Ouya: Panacea For Console Biz or The Next Phantom?

Veteran journalist Chris Morris tackles the major reasons why Ouya could be a revolution or a mere footnote

Any time a start-up makes $4.5 million in four days through crowdsourcing, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows. And Ouya has certainly done that.

Enthusiasts are dreaming of a dark horse console that will bring gaming back to its roots, ending the cycle of sequel-itis and injecting some fresh new game mechanics into the industry. Skeptics, meanwhile, say those Kickstarter supporters could be throwing their money away on a product that will never find a significant audience.

Ironically, they could both be right.

Ouya will be a case study in marketing and PR in the years to come. The campaign has been orchestrated to perfection, with opinion maker- and mass media coverage of the system hitting the day the Kickstarter launched. It preached to the choir on Reddit. And it had a number of respected industry names lending their support (though some a bit less enthusiastically than it initially appeared).

It's a system that currently straddles the lines of potential greatness and historical footnote. And which way it will go is anyone's guess. Here are a few arguments for both sides:

Why Ouya could work

Magical price point: Price matters - especially when it comes to gaming systems. (Don't believe me? Ask Nintendo to tell you the story of the 3DS.) And when it comes to the sweet spot with consumers, you can't do much better than $99.

"Wii U hasn't energized the base yet... Ouya's plans to launch in the first quarter of 2013 give it a pretty clear field for at least six months"

Sub-$100 is a level where the mainstream is willing to take a chance, even if a system is unproven. If Ouya can hit its goal of a $99 console - especially one with a robust series of offerings (including the standard Netflix, Hulu, etc. applications), it could rope in people from the mainstream world, which would go a long way to achieving sustainability.

Indie love: Independent game makers rarely seek the spotlight, but that doesn't mean they don't want their work to be recognized. Ouya might be a perfect showcase for their games - and there's a growing contingent of gamers who are eager to check those titles out.

Indie games are typically niche products - and would never stand a chance when pitted against major franchises. There have, of course, been exceptions (and Ouya's eager to get them on board), but you don't have to look too far beyond Xbox Live sales numbers to see that most smaller games don't make a mint.

Ouya could bring smaller developers together with core fans who want to try something a bit out there. And the word of mouth that generates from the ones that connect could widen the system's install base.

Hardware drought: Gamers are ready for new hardware. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are still putting out good games, but they're both long in the tooth. And the Wii U hasn't energized the base yet.

Ouya's plans to launch in the first quarter of 2013 give it a pretty clear field for at least six months. People who aren't interested in a Wii U or don't want to pay its initial price could be lured over to Ouya and help the system steady its legs.

Mobile gaming malaise: Mobile gaming is certainly convenient. And there are more than a few standout games that are addictive as anything console companies are putting out - arguably more so. But it lacks a sense of awe.

Ouya's chief argument for its existence is a good one. Games are more fun on a big scale - and the TV is a natural spot for them. TV manufacturers know this, which is why Samsung recently added Angry Birds to its app offerings and why OnLive is being bundled with some sets. Android games haven't had a chance to explore the big screen yet - and there are several that could shine there, given the chance.

Gamers love the underdog: Core gamers are reliable in their disdain for the corporate machine. For years EA was the evil empire (well, until they'd put out a game that looked cool). Today it's Activision. Ouya is a bit player on this large stage and it has won the hearts of that crowd.

The problem is: If Ouya does get too big, that love could turn to opposition down the road - but seeing as that would mean the company is taking in hundreds of millions of dollars, that's a problem Ouya would likely enjoy figuring out.

Why Ouya could fail

Questionable sustainable interest: It's easy to bask in the spotlight when you're taking in millions of dollars in crowdfunding. Ouya's on track to break Kickstarter fundraising records. But once it truly goes toe-to-toe with the big consoles, it's going to have a harder fight.

It's easy to support something in theory, but when a player's choices are between a port of an Android game and a new God of War, most are going to follow Kratos. And don't forget a new Grand Theft Auto should be hitting shelves early next year as well.

"To date, no home console has succeeded without the notable support of [major third-party] publishers"

Too many choices: There are a ton of games in the Android app store - but finding what you want is something of a nightmare. One of Apple's big advantages is an easy to navigate user interface - and discoverability for key titles.

Ouya isn't the Android marketplace, but if it doesn't get its online store perfect out of the gate, it could stumble quickly - and be relegated to the pile of console corpses in people's closets.

Marketing wars: By so vastly exceeding its Kickstarter target, Ouya has a little money to play around with. But even if it dedicates all of that to marketing its system, that money is going to pale in comparison to what the big three throw at theirs.

More importantly, most game makers for the system won't have any marketing budget to speak of. And while word of mouth can be a very effective way to create a hit title, it's not something that can be relied upon (or forced). Good games and good developers are certain to be drowned out by other (sometimes crappy) titles for the big systems.

No major publisher support: Part of its underdog role means Ouya isn't likely to actively lobby companies like EA, Ubisoft and Activision to build games for its system. Even if they did, though, it would likely be a waste of time.

"Now that the money is there, the Ouya needs to stop being a 'tell me' story - and start being a 'show me' one"

Major third-party publishers may support Ouya insofar as they'll consider ports of any Android games they create, once the system gets some sort of decent installed base. But given how unlikely it is that Ouya will achieve a distribution as wide as the major consoles - and the company's inability to provide a level of support like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo - don't expect AAA games to be part of the lineup.

To date, no home console has succeeded without the notable support of those publishers. The market is certainly different, but Ouya's odds of beating that trend are low.

