OUYA videogame console Kickstarter madness: What am I missing here?

Bill Loguidice's picture

I'm a big fan of Kickstarter and have personally backed over a dozen projects to date. I'm also a big fan of technology, particularly videogame and computer stuff, and practically gobble up anything new that I can. So why I am not caught up in OUYA videogame console frenzy? It has over $3 million in pledges in a little over 24 hours from over 25,000 backers, so it's already a success, and this will all surely continue to tick up dramatically and impressively over its remaining 28 days of open pledges, perhaps even breaking the Kickstarter record along the way. Clearly then, I'm in the minority when it comes to figuring out the appeal, so let's break it down.

For $99, you get an Android 4.0-based console with controller that encourages both easy hardware and software hacking. The mandate is that all games will need a free demo, and what developers do after that in terms of requiring payment, if any, for a full version, is completely up to them. So far, so good, save for the fact that the hardware itself is relatively modest, their version of Android will be forked, and the hardware hacking aspect, while extremely appealing, may not be so hot for software developers, who will also need a minimum level of protection from piracy other than the honor system. Further, there is an awful lot of computer, console and portable competition in and around that price point, offering similar benefits with far more evolved ecosystems to good developers, even within the Android and forked Android spaces.

My biggest concern though is what types of games this will attract. It's fair to say this will mostly be indie developers supporting it for the foreseeable future, which can be interesting in and of itself, of course, but many platforms - not to mention the elephant in the room, the PC - are already swimming in indie stuff. We don't really need another platform for that type of stuff, at least one without any obvious differentiators outside of possible hardware hacks, which is not really something that more than a niche audience can realistically benefit from. We also don't need rushed ports from Android smartphones for obvious reasons, something that this platform all but encourages.

One angle that I thought might be interesting is to have this be an uber emulation box, but even that, these days, is handled well by many other devices. It can certainly evolve into the ultimate emulation machine at some point, but, as with many things with the OUYA, we just won't know, or be able to directly benefit, for potentially years.

So, with all that in mind, where's the appeal? Why should I back this? Let me know, because I genuinely want to know and feel like I'm missing out on some critical component here. I mean, I'm getting a Vizio Co-Star, which is an official Google TV device plus OnLive player, for $99, so what advantage exactly does the OUYA give me?

By the way, for the record, I'm glad they're getting this type of support as, at minimum, it encourages others to try something similar in the future that may really be "needed," assuming there really is nothing to the traction the OUYA has gained other than good timing and word-of-mouth publicity. It's also important to keep in mind that though this may gain direct financial support from 100,000+ people when all is said and done, the OUYA team's work is far from done when this eventually makes it to a public hardware launch, as without a clear market differentiator for the masses, it's unlikely to go very far beyond that initial wave of support. The reality is there are different levels of success and this has just reached the very first level. It's undeniably a promising start, though, and I'd genuinely love to change my mind about both its present and future prospects...

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Rob Daviau
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I hear ya Bill

I too am skeptically optimistic, but I am hoping it shows the big companies that there is a demand for something more open ended and that we want options and cheaper games, I honestly don't see it taking the gaming world by storm but I think it may have it's own little niche success. I am one who links to tinker and I think this has a lot of possibilities and might end up being a great media box, emulation machine as well as everything the developers are hoping for. There certainly seems to be a lot of enthusiasm behind it and that is a good thing again if only to wake up SONY and Microsoft to some other possibilities. As for you thoughts on exactly what types of games I have at least a little hope form this section of the FAQ on Kickstart:

Is this just about playing mobile and tablet games on my TV?

"No. Nope. Nyet. Nein. Can we say it more clearly?

OUYA was not created merely to host ports of existing Android games. We’ve built this badboy to play the most creative content from today’s best known AAA game designers as well as adored indie gamemakers.

That said, we believe many existing Android games will feel bigger and better on a TV with a real controller. And we’ve heard from developers like Brian Fargo and Adam Saltsman that the controller will be the most exciting reason to develop for OUYA. We hope they speak for all developers when they say OUYA will inspire new forms of gameplay."

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There needs to be a big shake up to the big forces in gaming today, maybe this will be it, maybe not but hopefully it is a start of something good.

