchpad, specs that would seem respectable, and the fact that every single console is also a development kit. It sounds amazing! This is the future of gaming! I want one on day 1!

But what if it doesn’t take off? What if developers don’t support the machine at large from the beginning, and what if gamers just simply don’t buy it?

Ouya controller and console

These are very possible outcomes, after all. First of all, let’s look at the kind of support that developers can give the Ouya:

  • Free 2 Play: I personally find this to be the most obvious and easy kind of support the Ouya will receive. Developers can provide free game experiences where the gameplay can be expanded by microtransactions.
  • Free games (with advertisements): This is a method used by Flash games in popular sites like Newgrounds, Kongregate, and even a few smartphone games and apps. It makes sense exactly for that, but nothing else. How is a developer supposed to make back the hundreds of thousands spent in making a high quality game with nothing but advertisements? When your free games are only of about the same quality as Smartphone games, then there really isn’t much to boast about.
  • Indie games: This one is difficult to assess. On one hand, the Ouya has an advantage over other platforms for indie games like Steam because of the freedom the open Android market presents. That, however, is also what can ultimately limit the support from developers, as the lack of strict quality control can also lead to a marketplace that buries the high-quality games under a slush of shovelware, and entering such a marketplace can be thoroughly intimidating (I’ve seen the App Store and Google Play compared to the lottery, in terms of how rare it is to actually be successful in it).
  • AAA games: You know what I’m talking about: cinematic experiences, neck-deep Action RPGs, Open-World games of previously unheard-of magnitudes, and, generally, games that cost millions of dollars to make. This is a pretty massive point of contention, as these are the kinds of games that really put the hardware in the mind of the consumer. In my experience, I can not really care to get a gaming platform that doesn’t have a couple of massive games for me to look forward to. I got the Xbox 360 for the Dead Spaces and the Mass Effects; I got a Wii to avoid going through Zelda and Metroid withdrawal symptoms; I’ll get the PS3 when it’s time to play the Last Guardian; and I’ll get the WiiU, once again, because I’m starting to see Goombas, Octoroks, and Zoomers crawling up the walls, and I need my fix. Will games like these show up on the Ouya? You know what, I really don’t think so. I think developers could never pull the kind of money necessary to make these experiences. But I know what you’re thinking: “in that case, they can simply get Publishers to back them up financially, silly!” To that, I say, no they can’t. The very reason there are so many licensing issues and strict regulations around traditional console development (or even with Steam) is that Publishers like to feel some security when making multi-million dollar deals, and an open market like the App Store, Google Play, and the one that Ouya is promising, simply can’t offer that. If Publishers did end up convincing the Ouya designers to implement some regulations, then the freedom that was originally promised will no longer be there, and the many indie developers that funded Ouya to begin with would grab their bags and leave for greener pastures.

That last point I made is really haunting me, because I truly want this Ouya thing to succeed. Surely there must be some way for developers to gather millions of dollars and make the games they don’t see even in their dreams, right? Some way that completely skirts around publishers and makes them unnecessary for the process, that is.

Ouya interface prototype

I guess this is where we come back to Kickstarter. Can Kickstarter, or some other similar platform for crowd-sourcing, become such a tremendous force with the public that developers can routinely make use of it and keep the gamers happy with each successive game? Are gamers willing to routinely put money into games long before they get made? It’s perhaps a worthy cause, to see developers working to the very limit of their creativity, but I wonder if people can follow and support such a cause without having first seen great successes.

Furthermore, even if it was the case that developers secured all that money to make games (Tim Schafer did get over a million bucks from Kickstarter to work on his upcoming game, after all), these games take upward of 2-3 years to be completed (and that’s when they have Bobby Kotick and Satoru Iwata breathing down their necks), which means a really slow audience growth, which in turn means lesser interest from other developers.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is definitely an uphill battle for the designers of the Ouya, and considering the many rising concerns of gamers about the inherent freshness of the Ouya (encapsulated best in this image that is currently circulating through gaming forums), this particular hill may be one covered in thorns.

Having said that, I’m sure most of us can appreciate a good market disruption here and there, so here goes to Ouya, that its promises and its best intentions may come true.

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Alex Balderas