The vaporware issue: For all the talk about Ouya, the system doesn't exist. There are prototypes, but there are still a lot of holes (including the lack of a finished controller). The company has been precise with details, which lends a lot of confidence, but despite the showering of cash and gamer love, there's still the chance that the system could never materialize. Remember: Even the Phantom seemed real (if ludicrous) for a short while.

The coming months are critical to Ouya. If it wants to keep the love - and convince people that it actually will make it to market, it will need to provide regular updates - and get the system in front of the media for trials.

Now that the money is there, the Ouya needs to stop being a "tell me" story - and start being a "show me" one.

Related stories

Microsoft files patent for controller accessory with Braille input and output

Gamepad would allow users to read and input Braille text, as well as convert speech commands to input

By Rebekah Valentine

Original Earthworm Jim team reunites for new, Intellivision Amico-exclusive entry

Ten of the game's original developers participating in creation of new title for upcoming, exclusive-heavy console

By Rebekah Valentine

Latest comments (14)

Adrian Herber6 years ago
Thank you. A clear-eyed and realistic look at both the strengths and weaknesses.

On the subject of getting their app store right, have you considered the implications of their requirement that all games must be able to be tried before purchase? I suspect this will be very significant. It changes the buying proposition from 'I heard this game was ok maybe I'll check it out: $1 all right I'll try it out / $5 whoa buddy what if it's not for me' to 'I heard this game was ok, let's try the demo: I love it, here is my $5 no worries / I hate it no money for you'. In short, it neatly assists in setting higher pricing for quality games, and strongly discourages shovel ware. Of course, there is more to get right in an app store, but this is one of their only truely new concepts, and it could be a great one.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
"Of course, there is more to get right in an app store, but this is one of their only truely new concepts, and it could be a great one."

Actually, Microsoft already have that policy for XBLA, XBIG and WP7 games, so it's not that truely new a concept, although that doesn't mean it's not a good move. On WP7 games I do like that I can try any game out before buying.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd6 years ago
A good article with an honest assessment of the potential strengths and problems. Will Ouya be the next big thing? A total flop? I imagine the truth lies somewhere in between, and that is probably just fine for most people.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (14)
Jerome Grasdijk Snr Engineer, Microsoft Studios6 years ago
Given the popularity of the Pi and app store games on the iPhone, the logical expectation would be that it will be a moderately-sized success, eventually selling in the millions of units provided it gets into retail at some point, but falling short of an Xbox or a Playstation. It seems a good bet, all around, and may well succeed in giving the console market a lift.

Whether the other console makers will follow suit and liberalise their regimes is anyone's guess ;)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
The number of people who have spelt the doom of this platform already, it just makes me more determined to support it and help make it a success where I can. I'm so impressed by the device and its something I imagined would be a great product in the past (Android Console).

As for the Phantom, I'm all to aware of the dangers of a heavily hyped system claiming great things. Looking back and using knowledge I didn't have then, I can see the serious flaws in the Phantom, its technology for its day, its promises and its ambitions. The Gizmondo hand-held console was another. I honestly don't believe Ouya will fall into the same trap, but I guess this is where those who are excited by this should really look to support it and help (in whatever way) push the ideology of an affordable, open console.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jeremy Glazman Programmer 6 years ago
"eventually selling in the millions of units provided it gets into retail at some point"

Why would a system like this ever consider retail? And why would any retail outlet consider selling a digital-only device? Ouya in all its trendyness has clearly latched onto the meme that games retail is dead.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 6 years ago
@Jeremy; "And why would any retail outlet consider selling a digital-only device?"

If theres a margin to be made selling the hardware im sure there are a few million electrical/it/household-goods retailers out there that would welcome it with open arms.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago

The story is most newsworthy because of how many people bid so much instantly. But I reckon a lot of those will be waking up the next morning thinking "what a waste."

There are many reasons why this could fail, but I can't think of one that would make it succeed. Cheap games? Maybe, but it needs more than doodle jump!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
There's a pretty good reason why it could succeed. There is currently no home platform for mid-level or indie releases other than the PC. The PC comes with its own set of inherent problems that denied it the success of closed systems like a console.

Since the ouya is, hardware-wise, a closed and fixed system, it could fill this niche rather nicely.

The catch-22 of the situation is that in order to fill this niche, it needs insane market penetration and a user base in the double-digit millions, which seems impossible without retail fully embracing it and the smallness of the whole affair so far.
The iphone and ipad would never have gotten so huge without retail or apple stores.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
But it won't get that penetration without stacks of games that "just work". Given most android games are designed for touch screen, few actually will.

So devs then need a word with themselves: "If I spend a week or two getting this all going, assuming I can make a new control method at all, will I see a return?"

Don't get me wrong, I actually hope this works out. But I just don't think it will. Time will tell.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Android gaming on your TV is already here (granted in a limited form). The Sumvision Cyclone Nano Smart Android Media Center shows the potential of opening up your TV as a smart device - Given the fact that these relatively cheap devices can be connected to your TV, I see these as making more sense than expensive "smart" TV's, which will not be replaced/upgraded as cheaply as these devices which connect to your existing HDTV.

If Ouya doesn't succeed, then it's only a matter of time before Sumvision or another company bring out a proper more fully fledged gaming experience with Android on your TV - the key will be a proper gaming controller and app marketplace experience.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
As of yet, no one has been able to tell me why this isn't just a repackaged Google TV with a slick marketing line.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I could be wrong, but from what I know of Google TV, you can't game on it - seems very much a video browser, that's all...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Dan Rossati Artist, Boss Alien Ltd6 years ago
@Jeremy I think he just meant that it actually does get made and makes it to market, not that it gets sold in an actual shop, at least that's how I interpreted it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Rossati on 17th July 2012 10:02am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.