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Rowdy Rob
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Price point, and "heart."
Bill Loguidice wrote:

So, with all that in mind, where's the appeal? Why should I back this? Let me know, because I genuinely want to know and feel like I'm missing out on some critical component here. I mean, I'm getting a Vizio Co-Star, which is an official Google TV device plus OnLive player, for $99, so what advantage exactly does the OUYA give me?

In your particular case, Bill, the Ouya might not offer much. The Ouya, basically, seems to be positioning itself as something like a gaming equivalent of a "Roku" box. Small, cheap, simple, and it plays games. PHONE games. But with a joystick, and on a large screen! Depending on your point of view, this may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might sound like a fabulous thing!

The Vizio thing you mentioned sounds like more of a multimedia-oriented device, which might be better, actually. But it sounds like Ouya is touting an app-store ecosystem that is attractive to developers (particularly indies) , and I don't know if Vizio has anything similar.

The way they present the Ouya on the Kickstarter page, it really sounds like they’re selling.... heart! Personally, I know little about the Vizio Co-star, but Vizio is one of those faceless conglomerates (in my eyes) selling attractive hardware, but the Ouya developers sound like they are at the heart of gaming culture. They are selling themselves as passionate developers that "get" games! That may play out well in the press, and it might attract passionate gamers of all ages. It could be one of those "underdog" situations that captures the masses!

I just read about the Ouya the other day, and it does sound somewhat appealing to me. Despite their protestations to the contrary, it really does seem to me that the Ouya is basically a device for playing phone/pad-type games on the TV. But..... is that a bad thing? There are many clever, attractive, addictive, and in some cases, near AAA offerings for those portable devices, and many of them would look fine on a TV, and would benefit from a joystick. But, I can see some pitfalls in with the strengths.

Here are what I see as strengths:

1. From their Kickstarter page: “It's time we brought back innovation, experimentation, and creativity to the big screen. Let’s make the games less expensive to make, and less expensive to buy. With all our technological advancements, shouldn't costs be going down? Gaming could be cheaper!”

--- We frequently moan here on AA about the lack of innovation and creativity in the industry, with the corporate marketing departments saying that we want more sequels, more FPS’s, more... sequels to FPS’s, and so forth. It sounds like the folks at Ouya have their hearts in the right place, and are setting a system in place where you have to stand out in some way to succeed amongst the other “free demo” games. That spirit alone should be applauded, if not supported.

2. It’s cheap. With the world economy still limping along, are people really willing to fork out another $300+ on the next generation console for themselves or their kids? The asking price of $99 with the free game demos and the (assumingly) cheap price of full games for the system might seem like a very attractive bargain for parents, especially if the graphics and audio capabilities are reasonably up to snuff. It might not be the XBox 720, but in tough times, it might be “good enough.”

3. Phone/pad games, but with a real controller. Okay, so if it is just “phone games,” I think that many of us will agree that a lot of games, particularly action games, are more fiddly to control with a touchscreen, and would benefit with a joystick controller of some sort. Their Kickstarter page seems to heavily push the Ouya as an Android games device, but with a joystick!

4. "Onlive" type of streaming games might become a harder sell as more and more ISP's are throttling or capping bandwidth. And a "streaming" game is heavily dependent on the speed and quality of your connection, and it certainly consumes bandwidth. I've not run into many problems with Onlive, but I've heard the complaints of "glitchy" gameplay due to problems with data transmission. No such problems with a dedicated game console with "local" storage.

Potential questions and pitfalls:

1. Just what is the hardware power of this thing? I saw some of the specs, but other than the “Tegra3 quad-core” processor, just how many polygons can this thing push? What are the audio capabilities? The specs tout Bluetooth, WiFi, USB 2.0, HDMI, 1 Gig RAM, and 8 Gigs flash. Just that alone sounds like quite a lot for $99; how much is left in the budget for audio/visual horsepower? I’m skeptical that the thing could even match the horsepower of the latest phones or pads at this price point. The conspicuously absent graphics/sound specs in the listing, which is a critical omission, might be a bad sign. And like it or not, if the games look “cheap,” it’s not going to sell, especially when blown up to TV size. Previous (not current!) generation graphics at a time when the next generation will start to take shape is not necessarily a good position to be in.

