Why I’m Not On Board With the Ouya Hype Train

If you’ve been following the news this week in the gaming industry, you’ve no doubt heard about the Ouya, the Android-powered open console that debuted on Kickstarter on the 10th. Originally calling for $900,00, the console garnered over a million in just eight hours, cementing itself as the fastest Kickstarter project to do so, even above the Double Fine Adventure Game.

The brainchild of Industry veterans Julie Uhrman and Yves Behar, the Ouya is a $99 console that looks to bring mobile developers the opportunity to take their games from mobile devices to the television. Citing the difficulty many Indie developers have with bringing their titles to the large marketplaces of the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, the creators of the Ouya are looking to give Indie developers a chance to bring their games to an open console that will allow them to increase their exposure and rate of success. On top of that, it also is being marketed as a “completely hackable” console, allowing for owners of the device to customize and “tweak” it any way they see fit.

Basically, they’re looking to upend a section of the industry that has long proved to be difficult terrain to traverse for smaller developers by simplifying the process and giving us a wider variety of games and devices to play on.

On the surface, I absolutely love this idea. I am a big indie game fan; I love what they do with game ideas, and I very much think they are the true innovators of gameplay in today’s industry.

And if there’s a way to help these people expand their reach and success, then I am all for that. I love seeing competition and opportunity marry in a unique idea such as the Ouya console.

So why, then, do I have a hard time getting excited about it?

I’m addicted to mobile games. When I find a great mobile game that can suck hours out of my life out of pure addicting gameplay, nothing makes me happier. And truth be told, some of my favorite recent gaming experiences have taken place on a mobile device, be it my iPod or iPad.

But I have to take issue with something here; in the Kickstarter video, Julie herself says that she’d like to play these games on a console.

Now, call me old school or ignorant, but I have no desire to fire up my mobile titles and put them on my television. When I sit down to play a game on the TV, I expect to jump into a much deeper experience than Angry Birds or Where’s My Water?. Those games are fantastic, and I’ve spent countless hours playing them, but I don’t want to do it on a television. The games themselves have also been optimized and specifically designed for touch controls, making it more friendly for a touch-based device. While the Ouya’s controller may have a touch pad on it, I’d like to know how it compares to the screens of an iPhone or Android phone. If it’s not as responsive or intuitive, you’ve lost the opportunity to make the game work just as well as it does on its original mobile devices.

While it may have garnered a ridiculously large amount of money, the project itself only has upwards of 30,000 backers. When considered against the larger spectrum, that’s only a small fraction of the entire gaming community. And how many of the backers are gamers vs. developers? It’s essentially a very niche device that won’t necessarily reach the audience that will make it successful. And the open-ness of it makes me think it has no intended audience. While that might work with something as open as the Ouya, at the same time, it’s going to be difficult to market it if you don’t know who your target audience is.

And unless it can broaden its appeal and influence, it’s not likely that the console will be picked up by major retailers, either. Which is problematic, as you need to have even the casual gamer take notice of and want to purchase your console in order for it to be able to compete with the other major platforms. If  it can’t compete with the other major platforms in terms of influence and monetary gain, I just don’t see Indie developers wanting to flock there when they could get much more valuable exposure on something like an XBLA or Steam.

With it being such an open console, will there be a way for Indies to stand out in the crowd? If you take a look at something like the App Store on iOS devices, there’s a large am0unt of fantastic indie-developed games that often get swallowed up in a sea of sub-par to mediocre ones. It’s difficult to browse and find a decent game on this marketplace unless the game has had a lot of exposure and has been rated well with the masses. Will they do anything to help curb the effects of this?

Touting your console as “completely hackable” kind of sends up a red flag for me as well. If it’s hackable, will pirating become an issue? Nothing will drive developers further away than the possibility that they might just get ripped off and make no money if people are just going to steal their game. The only upside I could see to the hacking of this console would be to make it into a retro game emulator, which can also get iffy when you start to get into licensing and more recent games.

The Ouya is also a download-only device with no disc drive to it. Which is great and is right alongside where this industry is headed, but are we ready for an exclusively download-only device? While we will one day stream and directly download games, we are wired to expect the release and handling of hard copy retail games right now, especially the more casual market who might not necessarily pay attention to new innovators in the industry until the idea becomes an industry standard. And there’s still the issue of the internet not necessarily being what it needs to for a lot of folks to go download-only for their gaming fix.

All in all, while there’s a lot of opportunity for it, and I see it as a really interesting and neat idea, I just can’t get past some of the glaring shortcomings of the Ouya. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new revolution in gaming that will be perfected by another project that comes along down the road. Or then again, maybe I’ll be eating my words in several months when the console becomes a runaway success and opens up a whole new world for Indie developers. But as of right now, the Ouya is one hype train for which I don’t have a ticket to ride.