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OUYA: The Industry Innovator/Disruptor/Killer

OUYA needed only $950,000 from its Kickstarter campaign and hit that target on the first day within 8 hours of going live… by day seven it had secured $4.9million in total.

Whilst the Android based console (set to retail at just $99) has a lot of proving to do, it has made one thing perfectly clear, that an appetite has been whetted which could play out some very interesting scenarios for the usual three players in the console market.

OUYA (pronounced OOO-Yah) is expected to be around the same size as a Rubik's cube.

 

Could it help innovate the games industry? The open nature of the platform (Android being an open source OS, albeit driven by Google) is certainly a step change from the heavily locked down consoles of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. The developers claim that even controllers could be easily knocked up to operate with their system. Sure Sony had a brief stab at letting users run other operating systems such as Linux on their PS3 before they had a change of heart, and even the most recent addition to Microsoft family, the Kinect, has made more waves through how it was hacked rather than how it was implemented in games. But this is a real chance to completely open up the gaming medium to the masses.

Now we know that this is both a good and bad thing. When you remove the barrier to entry you get a less homogenised and more varied output which is, ultimately, a good thing. You open the doors to a wider variety of minds, a wider variety of games will follow.

There can be no doubt that stagnation runs rife throughout the major developers and publishers. EA has long hawked a tiring precession of updates before people started loudly chastising Activision for bleeding its own Call of Duty and Guitar Hero franchises dry with year on year output. Square Enix barely puts any effort into gameplay these days with its Final Fantasy titles as they know they’ll sell like hotcakes. Only the golden few like Valve, Starbreeze and Rockstar avoid the usual pitfalls by either by adding years into their development cycle or simply not succumbing to the lure of doing a sequel until the time is right and the appetite is there both amongst the developers and the gamers.

Opening up the development and distribution of games to a wider platform of developers could introduce more variety and a greater wealth of ideas that can be built upon and improved. Even a shop bought model can be used as a development kit, allowing ordinary consumers to try their hand at programming games. Perhaps through this we can achieve collectively some as yet untouched Nirvana of gaming. Where titles of high quality are released on an almost weekly basis, imagine a world where the usual “Summer lull” of game releases becomes a thing of the past!

However, let’s not kid ourselves. YouTube and Microsoft Movie removed the barrier of entry for video production and distribution and the net result of that is an awful lot of absolute dross that is either a waste of server space and bandwidth or in direct violation of any number of copyright laws. If they wish to avoid the same problems encountered with the Google Play store, now inundated with virus ridden crap (or crapps“), then there are definitely some challenges that OUYA needs to overcome if it will ever be able to prove itself as an innovator. With a bit of vetting before any titles hit the OUYA game store, that should be easy enough to overcome.

A glimpse of the OUYA marketplace and the shocking revelation that they like games on a TV as opposed to the side of a book case.

Disruptor is a fairly obvious one but will only come about when we bill the OUYA as a success story. The pricing of videogames has long been a healthy talking point but we still happily pay for release day next generation consoles and launch titles even in these austere times. Would OUYA, much like Steam’s sales, start to see us question the true net value of videogames?

There was a time that you would pay £15 quid or more for a CD, nowadays paying more than £10 would be unthinkable. DVDs used to sell at £20 and now you can pick up a new release for £12 with some careful shopping.

What’s interesting about both of these mediums is that price lowering has mostly come about through a combination of legitimate internet shopping sites and piracy. It would be interesting and refreshing if the value of video games were to be lowered by simply breeding more genuine competition into the arena. I’ve long had a major beef with Microsoft’s pricing policy on both the Gold account and the On Demand games that it retails at heavily inflated prices. If they are faced with the uncomfortable two pronged attack of Steam Sales and a cheap console that offers a constant stream of free to play and cheap to purchase titles, would that change their pricing policy? Make them scrap a paid for Gold Service that still features a heavy advertising presence?

Could OUYA potentially make Sony re-think the bricking of the OtherOS capability? Could it convince Nintendo to diversify its portfolio outside of the Mario enterprise? Could it at least cause the big three to stop and pause and think beyond an alternative controller or further embarrassing human to machine interactions like waving your arms and shouting into a pile of silicon and plastic?

Arm flailing not required, unless you feel absolutely compelled to

The final thought is one that I’m not entirely comfortable with, and highly sceptical about.

Could OUYA be a killer?

Look at the specs and you’ll see something that is on a par with the latest Apple iPad. It’s not a beefy machine and that is where my biggest concern comes in, especially as someone who maintains a healthy respect for PC and PC Gamers despite primarily being a console user.

  • Tegra3 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB of internal flash storage
  • HDMI connection to the TV, with support for up to 1080p HD
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • USB 2.0 (one)
  • Wireless controller with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button), a touchpad
  • Android 4.0

 

I like the fact that every once in a while a developer, whether it’s Epic or Crytek, will release a title that basically tells the PC gaming community “go forth and upgrade your graphics card bitches”. Because if they didn’t then you wouldn’t see the drift over the years between PCs and consoles, and then you wouldn’t necessarily see new generations of consoles with enhanced capabilities being introduced.

Manufacturing a new generation of consoles is essentially operating on a massive profit loss and putting serious money on your pony coming in first or at least placing well enough. It’s a pretty stupid business decision to make unless you are absolutely sure that you’ll recoup the losses. As a result the console manufactures get their money back from the games that are licensed for their platform.

So you could question that if there is no drive to improve the underlying horsepower that improves graphics, draw distance, frames per second rendering or physics engine performance then why would Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo put themselves in that position willingly? We know that from the developers side coding for a new platform of console is always a massive and expensive challenge that only starts to come together after the 4th/5th year of the console lifecycle, so would they necessarily be a driving force for better hardware if left to their own devices?

Could OUYA drive that PC vs Console competition out completely through its popularity? If Epic stands to make considerably more gajillions releasing a less graphically intensive Unreal 4 on the OUYA then would the PC market decline even further than it has done in recent years (which is one of my theories as to why this generation of consoles has been around longer than the previous ones)?

Of course nice graphics aren’t everything, but incredible physics, impressive draw distance and the ability to create fully immersive worlds that draw your breath away still require an investment in what’s running under the hood. Final Fantasy VII was a world that I loved to inhabit, but GTA IV was even more strikingly realised and I would hate to see a time when five years on from now I’m not being completely swept away by standing in a realistically rendered convenience store where the NPCs are operating with frighteningly realistic movement and AI… just before the big shoot out begins.

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what the OUYA brings to the table, and more importantly what the response will be from the old boys of the industry.

About Adam

Adam
Playing games since I'd developed enough motor functions to hold a joystick. From Commodore 64 all the way through to the latest gen. Favourite games to play are FPS games and anything with a deep and compelling story with a world that draws you in. I also enjoy writing, film making and bass playing.

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