2. Will they be locked out by big-league publishers? It’s certainly not in MS’ or EA’s interest to support an “open” platform where AAA titles aren’t going to sell at $60. No Madden, no CoD, no Halo, no Mario, no GTA. The only thing left is indie developers to support the thing. While there are some seriously impressive games on the iPhone/iPad/Android platforms, it appears most offerings are simple casual games, which is probably all a typical indie developer can afford to develop. And who knows, the powerhouse console manufacturers might have the financial clout to bury this thing before it gains traction in the marketplace. Being “evil,” why wouldn’t they?

3. No mention of “motion control.” I haven’t spent much time with motion controllers, but the trend is there, and most likely will continue to evolve and flourish. It sounds like the Ouya is locked out of this trend, being totally old-school in the controller department.

4. No “touch” control. Android, and even the upcoming Windows 8, seem to be built around the touchscreen as the primary method of control. It’s apparently the wave of the future. Ouya is an Android device without being designed around the touchscreen. This cripples or locks out many games designed around the touchscreen that are popular on these devices. Again, it’s old-school.

5. What are the "media" limitations? The current trend in consoles it to become full-on multimedia devices for consuming video, music, and web sites. Last generation graphics (?), no motion control, no touch control, and it sounds like limited multimedia capabilities..... it sounds like Ouya is seriously bucking a lot of trends with this device, being (apparently) a straight-up old-school game console.

6. Can it do MMO’s? Multiplayer is all the rage nowadays, but how do you do that with the Ouya? I suppose it’s technically possible for game companies to set up their own servers, but will they do it? You need a reasonable two-way connection to update your player position and stats (or even voice-chat) to the server, so that means a reasonable upload speed as well as download. I might be clueless on this point, but for $99, this thing’s got to have some limitations. But no multiplayer fragfests might mean no mainstream appeal.

7. Can it do “OnLive?” It sounds like it’s technically possible, and if so, this might be a boon to both the Ouya and Onlive if I can play AAA games on a $99 platform. If the Ouya can pull off 1080p live video streaming, and if they can get Onlive to license a client on their platform, it might make for a killer deal.

8. How are your purchased games stored? 8 gigs is rather meager for today's games.

I can go on and on, but I do hope this thing comes to market and is a reasonable success. A “democratized” development environment has allowed indie developers to flourish on the PC and phone/pad markets, so a TV console built around that environment might give it an edge that the big-league systems can’t (or won’t) replicate. And hey, I’m up for some casual gaming on my TV...

Matt Barton
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I like the idea of indie

I like the idea of indie developers having another market for their small team games. That's where you're going to see the real innovation. The big boys are too locked down with expectations.

I don't know what it is is about OnLive, but it just never really captured by attention. I couldn't care less about anything from Vizio (for the reasons you mentioned). Sadly, I don't find myself getting very excited about Ouya either, though the fact--and this is the interesting bit--that it was funded by a successful kickstarter DOES get my attention. Maybe there IS something I missed. Instead of a company trying to cram a new (and un-asked for) product down my throat, this really does seem like a public demand for a new gizmo.

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Rob Daviau
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All I will say about ONLIVE

At least from what I have seen, it has been demonstrated to work and function acceptable on much lower spec'd ANDROID tablets and handhelds than this will have so I am sure that will not be a problem, seems it's more about your connection speed anyway.

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Bill Loguidice
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The Android Console
Rob Daviau wrote:

At least from what I have seen, it has been demonstrated to work and function acceptable on much lower spec'd ANDROID tablets and handhelds than this will have so I am sure that will not be a problem, seems it's more about your connection speed anyway.

Agreed, there should be no issues with running OnLive on this if both OnLive agrees to provide it and the Ouya people allow it on their store.

To address some of the issues of "success", this is successful from a Kickstarter perspective to be sure, but 25,000 backers (or even double or quadruple that, eventually) does not make for a successful gadget. The market judges successes in the millions. This is still very much niche stuff and will not gain the attention of big name devs and/or publishers without post-Kickstarter success. Again, not to take anything away from what they achieved and will no doubt achieve before the Kickstarter is over, but this is a very particular case and we need to look at this against the bigger picture. It has very audacious goals...

Also, my reasons for liking the Vizio gadget are many, but I particularly like the HDMI pass-through. This is huge, because it can pass-through my cable box and I can have truly interactive TV when needed...

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gilgamesh
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nifty but maybe not for emulation

The problem with the "über emulation box" is that most emulators are only good at translating from vintage hardware to intel hardware. Adapting them to arm will be a lot of work. Also emulation does not scale well with many cores. So I suspect there might be performance issues with emulated 16bit systems despite the overall good performance of tegra3 chips.

Otherwise I really like the ouya concept. The price and openness towards homebrew are all but irresistible. To me it is more of a home computer than a console.

Bill Loguidice
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In theory, it should work
gilgamesh wrote:

The problem with the "über emulation box" is that most emulators are only good at translating from vintage hardware to intel hardware. Adapting them to arm will be a lot of work. Also emulation does not scale well with many cores. So I suspect there might be performance issues with emulated 16bit systems despite the overall good performance of tegra3 chips.

Otherwise I really like the ouya concept. The price and openness towards homebrew are all but irresistible. To me it is more of a home computer than a console.

Well, PS1-era stuff certainly runs well on similarly beefy Android smartphones, so I think that may be a bit pessimistic, unless there's some type of issue outputting 1080p (and I suppose it could always drop to 480p for something like that). That's of course assuming they'll even allow emulators on their store...

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Bill Loguidice
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Interesting, negative take on

Interesting, negative take on the Ouya and Pebble watch thing on Kickstarter: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407046,00.asp . He's not actually wrong, either. It is very high relative financial risk in that these may never see the light of day and there are no repercussions for failure (this may have to change at some point in the future if enough of these end up failing--Kickstarter may need to set up some type of bond system where backers get a small portion of their money back if the promised delivery date is missed by a year, let's say). Obviously, the reward, the gamble if you will, is that you'll help get built exactly what you want built if it does work out in the end. Clearly, it's a unique form of commerce and one not without its issues, but it's not necessarily a bad way of doing things. With that said, I'm up to 13 backed projects (10 funded) and am still awaiting delivery on the first one!

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Matt Barton
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I like the fact that there

I like the fact that there are no risks for these guys. Gives them more freedom to fail--which sounds stupid, but is actually very important if you really want to spur innovation. If there was a bond system, that'd make people a lot more careful and cautious, which would lead to more of the same.

The really lovely thing (IMO) about Kickstarter is that the costs of taking the risk is spread out so much. Sure, an individual might lose $200, let's say, which SUCKS. Still, that's a lot better than a single investor losing $2 million.

I think what will eventually end up happening is that the ones who never deliver will pretty much be done with kickstarter. I can't imagine someone associated with a failed project EVER getting another kickstarter project off the ground.

I would also think that any big KS project that tanked would offer some kind of compensation to the people who lost money in the deal, perhaps working out a way to give them a free rival product or at least a steep discount on one.

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clok1966
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I'm not sure what to think.

I'm not sure what to think. handhelds have tried this and Failed.. they all have nitch markets, but are basicly small time. If you really look at it, it is Brillant, but we are working with people and Brilliant seldom means sqwat to the them. With the hardcore video game market in a slump (game sites should be all over this in next few days.. supposed to be the biggest slump since the crash). I look at games costing $50+ lasting 6-12 hours and can see a reason for Plants Vs Zombies, Angery Birds, flight control etc.. being played for lots of hours and costing.. nothing for demos's, and only $1 to 5 for a full game. Some mention of PC and doubtfull people will do both.. APPLE has found people who buy Phone specific games that have IPAD enahnced versions buy both, and a couple of the Indy guys (field runners and others) have said most users have it on a phone and the PC.. so I cant see having it on a console too as any deterent. Right now the hot spot is simpler quick games for phones.. this should work well on a console too. Sony And MS havent allowed this.. oh dont get me wrong.. if you want a $.99 phone game on Xbox or PS3 you can.. but you gotta charge $9.99... that wont work and the bull headed (this will cheapen our systems) stance has killed thre window of opertunity.. Very cheap consoles (old nes, Snes, genisis) knock offs sell quite well .. just not in the US.. a $99 console that can play all these games that most of us have $50 a month phone data plans for seems pretty brillant to me.

of course i have said it all before, I'm really out of touch with tech now days.. I was never one to have 6 things that did the same thing, just in different package sizes.. and felt that was a waste.. but I'm very wrong on if people will buy that.. they do.. One more $99 gadget .. why not..

the emulator thing.. they state it hackable.. non issue there are TONS of emu's for Android that all work quit well.. input ( gamepad) would be only issue and that from my understadning is a very simple plugin (programming side) which should make almost any of them take minutes to convert.

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